For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been posting regular updates on 13-year-old Jordan Romero’s bid to become the youngest person to ever climb Mount Everest. It’s a compelling – and controversial – story for certain. But I recently saw another story, courtesy of the Outposts blog on the Los Angeles Times website, that illustrates a much more remarkable feat. The blog referred me to this story from The Associated Press:
Korean becomes first woman to climb world’s 14 highest peaks
KATMANDU, Nepal — A South Korean mountaineer made history in the Himalayas on Tuesday by becoming the first woman to scale the world’s 14 highest mountains, beating a Spanish rival for the record.
Oh Eun-sun, 44, crawled on all fours for the final, steep stretch to the peak of Annapurna, her feat broadcast live in South Korea by KBS television.
At the top, she pulled out a South Korean flag, waved, and then wept before throwing up her arms and shouting: “Victory!”
Annapurna, at 26,545 feet above sea level, was the last of the 14 Himalayan peaks above the 8,000-meter level she had wanted to conquer.
She narrowly beat Edurne Pasaban of Spain to the 14th peak. Pasaban also was seeking to become the first woman to scale all 14 peaks, and had only the 26,330-foot-high Mount Shisha Pangma left on her list.
Oh also tried to reach the peak of Annapurna last year but turned away just hundreds of meters from the summit because of bad weather. Snow and wind also stopped her from making the trek last weekend.
“I gave it up because of a sudden ominous feeling that something bad would happen to either me or my peers including the sherpas on my way back to base camp,” she told The Korea Times newspaper last month.
She said this trip would be different, and said she would be carrying a photograph of Ko Mi-young, a lifelong rival who fell to her death last year while descending from Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-highest peak in the Himalayas.
On Tuesday, it took Oh 13 hours to climb Annapurna. KBS footage showed her breathing heavily after each step. Cheers broke out as she reached the summit.
Now some thoughts. Climbing Mount Everest is an impressive feat for anyone, regardless of age or skill. It’s a big deal.
But in the world of mountaineering, finishing off the list of the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks is sort of like winning the Super Bowl. So few people have done it. And there’s plenty of reasons for that.
For starters, the climbing skill needed to do it is substantial. So are the financial resources required. There are also a limited number of climbing windows for each peak. On any given day, the weather or other conditions on the mountain can ruin your ascent, or even kill you.
And that brings up the next point. Everest is the highest, but by most accounts – particularly from those who have done the 14 highest – it is not the hardest. Ed Viesturs, the American who has also accomplished the feat, talked about how K2 (the world’s second-highest mountain) is “the Holy Grail” of mountaineering and described its challenges and dangers.
In his book “No Shortcuts to the Top,” Viesturs also chronicles his many thwarted attempts to climb Annapurna. Annapurna is the first 8,000-meter peak ever climbed. But according to Viesturs and other sources, it’s also one of the most difficult and has the highest fatality rate of any of the 8,000-meter mountains. Like Oh, Viesturs finished the 8,000ers with a successful ascent of Annapurna.
So that leads me to believe that this story is one of those “firsts” that is actually worth applauding solely on its merits. Oh climbed the 14 highest mountains in the world, period. That’s huge. And she’s the first woman to ever do it. This feat is so rare, so distinguished, it puts other “firsts” in perspective.
To Oh Eun-sun: Well done.