On April 26, South Korean mountaineer Oh Eun-Sun reached the summit of 26,247-foot Annapura, becoming the first woman to reach the summits of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks, the world's highest mountains.
A controversy erupted afterward as to whether or not the 44-year-old Oh had actually reached the summit of Kangchenjunga in May 2009. The dispute was settled on May 3 when Oh met with Elizabeth Hawley, the official arbiter and record keeper of Himalayan ascents. Hawley, after questioning Oh, then approved Oh's Kangchenjunga ascent but marked it "disputed." Hawley congratulated Oh on becoming the first woman to surmount the 8,000ers.
Now Oh's claim is again in jeopardy but this time from her own countrymen. A few days ago a Korean Alpine Federation panel of six top South Korean climbers, after reviewing all the evidence, determined that not enough proof existed to validate Oh's claim to have summitted Kangchenjunga. The evidence included her testimony of events, her timeline, and the photographs supposedly taken on the mountain's summit. Lee Eui-Jae, secretary general of the Korean Alpine Federation, said the panel felt that Oh's photographs did not "seem to match the actual landscape" and that they "agreed that Oh's previous explanations on the process of her ascent to Kangchenjunga are unreliable."
A photograph which Oh Eun-Sun claimed to have taken on the summit was particularly damning. The Korea Alpine Federation said, "The topography in the picture, which Oh claims was taken on the mountain, cannot be seen on top of Kangchenjunga." No convincing photograph exists of Oh on the summit since clouds obscured the views. A photograph of her that had been submitted as proof of ascent was later shown to have been taken somewhere below the summit. In that photograph Oh was standing on rock, while the summit of Kangchenjunga is snow.
This past Saturday night in South Korea, an investigative television program called "Want to Know" aired on Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS TV). The program offered more allegations that conflict with Oh's summit claims. The program showed that Oh carried a flag from her school to the summit for a photograph, but it was recovered, weighted down by four stones, about 150 feet below Kangchenjunga's summit by Jon Gangdal, a Norwegian climber who summitted the mountain 12 days after Oh.
Oh says that she lost the flag while climbing and doesn't know how it ended up where it did. The television program, however, showed the top edge of the flag protruding from inside Oh's coat in the photos supposedly taken on Kangchenjunga's summit. The program had the photos analyzed and experts confirmed that the flag in her coat appears to be identical to the one found by Gangdal. Oh refused to comment to the program producers about the flag.
Other evidence against Oh Eun-Sun including the contradictory testimony of the three Sherpas that led her up Kangchenjunga, One of the Sherpas, Dawa Wangchuk, says that the group stopped about 150 meters or 450 feet below the summit because of high winds and poor visibility.
Oh and her major sponsor Black Yak, however, steadfastly say that she summitted Kangchenjunga. Back in the spring when all these allegations first surfaced, Oh introduced the race card, saying that the dispute was fuelled because she was Asian. Oh said, "Had I been from Europe, there would have been little controversy." Now Oh Eun-Sun says that the Korean Alpine Federation's ruling is questionable and that the six South Korean climbers reviewing the case are on a witch hunt and have consistently been suspicious of her summit claims.
So, did Oh or didn't Oh? Stay tuned. It seems that this whole controversy is exploding again.
Oh Eun-Sun Climbs Annapurna: First Woman Atop All 8,000-Meter Peaks
Did Oh Eun-Sun Actually Climb Annapurna Last Year?
Oh Eun-Sun's Disputed Peak Tarnishes First Woman Atop the 8,000-Meter Peaks
Because She Wasn't There? Editorial by Michael Breen in The Korea Times
Photographs: (Top) Oh Eun-Sun on the summit of Annapurna, her 14th and final 8,000-meter peak. (Bottom) A disputed photograph of Oh Eun-Sun below the summit of Kangchenjunga on May 6, 2009. Photographs courtesy KBS-TV and Desnivel.