(BY Angela Benavides EDIT Brooke Meetze/TinaSjogren) As late as September 1, ExplorersWeb stood by South Korean lady climber Oh Eun-Sun, "Miss Oh", in her claim to be the first woman 14x8000er summiteer.
In the past, Korean climbers had been accused of cheating on several occasions. For example, Korean Um Hong-Gil claimed to be the first Asian 14x8000er summiteer before Young Seok-Park, but many rejected his climbs on Lhotse and Shisha Pangma. Um climbed both of again (Lhotse in spring 2001, Shisha in fall 2001), but in the mean time, Seok-Park finished his own quest, grabbing the 'First Asian' title.
Young-Seok Park himself had many climbers doubting his summit on Lhotse. He had no summit picture. Park repeated the climb in 2000, including a super photo gallery from all the sections, including the summit itself. The last 8000er for Mr. Park was K2, in summer 2001.
Now Oh Eun-Sun stood trial. Several of her climbs were questioned, in particular, both fellow Korean climbers and Edurne Pasaban team disputed her 2009 Kangchenjunga summit. Their doubts were later fed by Himalayan chronicler Elizabeth Hawley and the Korean Climbing Federation concluding that is was unlikely that Miss Oh had summited Kangchenjunga.
The achievement in itself is significant, and deadly. Much like an Olympic medal, the dedication needed steals a good chunk of a financial and personal life, but it brought Reinhold Messner, the first male to climb all the 14, wealth and global fame. Unlike in traditional sports, this game has too many many mountaineers that have perished, such as Messner's Polish rival Jerzy Kukuczka and Miss Oh's fellow Korean lady competitor Miss Go.
But was the criticism of Miss Oh just another case of language barriers and racial bias? Among all the doubts posted by climbers on several boards, none were a deciding factor alone. To settle the matter once and for all, ExplorersWeb set out to make a final investigation. In the process we found new facts that force a change at AdventureStats -- in favor of Spanish Edurne Pasaban.
There was generally little summit proof or reports published on most of Eun-Sun's 8000er climbs. As for
Kangchenjunga, the biggest questions were:
1. Miss Oh and her three Sherpas launched their summit bid in very bad weather conditions. While they took an unusually long time to climb until the so-called "Diagonal" (at 8,300m), they reportedly went very fast from that point to the summit (8,586 m), higher and on difficult terrain.
2. Miss Oh's sponsor Blak Yak took weeks before distributing a summit image. When it arrived, it showed rocky terrain, while the summit cone of Kangchenjunga was well covered in snow. Miss Oh later explained that due to strong winds, the image had been shot slightly below the highest point. In a press conference held in Seoul in December 2009, explorer sirdar Dawa Wangchuk (Ongchu) Sherpa stated they had really reached the peak's true summit. Miss Oh and her team thus would have walked to the top before or after the picture was taken.
3. There were empty oxygen bottles on the summit reported climbers who arrived there some time later. Kim Jae-Soo and the late Go Mi-Sun, Norwegian Jon Gangdal and Swedish Mattias Karlsson photographed them. Miss Oh at first said they were not there when she summited and then concluded she really didn't remember.
4. Climbers often carry sponsor banners to be placed on summits. Miss Oh had with her SWU alpine club flags. Gangdal and Kim found a SWU alpine club flag secured under four stones, but not on the top. "We found her flag approx 50-60 [vertical] meters below summit," John Gangdal told ExplorersWeb. Kim Jae-Soo, climbing with Miss Go, said it was found about 45 minutes down.
Miss Oh told Digital Chosun Ilbo, a Korean newspaper (check links section) that she had lost the flag during the climb. Yet in the "near-summit" image, the flag can be seen tucked inside her down suit (check top image illustrating this story). Sponsor Blak Yak contributed to the confusion by Photoshopping out the flag from the image they distributed as summit picture, while it did appear in a second picture of Miss Oh, now holding the national South Korean flag at the very same location.
5. Miss Oh had promised more images and video footage which was never submitted. Images that she presented to Elizabeth Hawley were shot from near BC showing the climbers high up, but not on the summit. No further climbing references, times, GPS data or audiovisual information have been provided.
6. One of the most damning blows came from one of Miss Oh's own, and it was handed right to her rival during the finals on Annapurna. According to Edurne Pasaban, Miss Oh's Sherpa, Norbu (Chheji Nurbu) Sherpa (1*, footnote), told her that they had not reached the summit on Kang. The Sherpa said he and the others had remained silent in fear of losing their job with a Korean-owned outfitter. This moved Edurne to openly object to the Korean claims. There was a catch though. The Sherpa reportedly told Edurne he was ready to provide photographic proof of the Korean team turning back -- in exchange for 1,000,000.
"He had calculated the currency exchange rate and asked for the amount in Nepali rupees," Pasaban told ExplorersWeb. "I had to use a calculator to find out how much was he asking for, and then I laughed. I wouldn't pay anything, since accepting blackmail is no way to keep one's credibility. The figure was a joke."
Most of the process in Pasaban's story was witnessed by Desnivel's director Dario Rodriguez who was on a research trip to Kathmandu. Even though Edurne wouldn't pay, Norbu finally fessed up also to Elizabeth Hawley -- but with no supporting proof, Elizabeth related to La Vanguardia.
Miss Oh's team said the Sherpa was lying, in revenge for being sacked from the Annapurna expedition due to frostbite he had sustained on Kang. Expedition sirdar Dawa Wangchuk (Ongchu) Sherpa, a three-time Kanghenjunga summiteer, stuck to his guns claiming that his team had summited. The third Sherpa, Pemba Tsering (Chiring), avoided making statements but when he finally did speak to Miss Hawley, he supported Wangchuk (check Chosun's report).
Next: Climbers and the media searching for the truth
(1*) Sherpa's name spelling varies depending on the source consulted -- spellings in this article follow Miss Hawley's Himalayan Database, the international press and reports submitted by Edurne Pasaban.
(2*) Miss Oh's summit is considered valid but disputed by Elizabeth Hawley.
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