Achille Compagnoni dies at 94; Italian climber

Achille Compagnoni dies at 94; Italian climber
Achille Compagnoni, seen in 1954, was recognized with one of Italy’s highest civilian awards for his achievement, which filled the nation with pride just as it was starting to emerge from the destruction of World War II.. (AFP / Getty Images)
Achille Compagnoni, an Italian climber who was a member of the first team to reach the summit of the world's second-highest peak, has died. He was 94.

Compagnoni died Wednesday at a hospital in the northern Italian city of Aosta, where he had been treated for several weeks, said hospital spokesman Tiziano Trevisan.

On July 31, 1954, Compagnoni and fellow Italian climber Lino Lacedelli became the first to reach the summit of Pakistan's K2, which at 28,251 feet is the world's second-highest peak after Mt. Everest.

The deed filled Italy with pride just as it was starting to emerge from the destruction of World War II.

Since then, only about 280 people have reached K2's summit. Dozens of deaths have been recorded since 1939, most of them occurring during the descent.

K2, in the Karakoram Range on the border of Pakistan and China, is steeper and more dangerous than Mt. Everest, and often has more intense weather.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano called Compagnoni the "intrepid protagonist" of the historic 1954 expedition.

Compagnoni was recognized with one of Italy's highest civilian awards, the medal of honor for civil valor, but also was involved in a 50-year battle with fellow climber Walter Bonatti over differing versions of events during the expedition.

Bonatti, who had a support role in the expedition, contends that Compagnoni and Lacedelli deliberately moved the location of Camp 9, the last before the summit, without informing him and a local climber who were carrying the oxygen for the final summit attempt.

Those who side with Bonatti say that Compagnoni and Lacedelli wanted to prevent Bonatti, the youngest member of the expedition and by many accounts the fittest one at that point, from attempting to reach the summit himself. Compagnoni said the climbers had decided to move the tent to a safer location.

Compagnoni accused Bonatti of using some of the oxygen that was meant for the summit. Compagnoni said that he and Lacedelli ran out of oxygen before reaching the summit.

But the Italian Alpine Club, which last year confirmed Bonatti's version, said that Compagnoni and Lacedelli had oxygen all the way up to the summit.

It recognized that Bonatti and his fellow support climber had a decisive and essential role in the success of the expedition.

Compagnoni and Bonatti never reconciled.

Compagnoni was born in northern Italy in 1914 and trained to be an Alpine guide and ski instructor.

After his climbing days were over, he ran an inn in Cervinia in the Italian Alps.