Miss Oh Eun-Sun, doubts and certainties surrounding her 14x8000ers
A commission called upon by the Korean Alpine Federation has declared Miss Oh Eun-Sun's Kangchenjunga ascent as improbable, thus raising doubts as to whether the Korean was the first woman to have climbed all fourteen 8000m peaks.
By now it's public domain: Miss Oh Eun-Sun is no longer the first woman to have climbed all fourteen 8000m peaks. Or so it seems. Even if the press releases of many agencies and many specialised sites are certain. What seems to have been fatal for the Korean alpinist is the decision of a commission of seven senior alpinists called upon by the KAF, the Korean Alpine Federation, which declared her 2009 Kangchenjunga summit as being "unlikely". One thing needs to made clear right from the outset: this hasn't come out of the blue, doubts about Miss Oh's ascent had been in the air for a while. And the whispers and comments which accompany Himalayan alpinists far more often than one might think had never ceased. Including the thoughts of Basque alpinist Edurne Pasaban who "placed second" in the female race to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world. So much so that, even before this latest turn of events, many defined Miss Oh's Kangchenjunga summit as "disputed". These included, amongst other, Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the American journalist and living "database" of Himalayan ascents. So everything has been cleared up now? No, not really...
Let's analyse the known facts. As can be gleamed from the in-depth article published on www.explorersweb.com, according to the information gathered by Miss Elizabeth Hawley, Oh Eun-Sun reached the top of the third highest mountain in the world (Kangchenjunga, her tenth 8000er) on 6 May 2009 at 17:45pm. She was the first to summit that season and was accompanied by three Sherpa, Dawa Wangchuk (Ongchu Dawa) Sherpa (Mathilow, Nepal), Sherpa Nurbu (Nurbugaon, Nepal) and Pema Tshering Sherpa (Upper Walung, Nepal). Furthermore, weather conditions were difficult and the upper section of the mountain was shrouded in cloud. But let's get to the point: Miss Oh was unable to provide a summit photo except for a final image on a rocky section which, without a shadow of doubt, is located at least 2 hours from the summit. The Korean's sponsor is said to have confirmed that summit photos were not taken due to the poor weather conditions and the serious white-out condition. Dawa Wangchuk, the most experienced of the three Sherpa who accompanied Miss Oh and great Kangchenjunga expert, confirmed the summit. While another Sherpa seems to have stated that they descended earlier. The third Sherpa still needs to be interviewed.
There is more. Such as the flag which the Korean should have planted on the summit but which was found lower down by other alpinists. And a photo which is said to have been modified with Photoshop. Add to this the ascent times which initially seemed improbable. And one could also bear in mind that, while all this was happening, Edurne Pasaban (the Basque climber who many believe is the first woman to have achieved the 14x8000) was there, in Kangchenjunga base camp. Poised, a mere 12 days after the Korean's ascent, to reach the summit on 18 May 2009. That was to become Pasaban's 12th 8000er, at the time she had a lead of 2 summits... the rest is history.
Or perhaps it isn't, seeing that Miss Oh failed to attend the accredited commission of seven "wise men", organised by the Korean Alpine Club, stating afterwards "I will continue to collect evidence to prove the ascent and then ask for a review." Perhaps this is where the point lies. The story has all the makings of being unfinished or, better still, never-ending like so many others in mountaineering. All the more so since, as Explorersweb rightly points out, all these facts were well known prior to the commission meeting. So nothing seems to have changed compared to that "disputed" definition or, to use the Korean Commission's term, "improbable". Which means that for the moment there is no decisive evidence neither for nor against. So it's the usual story which, unfortunately, alpinism knows all too well. And which in truth other alpinists (at times unjustly) have fallen victim to.
So, without wishing to rush to change the "results", perhaps it's more sensible to withhold judgement and wait for what Miss Oh has to say. What remains is the age-old truth: proving the "lies" or the "truths" of alpinists at a later stage is simply impossible. What also remains is the uselessness and absurdity of these competitions which in the mountains, and above all in the Himalaya, exist yet which all obstinately deny. One mustn't forget that this is a "competition" which isn't a "competition" because apart from having no clearly defined rules (supplementary oxygen, to name just one factor), it has no form of control. What should be clear by now is that these "hidden" competitions are "bad", they harm alpinism. It has to be said that we (those who talk about alpinism) share part of the responsibility when we concentrate so little on how the summit was actually reached.
In the meantime, while waiting for new details from Miss Oh, it seems as if taking at least one photo seems necessary to render a summit real and credible. This has been the case for a long time. But please let us say that this state of affairs is a bit sad. It's for this reason that, as Nives Meroi (11 8000ers without supplementary oxygen and without Sherpa) said a while ago, let's hope that at least these "races" will finish and that we will be able to turn a new leaf... Unfortunately though, in this case too it seems as if things have turned out rather differently.