Last week in Nepal, South Korean Oh Eun-sun reached the summit of the 26,545-foot Himalayan mountain Annapurna, and as she crawled towards its peak, she likewise worked her way into the record books to be the first woman to climb and conquer the world’s fourteen highest mountains. AP has video of the record-making moment here.
44 year-old Oh Eun-sun began her quest back in 1997, when she reached the summit of the Kashmirian mountain Gasherbrum II. After a climbing hiatus of seven years, she returned to the challenge in 2004 with a successful attempt at the world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest. After another two years, she scaled the Tibetan mountain of Shishapangma, and followed that up with two more mountains in 2007. Between the years of 2007 and 2009, she scaled eight more mountains, eventually becoming the first woman to summit thirteen ‘8000ers,’ the climbing term denoting any mountain that reaches 8,000 m. (26,246 ft.) above sea-level.
Everest has gained its notoriety due to its immense height and amount of lives it has taken from those who have attempted to reach its peak, but this does not mean the conditions at the peaks of all of the other 8,000ers are any less intense. The conditions atop Annapurna during Oh’s ascent dipped to -20 degrees Farenheit (-29 Celcius), and this was only marginally more safe than what Oh’s team encountered during their first attempt at the mountain, which she canceled based on her intuition, claiming that she had 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.”
Oh’s feat is not without controversy, however. Basque mountain climber Edurne Pasaban, who just recently summitted her thirteenth 8000er, and has only to scale Sishapangma for her fourteenth, doubts Oh’s claim to have reached the top of the Nepali mountain of Kangchengjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Oh of course claims otherwise, and one must question if Pasaban’s doubt is based on jealousy or a less dubious form of hearsay.
The first documented success at ascending an 8,000 was accomplished by the Frenchman Maurice Herzog in 1950, and the first man to accomplish climbing all fourteen was completed by the ‘hero of mountaineering,’ Reinhold Messner in 1986, who during his quest climbed Everest without supplemental oxygen.
Despite the debate over Oh Eun-sun’s accomplishment, the race is as exciting as it is inspiring. If you want to try ‘doing the fourteen’ yourself, here is a list of what you have ahead of you. Good luck!