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American Fails to End Dispute Over Alpinist`s Feat

Posted May. 05, 2010 06:57,   


The dispute over whether Korean alpinist Oh Eun-sun is the world’s first woman to conquer the 14 highest Himalayan peaks will drag on longer.

Elizabeth Hawley, a former American journalist and chronicler of Himalayan expeditions, delayed her answer Monday on whether Oh scaled Kanchenjunga in May last year.

Hawley met Oh that day to discuss the suspicion raised by Oh`s rival Edurne Pasaban of Spain. Pasaban questioned whether the Korean made it to the top of the 8,586 meter-high Kanchenjunga.

Oh talked about the matter in detail and Hawley asked her whether she scaled all 14 of the mountains, to which Oh said, “Yes.” Hawley reportedly then said, “Congratulations!”

This led certain media reports to say Hawley recognized Oh’s achievement and gave a big smile. Yet perhaps what the American meant was “Congratulations” if Oh conquered the 14 mountains.

Hawley told The Dong-A Ilbo the same day, “I don’t plan to remove the indication of being ‘disputed’ as long as Pasaban withdraws her suspicion,” adding she is a recorder, not a judge.

Though Hawley described herself as a recorder, she has acted as a de facto official certifier by keeping a record of mountaineers who have conquered the Himalayas over the past 48 years. Her suspension of judgment on Oh’s conquest of Kanchenjunga has disappointed those who wanted a clear decision.

This does not mean, however, that Hawley will remove Oh from the list of those who have scaled the mountain. Hawley lists not only those whose climb was under dispute but also those found to have lied about reaching the peak.

So the controversy is likely to continue, with global media including the Associated Press and AFP showing mixed reactions.

Fundamentally, the controversy erupted due to lack of an authoritative organization that certifies the conquest of the Himalayas. Though Nepal’s Tourism Ministry issues certifications, they are not trustworthy.

The Nepal Mountaineering Association has recognized Oh as the world’s first woman to scale the 14 mountains, but this is not enough to subdue the dispute.

In addition, Oh will find it hard to ignore Hawley’s comment. When doubts surfaced last year over Oh’s scaling of Kanchenjunga, the Korean said she earned recognition from Hawley after two lengthy interviews.

If Hawley continues to suspend judgment, only Pasaban and Oh can end the controversy. Pasaban could end the dispute by saying she is convinced of Oh’s achievement after listening to what Oh told Hawley.

The Spaniard has insufficient evidence to support her allegation compared to the suspicions raised by Korean mountaineers last year. Pasaban quoted two of three Sherpas as saying Oh did not get to the top of Kanchenjunga, but failed to name the two. Two of the three Sherpas who followed Oh to the 8,091 meter-high Annapurna told Dong-A, “This is outrageous. Pasaban is a liar.”

Many mountaineers have criticized Pasaban for “acting cowardly” since she raised her suspicion in the run-up to Oh’s conquest of Annapurna.

Pasaban took a step back by saying, “I didn’t expect my comment would cause such a huge controversy.” The chances of her retracting her suspicion are unlikely, however, since she has nothing to lose.

Another way to end the debate is for Oh to climb Kanchenjunga again, but she told reporters after her interview with Hawley Monday that she has no intention to do so.