Park Soo Seok
Gangwon University Korean Expedition
Gangwon University Korean Expedition set a new route up the east face (1400 m high) via the south ridge (6 km) of Annapurna Fang (7647 m). Annapurna Fang was first attempted unsuccessfully via the west ridge from the north in 1979 and was successfully ascented via the west ridge from the south by an Austrian team in 1980, a first ascent. There have been no other attempts since then; and thus, the lure to connect the east face to the south ridge up to the summit was immense. Gangwon University expeditions had attempted this route to no avail, both in 1991 and in 1997.
The expedition left Korea on 01 September and arrived in Nepal. We climbed the Nayakang peak (5850 m) in the Langtang region for acclimatisation. Since it was the first time in high altitude climbing for me, I suffered a headache from the early stages of the trek. It was the most difficult trekking experience I have ever had. The team leader would look back and seeing that I was struggling, would shout 'Soo Seok! Grit your teeth and climb!' That encouraged me and in the end, I stood at the summit with Kim Yong Gil and one Sherpa.
While we were trekking, it was particularly strenuous for whenever we reached a crevasse I would be the only one whose legs would become weak. However, once we completed trekking in Nayakang and reached Kathmandu I felt light and refreshed. From that point on, the actual trekking would start but I had never felt more eager and excited about the climb.
I could not help smiling at the familiar faces I met when we reached the second city of Nepal, Pokhara in a helicopter. Here, we met the members who had arrived early to set up the base camp.
After we reached the base, it snowed for about 10 days so we were only able to set up Camp 1 by the 12th day. Our schedule had been slightly delayed but we were lucky because the snow that had piled would make cliff climbing a lot easier.
We started climbing the cliff from the next day. The snow on the cliff helped us reach Camp 2 sooner than planned. However, this was not the case for Camp 3. It was difficult because it was a rock region and the slope was steep. We were increasingly falling behind schedule. Because we had to climb down the ridge we felt the need to climb as quickly as possible.
I suffered severe high altitude sickness symptoms when we reached Camp 3. It is most likely that I had never been that ill in my entire life. I could not speak because my tongue had gone numb and I had a terrible headache. It was mainly because I had slept sitting up due to the cold, the previous night in the small tent where four of us slept. I could not help but head back to the base camp leaving two members behind. Climbing down to the base camp was an equally difficult task.
I took a day off at the base camp and started climbing once more from Camp 1. The next day I passed Camp 2 and went straight to Camp 3 in 12 hours. By the day after I was able to reach Camp 4. The route to Camp 4 was a challenging course that required us to climb a 600 m high ice cliff and traverse, then climb over a hill about 400 m high. After arriving at Camp 4, the health condition of two of our members Park Hong Gi and Kim Yong Gil deteriorated. Leaving the two behind, a Sherpa and I decided to climb to the final camp. We left in the afternoon since the weather was bad in the morning. It is always safer to walk in teams but the Sherpa was much too fast. It was impossible to keep up. The Sherpa had disappeared from my sight and I had to light a lantern because it was getting dark.
I reported the situation through radio communication and I was told to wait for the Sherpa from the final camp to reach me. Nevertheless, I decided to continue climbing only to find that the fixed ropes on the snow cliff were missing. The Sherpa had collected the rope on the way up after he heard that we would run short of rope after the final camp. Not only was I afraid, I was also confused. Perhaps it was more so because it was on that very spot that Kim Yeo Hoon had died, 10 years ago.
I climbed slowly thinking 'As long as I keep my mind clear I'll be fine.' Eventually I reached the top of the cliff, taking one cautious step after another. The joy of accomplishment that I felt was much greater than what I had felt at Nayakang. The Sherpa was heading down just when I finished radio communication. We headed towards the final camp together where our member, Yu Hyeon Jong greeted us.
Because he had spent the latter part of the day fixing ropes, he looked very tired and ill. The frostbites on his fingers looked particularly bad. They had already turned black and he complained of extreme pain. He ought to have headed back down but he seemed determined to make a summit attempt the following day. We had some porridge and quickly went to sleep, to rest for the next day's climb.
The wind was no joke. There was no snow but the wind blew vigorously. It was almost as if my whole energy source would be blown away with the wind that did not stop. Yu Hyeon Jong was in a bad condition, so I was left with a Sherpa to continue the climb. The climb seemed longer than expected. There was an error between the actual distance and the distance that had been calculated.
From Camp 1 to 4 we could not see Fang peak. But while climbing up, I was finally able to see the peak that I so yearned to see. I kept climbing. How I wished to share this moment with fellow members. The climb turned out to be more difficult than expected. Not only were we on the edge, there was also a very strong wind blowing our way.
To make matters worse, we lacked fixed ropes. We could not believe we had also run out of snow bars. I was heaving deep sighs without even knowing. When I turned around I noticed Yu Hyeon Jong was watching us, seeming equally frustrated. The Sherpa said we must turn back. With the summit only 200 m away, turning back was too agonising. Struggling with tears, we headed back to the final camp. It felt terrible. Even now, when I think of that moment I cannot help but sigh.
We started heading down with Yu Hyeon Jong who was not in a good condition. Climbing down was not easy. Our hands were freezing but we needed to take our mittens off in order to use the descendeurs. There was no choice. We arrived at the final camp much later than expected.
We communicated with the leader who was at the base camp. He suggested we cut the rope beneath and tie it together to climb up. Our members were willing but the Sherpas refused, saying that we did not have any tools. I tried persuading them by offering to climb up first while they supported from below. Even this the Sherpas refused and advised us to head down.
Climbing on south ridge.
View from summit camp
In the icefall.
In the end the leader told us to return. But we were in no condition to hurry. Yu Hyeon Jong's condition had gotten worse and every step had to be taken with extreme care. We were determined to reach the summit when we returned. With this decision buried deep in the snow, we climbed down once again. We spent a day at Camp 4, reached Camp 1 the following day and a day later we finally reached base camp.
Base camp was busy since the fixed ropes and tools had arrived. Promising ourselves that we would make it this time, we left base camp. We were divided into two groups with the second group following the first, a day later.
I had reached Camp 2 and had returned to recover with Park Hong Gi and Kim Yong Gil when a strange sound came from our radio. Park Bong Ha, who was in the best condition that day, had fallen 300 m when he was only 50 m away from Camp 3. It was a terrible shock. Fortunately he was not critically injured. Lee Hak Young and Seo Seok Geun from Camp 3 rescued him. They later told me that they were lucky to find him in a short time and took emergency measures.
To make our second attempt, I left for Camp 3 alone. I was in optimal condition. Unlike previous trips that had taken 12 hours, I reached Camp 3 in 7 hours and 20 minutes. After a few hours the remaining members arrived. Among them was Lee Jong Heon, our medical advisor, who had left us to treat Park Bong Ha. Our leader's decision to make another summit attempt was truly admirable.
As planned, Lee Hak Young, Choi Chan Kyu and myself left for Camp 4 with three Sherpas. I was in the lead swiftly making my way forward. Then suddenly Lee Hak Young started waving at me asking me to turn around. What could have happened? There were not enough people in the line. I could not believe my eyes. There were only three black dots moving from below. Choi Chan Kyu's rope had broken causing him to fall around 350 m. This was not even the shipping rope since we had fixed a newly developed rope that was said to be stronger. I looked up at the sky in lamentation. Through the radio we were able to learn that Choi Chan Kyu was all right. How could he say he is fine after falling 350 m?
We returned to Camp 3 and set up a tent. Everyone was depressed. Just then a message came from the leader. He advised all members to get at least a few hours of sleep. A few hours later, the radio called again and we heard the leader's voice. 'I want everyone to listen carefully,' he started. 'I know that this is a bad time for all of us but let's try just once more. It would be such a shame to give up everything and return. I feel terrible to decide another summit attempt after the two accidents but let us all be brave and try again.'
After listening to his shaky yet firm message I made up my mind that I must reach the summit. Until then I had lacked confidence but with the warm encouragements that I heard from Park Bong Ha and Choi Chan Kyu I made preparations for the next day.
Morning came and after the delicious breakfast that Lee Hak Young and Seo Seok Geun prepared for me, I climbed to the final camp, passing Camp 4 along the way. Of the two tents at the last camp one was ruined and the other was hardly standing. I fixed the tent and crawled in to rest.
The next day I thought to myself 'The reason why I came here is to climb that dark black peak. I will reach the summit on behalf of all my team members.' With this in mind, I left the tent. A strong wind had continued to blow everyday but today, it felt particularly harsh. On our way forward we were forced down by the wind five consecutive times. We had to encourage ourselves to stand up again. For some reason the course felt tougher than any other day. But now, there was no turning back.
We continued climbing from the point where we had retreated back down last time. We had already finished the 200 m length rope, so we took out the pieces of rope we had cut up previously. Unfortunately, the bundle of rope was tangled and we wasted an hour to untangle it. I think this is when my frostbite got worse.
We started climbing yet again. The summit, which looked just metres away, had disappeared and did not show itself. We climbed another 40 m and saw an unbelievable sight in front of us. It was the summit. I embraced the Sherpas and began to cry. I simply could not believe we had reached the Fang peak of Annapurna. I could not stop crying in joy. 7647 m above sea level! It was 1:40 in the afternoon (local time) of 29 November.
Because the Fang peak is situated at the near centre of the inner Annapurna Sanctuary, every peak was visible. The view could not be exchanged for anything in the world. After fully absorbing this feeling of joy we started to head down again.
In the early morning, we packed up the tent and started climbing down with the essential tools. When we arrived at Camp 1, all members rushed out to greet us. We could not fight back the tears, especially when we saw Park Bong Ha and Choi Chan Kyu. They seemed much better than before and they told us that a helicopter would arrive the following day to evacuate them. We would also leave the following day.
Members : Seong-wook Hong (leader), Jong-heon Lee, Hak- young Lee, Seok-geun Seo, Bong-ha Park, Il-ho Song, Hyun-jong Yu, Hong-gi Park, Yong-gil Kim, Chan-gyu Choi, Park Soo Seok. Wangdi, Siting, Swana, Dapjen, Geljen (Sherpas)
A new route on Annapurna Fang (7647 m) via the south ridge and east face was completed and the summit was reached by Park Soo Seok, Wangdi Sherpa and Siting Sherpa on 29 November 2007.