Oh’s 14 8,000m peaks, true or false?

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 29/04/2010
Oh Eun-sun. Karrar Haidri

After reaching the summit of 8,091m Annapurna on the 26th April, Korean mountaineer Oh Eun-sun has become the first female claimant of all the 14, 8,000ers. Is there any substance in the controversy that currently surrounds her, or is it simply a case of sour grapes?

During her collection of the 8,000ers, a number of people have been outspoken on the tactics she has employed: large amounts of oxygen; a strong team of Korean climbers and Sherpas to prepare part of the route up the next mountain while she is still at grips with her current objective; using a helicopter to make fast transitions between the base camps of peaks.

However, she still has to put one foot in front of the other to get to the top and many a high altitude suitor has failed to do that.

But the recent controversy, which unfortunately has only come to light while Oh was at grips with the North Side of Annapurna, is whether or not she summited 8,586m Kangchenjunga on the 6th May 2009 with experienced high-altitude Sherpas, Dawa Wangchuk, Norbu and Pema Tshering.

The four report leaving their 7,700m top camp at 9am, reaching the top just before 6pm, and then descending through the night to regain their tents the following morning.

It was only months later that a photo appeared of Oh on the summit. It was clear to those who knew the terrain that this wasn't the summit, but in a press talk Oh explained that the weather had been too bad on top and the picture taken a little distance below.

Ferran Latorre - a member of the Spanish team led by Edurne Pasaban, the other major female contender close to collecting all 14 - who summited 12 days later, noted a green rope in the picture, which he believes was the highest line fixed by the Koreans and located at around 8,350m, rather more than 'a little distance below'.

However, Norwegians who climbed shortly after Oh found the Korean flag no more than 60m below the summit.

Most recently, friends of the Sherpas who climbed with Oh have come forward to state categorically that she did not reach the summit.

Unfortunately, this information has come at a time when Oh is unable to defend herself, and has been publicized by the Spanish, who undoubtedly have a vested interest in unearthing the truth: Pasaban is currently on Xixabangma, her 14th and only remaining 8,000m summit. Hopefully, the matter will be resolved when Oh returns from Annapurna.

Of course, all this is not new: far from it

The same problem occurs with our own Alan Hinkes. In the official lists made by chroniclers of those who have climbed all 14 of the world's highest peaks, Alan is omitted due to contradicting reports on his ascent of Cho Oyu

Cho Oyu is a tricky one, as the highest point is one of several small 'bumps' on the far (east) side of the gently-tilted summit plateau, from where it is possible to have a clear view of Everest. Climbers on the Normal Route first have to reach the west edge of the plateau, and then plod across its not insubstantial length.

Hinkes was part of a 1990 Esprit d'Equipe expedition led by Benoit Chamoux. They first claimed summit success, but later one of the team, Yves Detry, confirmed that all climbers turned back between 8,000-8,100m without having reached the true summit. Seven years after the claimed ascent, Chamoux also told the late Inaki Ochoa that none of his team reached the top.

Hinkes, on the other hand, states clearly that when the others turned back he continued across the plateau on his own for another hour in misty conditions, eventually standing on a point he estimates was the summit. He then returned and caught up with the French on the descent.

When Denis Urubko completed his outstanding new route last year on the South East Face, and in so doing joined the ranks of those who have climbed all 14 8,000ers, he left his rucksack at the exit as a 'cairn' to mark the way down, and then plodded across the plateau, in the dark, in a snow storm, until it dropped away on the far side. Although he was very close, it's unlikely he stood on the very highest point. No one seems to have been too bothered by that.
 



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