Mick Conefrey| |
Visiting the Hotel Compagnoni in Cervinia
I've just been to Cervinia for a very nice couple of days to see the widow of Achille Compagnoni, Elda and her sister Fernanda.
A ski town out of season is even more quiet than a seaside town in the winter. Without the snow and the skiers, there is nothing but empty hotels and mountains all around bearing down on you. I've been to Cervinia a couple of times, twice to film and once to ski (though to slip and stumble would be more accurate).
After making the first ascent in 1954 with Lino Lacedelli and a strong Italian team, Achille Compagnoni ran a hotel in Cervinia, whilst for a number of years still working as a mountain guide and a ski instructor. The hotel is covered in photographs and books celebrating that successful Italian expedition of July 1954
I was there to look at photographs, to try to see if I could resolve the long, bitter controversy over what exactly happened on the summit day. Did Compagnoni and Lacedeli reach the summit without oxygen or not? Walter Bonatti thought that they used it all the way and today most people believe him. Only trouble is, I'm not sure that he was right.
One important piece of evidence in the story, was the photographic analysis of the summit images by an Australian, Robert Marshall. The more I read his stuff, the more flaws I can see in it. There is very little that he got right.
When I firs read Marshall he sounded very convincing, but when you go right back to the records form 1954,you begin to realise how much he got wrong. In my book I systematically take his position apart and also question the version of the narrative that Walter Bonatti put forward, but which I again think is flawed. This is not going to be a popular position, Bonatti is still hugely popular in Italy, but it is impossible not to question him , once you investigate the story.
I did not find a single 'smoking gun', a piece of photographic evidence that would make everything fall into place, but the more that I look at documents from the period, the more I am convinced that Compagnoni and Lacedelli were telling the truth.
The manuscript is in with the publishers, a huge relief. I've got some more work to do but hopefully not too much. Then it will be up to the public to make their own minds up. It will be very interesting to see what reactions it gets......
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