The Greatest Mountaineering Rivalries: Edurne Pasaban and Oh Eun-Sun

Battle for the Queen of the 8,000-meter peaks


Kanchenjunga, Oh's controversial summit     Photo: Falk Kienas

Initial reports named Korean Oh Eun-Sun the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks when she topped out on Nepal's 26,545-foot Annapurna in April 2010. She and veteran Basque mountaineer Edurne Pasaban had been vying for that crown in a fierce decade-long race that included a third climber, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, who fell behind when Pasaban claimed her 14th summit atop Everest in May 2010, just three weeks after Oh’s supposed victory.

But controversy boiled up around Oh’s May 2009 summit photos from India's highest mountain, 28,169-foot Kanchenjunga. Pasaban and several other climbers on the peak at the same time insisted the photos were taken some 500 feet below the peak, where they show Oh standing on bare rock—not the snow-carapaced summit other climbers topped. At least one of the Korean’s Sherpas said Oh failed her bid. When pressed, Oh admitted she may have stopped a few meters shy due to turbulent weather, but she persisted in her claim. There was no clear marker at the peak. Ultimately, Elizabeth Hawley, who manages the Himalayan Database, climbing’s bible of ascents, marked the Kanchenjunga ascent as “Disputed,” unofficially deferring the crown to Pasaban.

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