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Agony of a Sole Survivor

Posted June. 07, 2007 03:05,   


“I feel so sorry that I am the sole survivor when all of my friends who were very close to me are now gone.” That was the first remark from Park Yeong-seok, a world-famous mountain climber and explorer (44, an executive director of Goldwin Korea, a mountain climbing club at the Dongguk Univ.) at the office of The Association of World Expedition in Seoul.

On May 16, Oh hee-joon (37. Seogwipo Yeongcheon mountain climbing club) and Lee Hyeon-jo (35, Chonnam National Univ. mountain climbing club OB) from “2007 Everest Southwestern Wall Expedition Team,” which was led by Park, died when they were hit by an avalanche at camp four – 7,700m above sea-level. Oh joined the climbing club in 1997 and Lee in 1999, and together they completed treks in the Himalayas and a polar expedition. They had lived just like a family at Park’s home when his family went abroad to further his children’s education.

On May 27, Park returned home with the two cinerary urns of his fellow adventurers and refused interviews, saying, “I am a sinner and do not deserve to be interviewed.” He finally opened his mouth after receiving a constant stream of requests, but he was no longer the man he used to be. He once showed an energetic spirit, but is now a changed man. He said that he shaved his head in repentance. “I felt so desperate that I needed to do something.” In the two weeks after the incident he grieved and refused to eat, gaining the worry and pity of those around him.

“He lost about 20kg in body-weight and passed out and coughed up blood several times in Nepal. This made me very nervous,” said Lee Hyeong-mo, another member of the team.

“It was heartbreaking. I thought of retiring from mountain climbing. During the thirty-fourth stage of Himilayan climbing, at 8,000m above sea-level, I had to bury nine fellow team members. After their funeral, I decided that rather than withdraw I should do something meaningful. I decided to establish a scholarship fund which is named after the dead team members,” he said.

When asked, “How do you respond to the remarks that the expedition was thoughtless?” he said, “It was very tough, but that is the reason why I am doing this. The two men were so pleased to join such a meaningful climb. They really loved the mountains. I will try again next year.” Park plans to head a 530km pilgrimage with college students through various districts including Busan, Chungju, and Seoul, from July 8 to July 27 – one of the projects of “The Korean Cultural Expedition Team,” which he has led since 2004.

“I almost decided to quit this year but I then realized that if I did it would be very difficult to start again. I have learned a lot from organizing this expedition for the past three years; some students that are selfish in the beginning become different men by the end. Although I have to manage to raise funds for the organization this year, I really want to proceed with the event and give younger generations dreams and hope for the future,” he said.