Success and tragedy on Phari Lapcha

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 06/02/2011
Yoo on 25m crack close to summit. Corean Alpine Club

On the 16th December, during the Nepalese winter season, Koreans Hwang Gi-yong, Shin Dong-seok and Yoo Hak-jae reached the summit of Phari Lapcha East, having climbed a hard new mixed route on the North Face.

Despite a number of attempts on the steep 1,000m+ face by strong parties, including British, before the Korean ascent there were only three routes - all hard - on Phari Lapcha, a 6,017m peak situated immediately west of the Gokyo Valley. The East Summit is slightly lower than the main top.

Yoo is one of the most accomplished mountaineers in Korea, having summited Pik Communism, solo, in 1990, and most impressively completed the first ascent of the Central Spur on the West Face of Gasherbrum IV in 1997. Two years previously, he had reached 7,800m on the North West Ridge of GIV and sustained severe frostbite.

In the last decade Yoo has concentrated on 6,000m peaks, but during this period is perhaps the only Korean alpinist to have consistently put up new routes - mostly in pure alpine style (eg the first ascent of CAC Sar and Corean Sar in the Karakoram during 2008). He continues to climb in the best style possible.

The three climbers set off early on December 13, starting up the left flank of the spur immediately left of the couloir taken by the 2008 Polish route, Independence Day.

After a bivouac at 5,387m they continued up the prominent crest of the spur, climbing moderate mixed terrain and pure rock between 5.7-5.9. Higher, there were sections of thin 85° ice, where screw placement was impossible. Hwang appeared to be slowing down and they stopped for their second bivouac at 2.30pm.

More moderate snow terrain led to a third bivouac at 5,863m on the left edge of the face. On the 16th, with Hwang complaining only of bad stomach pains but seemingly in a stable condition, they left for the summit.

At the base of a 25m overhanging crack all three left sacs, made a precarious ascent of the loose, 5.9 crack, and despite rock fall from above, climbed safely to the summit. All were elated and quickly descended to the previous night's bivouac.

From here they traversed to the East Ridge and descended to a bivouac at 5,735m. Huang had seemingly not deteriorated, but the next morning, in the initial stages of the rappel descent, he suddenly collapsed and died.

The remaining two climbers continued down, reaching the village of Machermo in the Gokyo Valley during late afternoon. Four days later, with the help of Sherpas, they retrieved the body and transported it to Kathmandu.

The 1,200m climb has been named, not surprisingly, the Korean Route. No pegs or bolts were placed, and the technical difficulties were rated as 5.9, A3, WI5+ and M5.

Thanks to Peter Jensen-Choi for help with this report. And two explain the obvious contradiction in spelling, while Korean, referring to the people, is spelt with a K, the Corean Alpine Club uses a C.



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