(BY Angela Benavides EDIT Brooke Meetze/TinaSjogren) Photoshopped images, a team Sherpa retracting the original summit claim, contradictory statements, shady climbing details and general lack of evidence. Language problems could not explain why even Miss Oh's fellow Korean climbers began to doubt her claims.
She counter-attacked by asking them to prove their own climbs first. The comment was inmediately softened in a press release from Black Yak, explaining that Miss Oh would like to have other climbers' reports and images in order to compare them with hers.
Miss Oh "done with the climbing community"?
After the Korean Climbing Federation publicly denounced Miss Oh's Kangchenjunga summit claim this fall, the climber complained she had not been given enough time to prepare her case (a year had passed since the expedition).
Already before the Federation's statement, all the top female climbers in the race (Miss Oh, Edurne and Gerlinde) were approached by ExplorersWeb for summit images, reports and a list of witnesses to all their 14x8000ers.
Edurne Pasaban, the closest rival, provided plenty of proof of all her summits. Eun-Sun told ExplorersWeb that the Kangchenjunga summit picture was shot five meters below the summit. As for the other 8000ers, she asked for one month to compile the facts which would be submitted by the end of September. That was the last time Miss Oh spoke to ExplorersWeb.
In an interview with Korean journalist Kim Jeong-Keun of Kyung-Hyang press group on October 6, 2010, Miss Oh said that she had cancelled a number of talks and lectures, and was done with the climbing community. The statement similar to Christian Stangl's at the time, shortly before he came clean about not summiting K2. Miss Oh added that she had no intention to climb Kangchenjunga again.
She did attend the Asian Piolets d'Or award ceremony though, held in Seoul on October 22. According to ExWeb Korea correspondent Kyu Dam-Lee, she sat away from the Blak Yak staff.
Climbers on the case
But the loop was tightening, with our without Miss Oh.
Climbers worldwide made their own research and conclusions. A thread posted on Ratna Park the day Miss Oh story was published, has become one of the most active topics. As of last month, it included 50 entries (and well over 3,000 visits) from climbers discussing, arguing and defending their opinions. In general, they seriously doubted Miss Oh's claims.
ExplorersWeb asked dozens of climbers -- most Kangchenjunga summiteers - directly. Polish winter ace climber and 14x8000er summiteer Krzysztof Wielicki offered clues, and so did Edurne's team member Ferran Latorre.
Black Yak said that the climbers had not fixed the last 200 vertical meters. "The slope 200 meters below the summit is comparatively gentle, so fixed rope is not a necessary option," they explained to ExplorersWeb.
Checking Miss Oh's summit picture, a green rope tied to Miss Oh's harness with a carabiner therefore caught Ferran Latorre's eye. "As the Koreans stated, and we later found, there were no newly fixed ropes from about 8,300 meters. So why is she clipped to a fixed rope in the summit image?" he asked. (Check images for Ferran's topo map and Asier Izaguirre at the end of the ropes by a green rope anchor on his own summit day).
As for where Miss Oh's summit picture was shot, Ferran estimated, "In my opinion, possibly where the fixed ropes ended, right before the Diagonal." The Diagonal is at 8,300 meters, the summit at 8,586.
"In my opinion the photo location is not close to the summit; the (distant) rocky outcrop seen near her foot reminds me of the summit tower," 14x8000er summiteer Krzysztof Wielicki in turn told ExplorersWeb.
"I do not want to be an arbiter, I have only doubts," the Polish climber reflected. "However, I can't help wondering: If they were on the summit, why didn't they shoot more pics and give proper proof -- most of all since Miss Oh meant to bag a women's first?"
Media on the case
Miss Oh's Kangchenjunga pic had been suspect from the start. The rocky ground was too different from the snowy surface shown on pics shot by other teams. At a press conference held in Seoul in December 2009, Eun-Sun repeated what she had told ExplorersWeb, that the pic had been shot some meters below the top due to high winds sweeping the summit.
"Her Sherpa took the photograph below the summit because bad weather prevented them from staying on the very top," the Times reported. I really conquered the mountain, a tearful Miss Oh reportedly said.
Together with her claim of the summit, the message was that Miss Oh and her team had stopped to shoot sponsor images shortly after the summit (or shortly before) due to bad weather. Possible, and thus ExplorersWeb kept supporting Miss Oh.
"I have actually never read [anything from] Miss Oh saying that she kept on climbing after shooting the pic," Dario Rodrigez of Desnivel told ExplorersWeb. "However, everything about that ascent is sketchy and extremely confusing."
"I've actually read both versions," Jorge Chueca of Barrabes.com told ExplorersWeb. "Statements of the team shooting the pic and then proceeding to the top were announced during Miss Oh's press conference in Seoul, in December 2009."
Asked again to clarify whether Miss Oh had walked to the peak's highest point before or after the picture, Black Yak replied:
"Miss Oh said that she climbed to a position lower than five meters but higher than ten meters. She added, the photo was taken at a place near her standing position (she moved from her standing position) to expose (or include) some remarkable thing (rocks)."
The team Sherpas had their own versions, neither involving a few meters. "Summit" two stated, turn-around well below, a third claimed.
Korea's SBS TV (competitors to KBS who covered Miss Oh's Annapurna climb live) aired an interview with Nurbu Sherpa echoing what he told Edurne Pasaban, "We argued because the others wanted to take the picture when we still had an hour to climb," Nurbu told the media source, adding "We shouldn't call it a peak if it's not a peak."
Pemba who had avoided making statements but then supported expedition sirdar Dawa, denied Nurbu's statement in the same show, claiming there was no argument.
Elizabeth Hawley confirmed Nurbu and Dawa's opposite versions. "Dawa definitely states they topped-out while Nurbu ensures they turned back long before the summit," she told Rosa M. Bosh of La Vanguardia.
Desnivel director Dario Rodrigez spent many hours of research and made two trips to Kathmandu trying to gather as much information as possible. The result was a thorough feature cover story in the Spanish climbing magazine's October issue.
"I had never spent so much time investigating a summit claim before," Dario Rodriguez told ExplorersWeb. "In the end, I came up with no solid evidence, no summit proof nor even details to support her [Miss Oh's] claim. Moreover, I found several contradictions and sketchy details about her story. In the end, I risked taking a stand and published a theory of what I believe had happened: she turned around near the rappel area, about 30 minutes shy from the summit."
"For a climber intending to score a world record and hoping it will be accepted by the international climbing community, it should be the other way around," Dario stated. "Miss Oh should have provided proof or at least as much information as possible beforehand, instead of hiding behind a wall of secrecy and silence."
By the second week of November, as Miss Oh attended the International Mountain Summit festival in Austria, the story finally came to its conclusion.
In an interview with Stephan Ort of Der Spiegel magazine, Miss Oh stated that she had not climbed beyond the point where the summit photo was taken.
"I'm not at the highest point, but five or ten meters below," the magazine quoted the climber. "The weather was very bad, so we did not go to the actual summit. But where I stand, it is the summit for me."
Asked for confirmation, Stephan promptly replied via email to ExplorersWeb: "Here is the exact quote I recorded on tape during the interview when I asked her about the disputed summit pic:
"The real truth is that the Kanchenjunga summit has no rock, but five or ten meters beside it (below it?) is a lot of rock. When I came there, bad weather, a change of weather, I didn't do the real point. I didn't do the real point, but my point is also on the top."
Editors note: Miss Oh also told Der Spiegel that she plans a non-supplemental oxygen Everest traverse from Tibet to Nepal, next spring.
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