Corean Alpine Club expedition leader, Kang Sung-woo, returned to the north face of Cholatse in 2003 after bad weather thwarted an attempt the previous year. In 2002 the intended line had been a new route up the right side of the face but after nearly five weeks with considerable rain, snow and associated avalanche danger, the team reached a high point of only 5,200m.
Kang’s team in 2003, which included Hwang In-seon, Hwang Young-soon, Lee Young-joon, Kim Chae-ho and Yang Byeong-ok left Incheon on September 24 and reached base camp on October 5. The climbers spent just over a week establishing advanced base at 4,900m and then the following week fixing 13 roped pitches to 5,450m. Here, they established Camp 1 at a place dubbed The Turtle’s Head, due to the distinguishing features of a prominent rib directly above.
Over the next four days alternating teams of two and three climbers worked their way up to 5,700m. The Turtle’s Head consisted of seven pitches varying from 75° to 110°. Lee Young-joon and Kim Chae-ho aided through the 100m crux section, then traversed, still on aid, 30m left to gain the mixed terrain of an adjoining gully. Looking up, the route to the summit appeared to lie directly up the small gully and all the difficult climbing appeared to be behind them. The previously named pair, together with Hwang Young-soon, then were forced to sit out poor weather at CI for five days, waiting for the next opportunity to climb.
When this opportunity arose, several days were spent cleaning snow-buried lines from base camp to Camp I. On October 28, Hwang Young-soon and Kim Chae-ho bivouacked at 5,600m in preparation for their summit bid. They cleared CI and after a rest climbed up to a second bivouac at 5,800m. On the 30th, a large icicle falling from above knocked Hwang Young-soon off balance at 6,000m; a piton popped and he took a 15m lead fall, damaging his leg. Hwang and Kim were forced to stop and bivouac for night. Hwang endured the pain of his seriously injured leg but began to suffer frostbite in the feet due to poor circulation. The two men were therefore forced to abort their summit bid.
Despite the motivation of the majority of remaining climbers to rest for a few more days and go for a second summit attempt, Kang, concerned about his team, wisely discouraged further attempts. Various members of the expedition had already sustained a broken shoulder, a fractured rib, severe frostbite, and a badly damaged ankle, and two of the team had been forced to leave early for further medical treatment. Although the summit was within reach, it was not the primary goal of Kang’s agenda: for his climbers, climbing is breathing, breathing is living, and living is climbing another day.
Peter Jensen-Choi, Corean Alpine Club and AAC