Hong Sung-Taek and Team Leave for Lhotse South Face

As COVID diminishes — despite a now-predictable ebb and flow — some climbers are resuming projects that thwarted them in 2019. It’s a long time to wait, especially for people with one clear, long-term goal in mind. People like Hong Sung-Taek of Korea and his once-in-a-lifetime goal: to climb the South Face of Lhotse.

“I really wanted to go back to Lhotse’s South Face in 2020, but I just couldn’t because of COVID,” Hong told ExplorersWeb. “Now I am thrilled to be able to return.”

On Lhotse South Face in 2019. Photo: Hong Sung-Taek

No break in training

South Korea’s long pandemic lockdowns and closed frontiers were a test to Hong’s will, but he kept up an iron discipline.

“I ran 10km in the mountains every day for the last three years,” he said. “After 30 years in the high mountains, I already have necessary climbing skills and technique, so I focused on increasing my lung capacity and stamina and keeping my body in the best condition.”

In June, 2020, Hong posted a video of his daily training. (We can’t embed it but you can download it here.) And he wrote: “The tougher the wind in Himalaya and the harsher the mountains, the faster my heart should beat and the stronger my muscles need to be.”

Brothers in arms

Hong leaves for Nepal on tomorrow, April 13, with expedition partner Sung Nak-Jong. Once there, they will meet the rest of the group: Jorge Egocheaga of Spain, Vadim Druelle of France, and a strong local team led by Pecchumbe Sherpa.

Egocheaga — a past 14×8,000’er summiter  — accompanied Hong on his previous attempt on the 3,200m-high wall in 2019. The Spaniard made an impression.

“Jorge Egocheaga is [a climbing] brother for me,” Hong said. “He is very strong and…has already climbed all 14 8,000’ers. He is a surgeon in Spain…a very humble person…and the most wonderful climber I have ever met.”

Vadim Druelle. Photo: Instagram

Meanwhile, Vadim Druelle is an alpinist and member of France’s national ski-mo race team. Last fall, he climbed Manaslu in one push from Base Camp to (fore)summit, without O2. It was his first experience above 7,000m. Not a bad beginning.