Ardito Desio

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The Independent Online

May I add a footnote to the obituary of Ardito Desio? [by Stephen Goodwin, 20 December], writes Sir Alan Cook. I knew him by repute through my friend of almost 30 years, Antonio Marussi of Trieste, who had been a member of the 1954 expedition to K2.

That expedition was not solely mountaineering – its members undertook pioneering scientific studies of the fearsome region at the junction of Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and the then Soviet Union, a region that holds the key to the structures of the highest mountainous tracts. Marussi, like Desio enthralled by high mountains, was responsible for geophysical observations and carried instruments to greater heights than had ever been done before.

Subsequent expeditions in the same region, organised by Desio, and led by colleagues inspired by him, effected the connection between the great geodetic survey of India and Russian surveys in the Pamirs. The 1954 expedition was the forerunner of a number of international geophysical projects organised from Italy that have elucidated the structures and origin of the highest lands on Earth.

Incidentally, Desio's birthplace, Palmanova, in the flat plain near Udine, is no small village but a substantial fortress town originally built by Venice against Austria, and later enlarged by Napoleon. The visitor is often disoriented by the high symmetry of its plan. Nowhere could be more different from the high mountains.