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Is Korean Oh Eun-sun first woman to climb 14 top peaks?

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The moment Oh Eun-sun reached the summit of Annapurna

By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News

Korea's Oh Eun-sun says she is the first woman to have climbed the world's 14 highest mountains, but one of her peaks is being disputed. Why?

THE WORLD'S HIGHEST PEAKS
Mountains over 8000m graphic
There are 14 mountains on Earth above 8,000m (26,247 ft) high
All are in the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges
The first to climb all 14 was Italian Reinhold Messner, in 1986
A total of 20 men, and now one woman, have done it

There is no one "official" record of who has, or has not, climbed the 14 peaks over 8,000m high.

The nearest thing - for the nine of the 14 mountains in the Nepali Himalayas, at least - is the record kept by Elizabeth Hawley, an 86-year-old American based in Kathmandu.

Records kept by governments are not regarded as authoritative.

Last week Ms Hawley amended her Himalayan Database to mark Oh Eun-sun's 2009 ascent of Kangchenjunga as "disputed", after listening to arguments from Ms Oh's Spanish rival, Edurne Pasaban.

Ms Hawley will interview Ms Oh and her Sherpas on their return from Annapurna.

If she decides to classify Ms Oh's ascent of Kangchenjunga as "unrecognised", her competitors - Edurne Pasaban, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner of Austria, and Nives Meroi of Italy - will be back in contention for the title of the first woman to climb the 14 8,000ers.

These are some of the issues at the heart of the dispute over Kangchenjunga:

The summit photographs - Ms Oh ascended Kangchenjunga with at least three Sherpas, in very bad weather. A video shot at the summit in driving snow is said to be so blurry that it could have been taken anywhere. A still photograph (below) was taken at the summit, Ms Oh's sponsors say, but not on the "three or four square feet" right at the top. Ms Hawley says the photograph is "clearly" not taken at the summit, because "summit pictures of other people on the same mountain in the same season show them standing in the snow". However, pictures taken by climbers in previous years have shown rocks close to the summit. Another Korean climber who is on Kangchenjunga this year is hoping to identify the spot where the photograph was taken.

Oh Eun-Sun on Kangchenjunga

The Sherpas - One of the Sherpas who accompanied Ms Oh on the ascent of Kangchenjunga assured journalists at a press conference in Korea in 2009 that Ms Oh had reached the top. He told Ms Hawley's assistant the same thing. However, Edurne Pasaban says Ms Oh's other Sherpas have told her this is not correct. Ms Hawley would like to talk to them to determine the truth.

The rope - The summit photograph shows a green rope stretching over Ms Oh's left boot. Spanish climber Ferran Latorre, who climbed to the summit of Kangchenjunga with Ms Pasaban 12 days after Ms Oh, has suggested that this is a rope fixed to the mountain by her Sherpas. He says this fixed rope went no higher than 8,350m, and concludes that the photograph was taken some 200m or so below the 8,586m summit. Jin Park of Blackyak, the Korean company that sponsors Ms Oh, says the rope in the picture is a 5mm rope used for attaching accessories - in this case, probably, an ice axe - rather than climbing.

The flag - Ms Oh was carrying a Korean flag to the summit. It was found by the next climbers to scale Kangchenjunga - Norwegian climber Jon Gangdal, and his Swedish climbing partner - weighted down by four stones, about 50m or 60m below the summit. (By comparing Ms Oh's summit photograph with his own shots from the summit, Mr Gangdal thinks Ms Oh's photograph could well have been taken in roughly the same place he found the flag.) Jin Park says Ms Oh mislaid the flag during the climb. The fact that it was found above 8,350m is "clear counter evidence" that helps to rebut the suggestion she stopped 200m below the summit, he says.

The timing - Ms Oh's progress was being monitored from base camp using a telescopic lens until about 2pm on the afternoon of 6 May 2009, when bad weather obscured the view. Critics have suggested that she must have made unbelievably rapid progress in the remaining three hours and 40 minutes it took her to reach the summit. Mr Park estimates she was at a height of about 8,300m or 8,400m when she disappeared from view - in other words from 286m to 186m below the summit. Experts with knowledge of Kangchenjunga say a climber using bottled oxygen would have been able to cover this distance reasonably easily in three to four hours - but it would have been, at the least, a brisk pace for anyone climbing without bottled oxygen.

Graphic showing race to climb 14 tallest peaks



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SEE ALSO
Woman claims highest peaks record
27 Apr 10 |  South Asia
Korean climber's record challenged
23 Apr 10 |  South Asia

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