Interview: Sung-Taek Hong Returns to Lhotse South Face – Jorge Egocheaga Joins

Team heads towards the mountain in first week of April.

Sung-Taek Hong returns to Lhotse South Face. He has already attempted the notoriously difficult mountain face four times, including a series of post-monsoon attempts between 2013 and 2015. For a change he will be there in spring season this time and will be joined by extremely strong Spaniard Jorge Egocheaga. Egocheaga has already climbed all fourteen eight-thousanders and is best known for his free soul; a person whom you wouldn’t find in media shows or at award ceremonies. For him mountaineering is “not a sport, but a philosophy of life.”

Explorersweb contributor Kyu Dam Lee coordinated following interview with Sung-Taek Hong about the expedition.

Exweb: What’s the strategy behind spring attempt this time? Do you expect better weather or climbing conditions on South Wall than post-monsoon?

S.T. Hong: My strategy is same as before. South wall of the mountain is so dangerous that one cannot consider style of climbing (going alpine style or without bottled oxygen). These theories of climbing are meaningless.

So, for summit in safe conditions, I would like to set up C5 at 8400 (between C4 and the summit). Whereas for the descent from summit, I am planning to use tents of Korean team who will climb the mountain via normal route on opposite side.

I have climbed the wall in autumn (post-monsoon) season previously, but this will be an attempt in spring. I am hoping for better weather conditions than autumn. Unless there is bad weather longer than one week, it will not hurt my climb seriously.

Exweb: How did you and Jorge Egocheaga team up together?

S.T. Hong: Sherpa who have previously climbed with me informed me about Jorge Egocheaga’s desire to join this team. I gladly accepted his proposal, mainly because of two reasons. First, his climbing style seems similar to my style. Secondly, there was no point in refusing the company of such an experienced climber on a treacherous wall like Lhotse South Face.

Exweb: Tell us more about the team composition.

S.T. Hong: The team also includes six members from Korea. Four team mates Seong-Woo Bae, Han-Sol Yeo, Joo-Yong Lee and Jin-Gwon Woo will support this expedition; transport food and equipment to C4. I and another climber Nak-Jong Seong will develop route to the summit. I think Mr. Seong is strong and experienced on the mountain face. He has previously climbed till 8000m with me.

Exweb: Will you be on same route as previously attempted?

S.T. Hong: There is only one [safe and logical] route to the summit. I have already climbed it till 8250m. It’s safe from avalanches and rock fall. So, I try to complete the route from 8250m to the summit this time.

Exweb: What is one key factor that has stopped you from reaching summit in previous attempts? How do you want to manage that now?

S.T. Hong: I think, I have been late in reaching and setting up C4. By the team C4 was ready, the winter winds (stronger than 100 kph) were already there which blew away tents and food even from C3 and C2. Back in Base Camp, I didn’t have time to wait for a summit window, as the climbing permission were almost over.

In spring, it’s important to reach C4 at 8250m by mid-May. If there on time, we will have a strong chance to reach the summit. I have to summit in May before monsoon, because it is very difficult to forecast weather change in June.

Exweb: Anything else you may want to share about your training, the expedition and post-expedition plans?

S.T. Hong: I run 10 kms on mountain every day to keep better condition of my heart and my lungs. After this project, I am planning to educate youth at schools for adventures in polar areas like SP, NP, and Greenland etc. I hope this will help in motivating them to experience adventures in life.