By Tetsuhiko Endo; Photograph of Annapurna by Svozka Svozil, My Shot
After over a year of hype and speculation, South Korean Oh Eun-Sun has nabbed a come-from-behind victory and allegedly become the first woman to scale all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks. At 3:00 p.m. local time on April 27, after more 13 hours of climbing, the 44 year old reached the summit of Annapurna, a mountain that had stymied her just a few hundred feet from the top last year (explorersweb.com). But, what good is making mountaineering history if there isn't a little controversy to accompany your feat?
Doubt has been cast on Oh's achievement by the woman who would have her crown—Edurne Pasabán of Spain who will be attempting Shisha Pangma in the next 15 days in hopes of equalling Oh (or bettering her, depending on how you look at it). Although much was made in the media of a cup of tea and route information shared by the two climbers on April 6th (explorersweb.com), the Times of London reports that Pasabán decided to voice her doubt when her own record was called into question by South Korean television reporters (timesonline.co.uk).
The possible blemish on Oh's record is not Annapurna—she summited with a television crew in tow, broadcasting live to Korea—but Kangchenjunga, which she claims to have summited last year. However, her claim has been doubted by others in the climbing world since she made it due to the fact that she does not have any evidence, photographic or otherwise, that she actually achieved the highest point on the mountain. The one photo that does exists shows her below the highest point—a measure she says was necessary due to bad weather that kept her from staying on the summit. Unfortunately, the sport of mountaineering has no governing body or official way to resolve such disputes. What it does have is a lot of sponsors who are eager to see their athletes in the record books.
One very important source who thinks the matter needs some more investigation is 86-year-old climbing journalist Elizabeth Hawley, who told the New York Times, that Oh's ascent of Kangchenjunga should be considered "disputed" until an investigation is carried out (nytimes.com). Considering that people are still arguing about whether or not George Mallory was the first man to set foot on the summit of Everest, we may not have an undisputed queen of the 8,000ers for a very long time.