Despite daunting obstacles and numerous failed expeditions to reach the summit of K2 (including a disastrous 1953 effort by an American team), the mountain was finally conquered in 1954.
The triumphant team started out from base camp on May 31, 1954. During the two-month ascent, one climber (Mario Puchoz) died from High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. Desio had carefully planned the route to the top, but storms on the mountain caused many delays. Patiently and methodically, the team pressed on.
Late in the day on July 29, 1954, Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli reached the summit. They had climbed the most dangerous mountain in the world.
Their remarkable achievement occurred fourteen months after Edmund Hillary (for whom Hillary Rodham Clinton was named) and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mt. Everest. (This videohistoric footage and recreations, commemorates that important event.)
Daylight was nearly gone by the time Compagnoni and Lacedelli reached the top of K2. After taking pictures and planting flags, they descended - in darkness - to the highest camp on the mountain.
True to his egalitarian approach, Professor Desio did not initially disclose who had reached the summit. In his mind, the entire team deserved the credit. Later, however, the world learned who had taken the first steps on the summit of K2.
Many people have followed in those footsteps, despite the notoriously treacherous storms and avalanches that strike unexpectedly. (Be patient while this K-2 avalanche slide show loads.) Many people have died trying to climb the unrelentingly steep mount that has come to be known as "Savage Mountain."
Death, on the world's high mountains, is more common than one might think. And the circumstances of death are as frequently shrouded by mystery as the summits are shrouded by clouds.
The most famous mystery of all swirled around the disappearance of George Mallory - whose quote begins our story. When he said
What we get
from this adventure
is just sheer joy
And joy is, after all,
the end of life
he was two years from the end of his own life. For 75 years no one knew exactly where he was - or what had happened to him. Until ... the spring of 1999.