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2014 Best of ExplorersWeb Interview Special: Koreans on Lhotse South Wall

Posted: Dec 29, 2014 01:46 pm EST

(Tina Sjogren/Kyu Dam Lee) 2014 brought the usual range of human drama at Explorersweb:  Joy, heartbreak, weakness, courage, failures, triumphs - and a host of cool projects.


Who can forget Ryan-and-Eric's seemingly impossible fight for the North Pole, while (almost simultaneously) two women refused to be bullied and soared over the guards in Everest icefall.


There was the victorious K2 season, the Old Men and the Sea stories, a modern fairy tale ride through the Americas, and of course Exweb founders'  Space project kicking off. 


We lost Chad Kellogg to Fitz Roy.


There was more, and it's not over yet. Expeditions have left town for some of the final battles for the few remaining high altitude virgins in winter Pakistan.


Yet this year one video caught our eye above all: The South Koreans on the notorious Lhotse south wall getting pummeled by ice and snow.


Lhotse's south face has rejected some of the best climbers in history - the Polish winter masters and Reinhold Messner included - and a simple glimpse at the mighty wall is enough to understand the level of difficulty and risks involved. 

The overwhelming mass of rock and ice is over 3,000 feet tall, and provides one of the most challenging climbs above 8,000 meters. The few who ever dared to attempt it were big names in climbing history. The south face of Lhotse is linked to the lives and deaths of men such as Jerzy Kukuzkca, Tomo Cesen, Ricardo Cassin, Cristof Profit and more.


Over the years we had seen nothing at Explorersweb like the avalanches punishing the Korean climbers on the wall this fall. To close 2014, last week we caught up with expedition leader Seong Taek Hong  (in his third attempt on the face) for an inside on the climb. 


Explorersweb: You were sick on descent, how are you doing now?


Seong Taek Hong: Fortunately, I am getting well now. Thank you.


Explorersweb: How long time were you on Lhotse this time?


Seong Taek Hong: I arrived BC September 3 and left November 7 - I spent almost 2.5 months.


Explorersweb: It took you more than a month to establish C2 at 6800 meter and C3 at 7500. What were the main difficulties and how high did you get?


Seong Taek Hong: First off, it snowed heavily almost daily between September 3 and October 15, we had no more than 5-6 clear days.


Another difficulty was the section between C2 and C3. This is the hardest part on the Lhotse south wall before the summit. The slope is about 70 degrees with a buttress and a ridge. This, along with the frequent avalanches limited our climbing.  


I expected to make it at least to 8200-8300 but made it only to about 7700 m. The bad weather didn't help.


Explorersweb: What was the main reason for not making it all the way? 


Seong Taek Hong: Not enough time. I would say the daily, heavy snowfall and also too few people. I needed members who were strong and fearless enough to climb freely on a very big vertical wall (2000 meters) on high attitude.


Explorersweb: Looking back, do you think you chose the right route?  Why did you choose it? Any other line/variation that would be better for the conditions? 


Seong Taek Hong: I have tried several approaches; the same route as other expedition teams and a different line. I think that our route was more difficult but safer. I believe our line has a way to the top while the other route (ed note: Kukuczka’s) has an overhang sector (40~50 m) at the end of the couloir which seriously complicates summit approach.


Explorersweb:  The avalanches in your video looked insane. Have you encountered such conditions before on any other mountain? Any comments on the avalanches besides what we can see in the video?


Seong Taek Hong: I have experienced smaller snow slides before but never something as big and forceful as this. 


Explorersweb:  This was probably the longest and toughest mountaineering expedition this autumn. What were your most valuable lessons learned?


Seong Taek Hong: A reminder that on the south wall of Lhotse I'm nothing but a vulnerable ant. And that the wall needs a unique patience and tolerance for pain. It cannot be overcome by brute human force. The south wall of Lhotse was formidable.


Explorersweb: Are you going to try it again?


Seong Taek Hong: Yes, I will. My Sherpa Sanu told me that it would be very unfortunate to stop this project. He is even more upset than I am, and believes we'll do well if we try again this coming spring (March 2015). So I plan to return in 4 months. My Taiwanese sponsor who financed 50% of the expedition offered to sponsor 100% of the next. Taiwanese TV company CTI TV had a good response from viewers and spike in their ratings so they'll broadcast. 


Explorersweb:  What's your dream expedition? 


Seong Taek Hong: I have explored many mountains, in Himalaya as well as in the polar regions. Though I paid dearly for them in terms of difficulties and pain; I have achieved many dreams. But I'm not content and my mind is always looking for something new to accomplish. Right now it's the south wall of Lhotse. I learned there how to handle dangers, difficulties, tiredness, cold and hunger. I would like to give it my all until I'm certain that it is impossible. The south wall of Lhotse is my dream expedition.


Explorersweb: At only 1950 meter Hallasan is the highest peak in South Korea - how come South Korean's are so into high altitude mountaineering? Do you think that Korean climbers have a different approach to mountaineering than other nationalities?


Seong Taek Hong: I climbed many mountains in Korea.  Walking their ridges alone or in groups, I dreamed of higher peaks. The feeling on a mountain may differ by societies, nations and individuals. People have different climbing styles as I have my own, which I think is what's important and valuable. I don't depend on the judgement, records or achievements of others. I do it my way.


Explorersweb: Korean climbers almost always climb in national expeditions and rarely mix with other nationalities. Why do you think that is?


Seong Taek Hong: I think lack of communication is the major reason. And the food. It's hard to share with foreigners the Korean food that makes a Korean strong.  


Explorersweb: You are a "cross-explorer": You summited Everest already in 1995, you skied to the South Pole and the North Pole and crossed Bering Strait in 2012. What has been your most challenging expedition?


Seong Taek Hong: Crossing the Bering sea. It was very rough, dynamic and dangerous. I'd call it the highlight of exploration, a miniature of North Pole exploration.


Explorersweb: You shared expeditions with Mr. Park - how has the loss of him affected you?


Seong Taek Hong: I was shocked. I did 5 overseas expeditions with him. It's unforgettable and the accident reminds me that safety is never enough. We promised each other we would climb Lhotse south wall together after completing the south wall on Annapurna. I went to Bering sea and he went to Annapurna with Dong Min Shin. We promised to climb Lhotse together, but he and Dong Min Shin did not return.


Explorersweb: Anything else you'd like to tell us?


Seong Taek Hong: I'd like to add just one more thing. Don't challenge the mountain and climb to win over it. Just safely enjoy your climbing, whether you success or fail. And, be careful.



Only one expedition has been successfull in climbing the Lhotse South Wall. On Oct 16, 1990 USSR mountaineers Sergey Bershov and Gennadiy Karataev reached the summit.


Bios expedition members:

Leader Seong Taek Hong (born in 1966)

Mountaineering club of Young-In Univ. OB.

2014 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

2013 attempt, Lhotse (8516 m)

2012 crossing, Bering Strait (by foot)

2007 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m) Lhotse Shar (8382 m)

2011 crossing, Greenland (2500 km)

2005 arrived, NP (N90) (by foot)

2002 attempt, Pumori, east wall (7117 m)

1999 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

1998 summit, Thapa peak (6012 m)

1996 attempt, Dhaulagiri (8167 m) Annapurna (8091 m)

1995 summit, Everest (8848 m)

1995 summit, Shishapangma (8046 m)

1994 attempt, Pumori, NE (7117 m)

1994 arrived SP (S90) (by ski and walk)

1993 attempt, Everest (8848 m)

1992 summit, Khan Tengri (7010 m)

CL : Jin Choel Choi (born in 1972)

KAFS Dae-Gu metropolitan area

2014 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

2013 attempt, Lhotse (8516 m)

2007 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

2006 summit, Ama Dablam (6856 m)

member Jae Min Jeon (born in 1989)

Mountaineering club of In-Jae Univ. YB

2014 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

2014 summit, Gasherbrum-2 (8035 m)

2013 attempt, Lhotse (8516 m)

member Hyoung Woo Choi (born in 1987)

Mountaineering club of Kyoung-Il Univ. OB.

2014 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)

2014 attempt, Gasherbrum-5 (7147 m)

member Joon Oo Lim (born in 1976)

National Park of Seol-Ak-San (Mt. Seol-Ak)

2014 attempt, Lhotse, south wall (8516 m)



2013 Best of ExplorersWeb

Seong Taek Hong about Lhotse 2013, The Poles and the Bering Strait: ExWeb Interview

Lhotse South Face: Around Everest's corner








Korean climber Seong Taek Hong hanging on the anchor while swept by avalanche on the Lhotse wall. Click to expand.
courtesy Screenshot by ExplorersWeb, SOURCE
Team member freeing himself after yet another rock and ice shower.
The avalanches just kept coming. And coming.
Seong Taek Hong
courtesy Seong Taek Hong., SOURCE
Sanu Sherpa and Hong overcoming crux on the wall.
courtesy Seong Taek Hong, SOURCE
Next gen Korean mountaineer: Hyoung Woo Choi, 27.
courtesy Hyoung Woo Choi, SOURCE
Jin Choel Choi putting to use a rare day of clear skies.
courtesy Seong Taek Hong, SOURCE
Seong Taek Hong leading an ice climb.
courtesy Seong Taek Hong, SOURCE
Surviving avalanches video