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ExWeb interview with Oh Eun-sun: “Annapurna will decide”

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

The name Oh Eun-sun barely rang a bell with the Himalayan climbing community until January this year: when the South Korean announced that she was ready to become the first female 14x8000ers summiteer.

With nine of the summits already bagged, Miss Oh, 43, said she intended to top-out the rest within months. And then she took Kangchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I faster than eyebrows raised at her statement could frown.

Currently preparing for Annapurna, her last 8,000er, nobody doubts anymore how serious Miss Oh is about her goal.

Other than that, the lady is a mystery. Coming out of nowhere, little is known about her feats, style, motivations and life. ExWeb’s correspondent in Korea Kyu Dam Lee sat down with Oh Eun-sun over dinner in downtown Seoul to find out more.

ExplorersWeb: How did you come into climbing?

Oh Eun-sun: As a child, my father took me to Buk-Han mountain near Seoul. I got impressed at the sight of people rock-climbing, and decided that that’s what I would do that when I grew older.

In my college years, while studying computer science, I joined the Su-Won Women University’s alpine club. I was kind of scared to climb at first, so I looked on while others sent routes up the walls – but soon I got bored and pushed myself to leave the ground as well.

ExplorersWeb: And now you’re about to complete the 14x8000ers… When did you decide to try and summit them all?

Oh Eun-sun: Well, climbing K2 gave me a lot of confidence. I was quite overwhelmed by the mountain’s reputation of danger and difficulty, but the climb itself actually was easier than I had expected, because the weather was very good on our summit push.

ExplorersWeb: Your toughest moments?

Oh Eun-sun: Pain comes in different shapes. It was hard to wait for a chance to summit Broad Peak on our third attempt. But the toughest was to recover from the shock after Go Mi-sun died on Nanga Parbat; I had to struggle to get my mind back in control.

ExplorersWeb: Do you ever feel scared?

Oh Eun-sun: Fear is only in our mind. Even though, every time I start an expedition, I can’t help thinking whether the mountain will accept me on her summit or not. I am also aware that death is very close to me all the time while I climb, until I get back down to the valley.

ExplorersWeb: Tell us about your team – any regular mate from Korea you climb with?

Oh Eun-sun: I have no regular climbing mates from Korea – my two Sherpas are my team. I will climb with a new Sherpa member on Annapurna and Dong-Min Beck (from sponsoring Black Yak) will come with us as BC manager, he came to BC also on the two latest expeditions (Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I).

ExplorersWeb: How do you feel about Annapurna?

Oh Eun-sun: I am preparing to do my best. In the end though, Annapurna will decide. We will go for the French route (on the North side).

ExplorersWeb: When are you leaving?

Oh Eun-sun: I am having an expedition send-off party on September 14th and will then leave for Nepal.

ExplorersWeb: Will you use supplementary O2?

Oh Eun-sun: No, I have only used supplementary O2 on Everest and K2. And since an incident when we helped a climber with medical O2 (one of the Sherpas gave him a bottle of O2, I gave him my mask and there were comments afterwards) I don’t even carry a mask during the climbs.

ExplorersWeb: There have been reports on a Korean team leaving O2 canisters on GI. Was it your team?

Oh Eun-sun: I am really not aware, but I will definitely ask my Sherpas and get the matter fixed. I am very concerned about the environment, so it is also my responsibility to brief my team properly on waste management. I’ll make sure we leave no trash behind.

ExplorersWeb: Tell me about your hobbies, family, etc…

Oh Eun-sun: I am the oldest of three children. My sister and brother are married, but I live with my parents, both in their 60s. Besides mountaineering, I enjoy Nordic skiing, swimming and Yoga – which is great for balance.

ExplorersWeb: You’re single – any plan to change that status?

Oh Eun-sun: Well, I don´t know what the future will bring – but now I have a job to finish. The 14x8000ers project comes first.

ExplorersWeb: Finally, what would you like to do when you get done with the 14x8000ers?

Oh Eun-sun: If possible, I would like to share my mountaineering/climbing experiences with young people, writing a book or teaching – I really like children. I would also like to support my Sherpa friend Dawa in his own 14x8000er project.

(Ed note: Dawa Wangchuk Sherpa summited 4 different 8000ers with Oh Eun-Sun´s this year and now has 8 main different 8000ers. This sherpa legend is also a record-holder on KG with 4 summits, and on GI with 3 summits.)

A few of Miss Oh’s previous summits are yet to be confirmed, but it’s uncertain how much of the dispute is due to cultural-, bias- and language problems. Other South Koreans facing the same problem returned with a vengeance to clear their records.

Korean Um Hong-Gil claimed to be the first Asian 14 8000ers summiteer before fellow Korean Young Seok-Park but many voices were raised doubting his climbs on Lhotse and Shisha Pangma. Um climbed them both again (Lhotse in spring 2001, Shisha in fall 2001), but in the mean time, Seok-Park finished the quest, grabbing the ‘First Asian’ title.

Young-Seok Park himself had many climbers doubting his summit on Lhotse. He had no summit pic. He repeated the climb in 2000, including a super- photo gallery from all the sections, summit included.

Mr. Park latest summited Everest this spring, designing a new route on the immense and difficult SW Face – a climb that took Mr Park three attempts and cost him three of his closest climbing friends.

Oh Eun-Sun achieved her very first 8000er (G2) 12 years ago with Um Hong-Gil and Park Young-Seok exactly. Following setbacks on MK, BP and K2, her second 8000er came not until 2004 (EV) but that’s when everything changed for Miss Oh. A charge of historical proportions over the highest mountains in the world followed; SH in 2006, CH & K2 in 2007, MK, LH, BP and MN in 2008 and KG, DH, NP and GI in 2009.

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