American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Korean Mount Everest Expedition

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1978

Korean Mount Everest Expedition. Under the leadership of Young-do Kim, the 16-man expedition left Kathmandu in four or five parties between July 19 and 26. Base Camp was reached on August 9 at 17,725 feet, 22 days after the first party had left Kathmandu. Camps I, II, III, IV and V were established on August 16, 19, 26, and September 7 and 8 at 20,000, 21,150, 24,275, 26,175 (South Col) and 27,900 feet respectively. On September 9 Sang-yul Park and Ang Phurba Sherpa made a summit attempt which failed 350 feet from the summit in bad weather and with malfunctioning oxygen equipment. They had to bivouac at 28,250 feet without oxygen. Miraculously they survived. The second summit team, consisting of Sang-don Ko and Pemba Norbu Sherpa left Camp V at four A.M. and reached the top at 12:50 P.M. on September 15, 37 days after establishing Base Camp. This compares favorably with the British Southwest Face Expedition, which was at Base Camp 21 days after leaving Kathmandu and reached the summit 33 days after establishing Base Camp. The bald facts make it appear that the Korean Everest Expedition was a big success—but was it, at least for the Koreans? The Sherpas report that only two Koreans out of 16 got as far as the South Col, Sang-yul Park and Sang-don Ko. On the return, the Koreans claimed that four Koreans got to the South Col. To get two (or four) Koreans to the South Col and above, all the 22 high-altitude porters carried to the South Col, plus six icefall porters, who were called upon to carry to the col: a total of 28 porters for two (or four) Koreans. For the first summit attempt, eight Sherpas went to Camp V at 27,900 feet (the usual Camp VI). For the second successful attempt seven Sherpas went to Camp V. There was a shortage of oxygen, which may account for the poor performance of the Koreans. They obtained their oxygen tanks from France and regulators and masks from the USA. It was only on the mountain that they found out that they could not successfully fit the regulators to the oxygen tanks! This after five years of planning and preparations! The expedition had to rely on 50 American oxygen tanks purchased in Namche Bazar, which had been left behind by the 1976 American expedition. When the expedition quit Nepal, they left behind upaid debts of over Rupees 4,000 contracted during the approach march. The expedition underestimated the number of porters required by 20% The organizers of the porters had paid out advances to extra porters recruited at the last minute, but the Koreans flatly refused to settle this account. By all account except their own, the Koreans were the most incompetent and disagreeable expedition to climb Everest. The expedition was an outstanding success for the Sherpas under Ang Phurba, climbing sardar, and Lakpa Tenzing, Base Camp sardar. Of all Everest expeditions, this was the most blatantly political and nationalistic. It was a calculated exercise in “prestige politics”, financed half-and-half by the government of South Korea and South Korean business. It was sponsored by the South Korean National Assembly. The expedition enjoyed the best weather conditions ever known by an Everest expedition, no serious storms or periods of bad weather. The success of the expedition seems to have been the result of the high Sherpa to Korean ratio and extremely good weather. If nothing else, it would seem to prove that Sherpas are quite capable of climbing Everest by themselves.

Michael Cheney, Himalayan Club

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