Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Friday, 23 April 2010 18:21 UK

Korean woman's climb of Himalayan peak 'disputed'

South Korean female climber Oh Eun-son on Mount Annapurna in Nepal - April 18 2010
Experts say Annapurna is a difficult and dangerous climb

The 2009 ascent by a Korean climber of Nepal's Kangchenjunga peak has been marked as "disputed" by the accepted arbiter of Himalayan climbing records.

Oh Eun-sun, who has publicly defended her ascent, is currently climbing another Himalayan summit - Annapurna.

She hopes to become the first woman to scale the world's 14 highest peaks.

Even if she scales the summit this weekend, her claim to the record could be in question after her nearest rival in the quest disputed the 2009 climb.

Ms Oh's sponsors called a press conference in December to reassert her claim to have reached the summit. But she is to be questioned on her return.

All climbers who make an ascent from Nepal report to Elizabeth Hawley, an 86-year-old American based in Kathmandu, whose research is recorded in the Himalayan Database.

They have to answer her questions about the climb they have just undertaken.

Ms Hawley is widely accepted as the arbiter of Himalayan climbs. There is no official body that authenticates claims.

On Thursday Ms Hawley talked to Ms Oh's nearest rival in the race to be the first woman to climb all 14 of the world's mountains higher than 8,000m - the Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban, who has just climbed Annapurna herself.

'Missing rope'

Ms Pasaban gave reasons why she doubted that Ms Oh had successfully climbed the world's third-highest peak, Kangchenjunga, in 2009.

"When we were climbing Kangchenjunga, Ms Oh tried to reach the summit before us," she told the BBC's Joanna Jolly in Kathmandu.

If someone reaches the summit, you can normally see it from base camp - but at the time, the weather was very bad, Ms Pasaban added.

Oh Eun-sun (L) and Edurne Pasaban
Oh Eun-sun (L) and Edurne Pasaban are world record rivals

"It was not possible to see whether [Ms Oh] arrived at the summit," she said.

In addition to this, Ms Pasaban said that Ms Oh's summit photo from Kangchenjunga is not convincing.

"If you see the picture, near the feet you can see rocks, a little snow and green-coloured rope.

There is no rope to be seen at Kangchenjunga's summit, Ms Pasaban says.

"The green rope she has locked in her harness is... 200m down from the summit", she added.

In addition to this, the Sherpa community is divided over whether Ms Oh scaled the summit, Ms Pasaban adds.

Race for record

Afterwards Ms Hawley told the BBC that she had now marked Ms Oh's ascent of Kangchenjunga as disputed.

"Ms Oh and her Sherpa told my assistant that they both summited Kangchenjunga and we had no reason to doubt them," she said.

"This same Sherpa is now with Ms Oh on Annapurna 1. My assistant will re-interview this Sherpa when he returns to Kathmandu."

At the December press conference called by Ms Oh's sponsors, the Sherpa who accompanied her said he knew the mountain and that Ms Oh had indeed reached the summit. Ms Oh said the unclear photograph was due to fog and a violent snowstorm.

Ms Oh's ascent of Kangchenjunga remains recognised in the Himalayan Database, so she will be able to claim the record if she successfully climbs Annapurna.

However, if Ms Hawley's further investigations lead her to change the status of the 2009 ascent to "unrecognised" Ms Oh would not be internationally regarded as the first woman to have climbed all 14 8,000ers, as they are known.

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