Controversy over South Korean woman setting climbing record

Posted By: Selma Al-Faqih on May 2, 2010 8:26 am

Oh Eun-sun, the South Korean woman who claims to be the first woman to scale all 14 of the worlds highest peaks, is under scrutiny.

Edurne Pasaban, a Spanish woman who is Eun-sun’s main rival, called into question a 2009 Kanchenjunga climb in which she says Eun-sun has still failed to prove that she reached the peak. Earlier this month, Pasaban, became the first Spanish woman to conquer Annapurna. If it were found that the disputed climb is not verified, Pasaban would hold the record as the first woman to scale all 14 peaks. Pasaban is on her way to Tibet, where she will attempt to climb Shisha Pangma, the smallest of the 14 peaks.

With so much money at stake in endorsements, books and lectures, mountaineers must keep careful documentation of each climb. Climbers use photos, video and GPS tracking.

Elizabeth Hawley, an 86-year-old American journalist in Katmandu who has maintained a database of all major Himalayan climbs for the last 47 years, is considered the final arbitrator in cases like this. She says Oh’s Kanchenjunga ascent is now considered “disputed” because of the number of alpinists that have raised doubts. Hawley says, “…of the three Sherpas that climbed with Miss Oh, two have said she did not reach the summit.” There are also some photos with possible discrepancies; they don’t clearly show Eun-sun on the summit. The picture provided by Oh shows her standing on a bare rock but those taken by Pasaban’s team shows them standing on snow.

“I met Oh Eun-Sun today, she said she had video footage to prove her ascent on Kanchenjunga and that she would send me some still photos,” Hawley said.

“Her account was completely different from Pasaban’s so I really don’t know who is right.”

Oh maintains that she climbed the mountain in dispute. “I have video footage taken by the Korean Broadcasting Service where I can prove my ascent of Kanchenjunga,” she said. / CC BY-SA 2.0

Ms Pasaban, 36, who says that she did not marry or have children so that she could achieve her dream, entered the race by scaling Everest in 2001. She lost two toes to frostbite after climbing K2 in 2004.

Ms Oh, 44, – also unmarried without children – joined the contest by scaling Gasherbrum II in 1997. Her compatriot, friend and rival, Go Mi Sun, was in the race until last year when she fell to her death on Mount Nanga Parbat.

The two rivals met earlier this month for tea. It was friendly, and they both wished each other good luck.

Oh descended the mountain today, May 3, and said “When I reached the top of Annapurna, I felt as if the world was at my feet,” Oh told AFP. “I am tired of climbing, I just want to rest at home for a few years now.”