Korean Alpine Federation questions Miss Oh's Kangchenjunga 2009 summit

Posted: Aug 30, 2010 03:56 pm EDT

There's no break for Oh Eun-Sun. Thursday, the Korean Alpine Federation (KAF) declared her summit claim for Kangchenjunga 2009 "unlikely." Their doubts add to those previously brought forward by rival Edurne Pasaban, which moved Himalayan chronicler Elizabeth Hawley this spring to tag the summit as disputed."

ExplorersWeb/AdventureStats previously investigated but found no proof to invalidate Miss Ohs summit, and no new evidence seem to have showed up since.

KAF: lack of proof

Seven senior members of the Korean Alpine Federation, including six Kangchenjunga summiteers such as 14x8000er climbers Park Young-Seok, Un-Hong Il and Han Wang-Yong held marathon talks and scrutinized the facts before concluding unanimously that Miss Oh apparently didn't reach the summit, Korea Times report.

"The facts to prove her summiting were not enough," KAF managing Director Jae-Bong Kim told media. The commitee based their doubts on the lack of a proper summit pic, climbing times, contradictions among climbing sherpas, and a summit flag - intended to be left on the top - which was later seen by other climbers quite a way below.

Lee Eui-jae, secretary general of the Korean Alpine Federation, told The Korea Times that Oh was asked to attend the talks and defend herself, but refused to do so, citing insufficient preparation.

Old and new allegations

Oh Eun-sun and sponsoring Black Yak had already responded late 2009 to all accusations in Korea concerning the summit picture (which Oh stated was shot a bit below the top due to high winds), and doubts of the climbing schedule (apparently sprung from a misunderstanding about the team's location of high camp and thus starting point on summit day).

As for witnesses, out of the three Sherpas accompanying Miss Oh on Kanchenjunga Dawa Wangchuk (on his fourth Kangch ascent) told Miss Hawley that they had indeed reached the mountain's highest point. Nurbu Sherpa reportedly stated that the group turned around shortly before the rappel, about an hour away from the top. The third Sherpa has not yet been interviewed by Himalayan Database crew.

Details about the SWU alpine club flag are still sketchy. Eun-sun reportedly lost the flag, but some copies of the summit picture reportedly featured a piece of it sticking out from her jacket. In a TV documentary shown by Seoul Broadcasting System, Black Yak was accused to photoshop the summit image in order to delete the flag.

Miss Oh, Edurne, Liz Hawley and the media

After hearing KAF's conclusion, Eun-sun strongly rejected all accusations, and said that she intends to defend herself in an upcoming press conference."I will continue to collect evidence to prove the ascent and then ask for a review," she stated. According to Korea Times, the federation chief did not rule out this possibility should Oh submit new evidence.

Second in line for the 14x8000er women record Edurne Pasaban told ExplorersWeb that she has nothing to add to the statements she made months ago. I doubted her claim, and so I spoke out. It's a relief that the Korean Federation now agree, showing that I am not the only one to take a stand. What I can really prove are my own 14x8000er summits, Edurne said.

Meanwhile, mainstream media somewhat prematurely made their own conclusions: "First woman to climb world's highest peaks stripped of title," headlines UK's Telegraph.

In Edurne Pasaban's Spain media took it further even by declaring Edurne "officially the First" and quoting "an official" release by Miss Hawley declaring that Miss Oh must repeat Kangchenunga.

Facts are rather different though.

Liz's email was a private note that read: "I've already been asked whether we will mark her claim as unrecognized instead of disputed, and I've said no (...) I certainly feel sorry for her, but it would seem her only choice now is to go back and climb it again with lots of clear photos."

Edurne told ExplorersWeb that Liz remarked that she is not to decide in cases of disputed climbs such as Miss Oh's.

ExWeb: no change

As for ExplorersWeb, under the right of presumed innocence and the mountaineering code to believe the word of a climber unless serious facts contradict him/her: there is still no clear evidence showing that Miss Oh lied about her 2009 Kangchenjunga summit.

The key issues in Korea last year were that the summit picture was not shot on the summit and that the summit push time line was improbable.

Miss Oh never told ExplorersWeb that the sponsor picture was shot on the summit and her claim of bad weather was confirmed by other teams' reports. She further clarified the location of her high camp which back then reportedly satisfied the Korean critics of her climbing time line.

The lead Sherpa, among the most experienced Kangchenjunga climbers and well familiar with the topo of the mountain including the location of the true summit acted as her witness: Dawa Wangchuk was reportedly even brought to Korea late 2009 were he quite passionately repeated his summit statement.

As it stands

At AdventureStats Miss Oh's record remains valid unless new facts emerge, such as claims by Miss Oh that the summit picture was shot on the main top; a proof that the high camp was set lower than the team alleges; and/or several of the climbers retracting the summit claim.

It should again be noted that while the Himalayan Database has marked Miss Oh's Kangchenjunga summit "disputed" and The Korean Federation has marked it "unlikely" - no instance outright stripped the mountaineer of her record.

ExplorersWeb have asked Miss Oh Eun-sun, Edurne Pasaban and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner for a complete report including details, summit pictures and a list of witnesses of all their 8000ers. Pasaban has already provided such a list, Kaltenbrunner would do so after she returned from K2, while a reply is expected from Eun-sun.

According to Miss Hawley's Himalayan Database, Ms. Eun-Sun Oh, from South Korea summited Kangchenjunga on May 6, 2009 at 17:45pm, together with Dawa Wangchuk (Dawa Ongchu) Sherpa (Mathilow, Nepal), Nurbu Sherpa (Nurbugaon, Nepal), and Pema Tshering Sherpa (Upper Walung, Nepal).

It was the first summit of the season and conditions were rough.

After Edurne Pasaban raised doubts in spring this year, Miss Oh's sponsor Black Yak stated that Miss Oh was last observed at (8,400 m) a position near the Finger-nail Rock before disappearing into the fog between the summit and Yalung-kang (west peak of Kangchenjunga, 8,505 m).

"It took 3 hours and 40 minutes to reach summit from finger-nail rock in serious white-out condition. This climbing time is considered as reasonable time by mountaineers who have experience on Mt. Kangchenjunga," states the sponsor. "Some sherpas in BC also said 1~2 hours are enough to climb the summit from the rock."

As for the lack of fixed ropes below the summit, Black Yak reply: "The slope 200 meters below the summit is comparatively gentle, so fixed rope is not a necessary option."

ExplorersWeb looked into the matter already last year. The timeline for the final push was odd, and there was no summit picture, except for a sponsor image shot lower down due to the bad weather according to Miss Oh.

An apparent misunderstanding regarding Miss Oh's last summit push starting point (crucial for the timing issue), a witness and HimalayaDataBase confirming the summit - in addition to frequent confusion among western climbers between Miss Oh and the late fellow Korean Miss Go (the latter climbing on oxygen support and with big entourage) - ExplorersWeb ruled that doubts about Miss Oh's Kanchen summit were not backed by enough fact at that point. The involved were however offered to add new evidence should such become available.

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Miss Oh Eun-Sun in tears at a press conference in December, 2009, held after the Korean Alpine Federation first asked for more proof of her Kangchenjunga summit claim.
Image by Yonhap News courtesy Yonhap News/Korean Herald, SOURCE
Highest point reached by Oh Eun-Sun on Kangchenjunga in spring, 2009, as reported to Der Spiegel.