Mr. Hong and his wall

Sung Taek Hong in a Gompa in the Khumbu region

He’s back. The South Korean Sung Taek Hong has again pitched up his base camp at the foot of the huge Lhotse South Face. For the sixth time, the 52-year-old has traveled to Nepal to tackle the 3,300-meter-high, extremely challenging eight-thousander wall. This time Hong has gathered an international team. As in his last attempt in fall 2017, he is joined by Jorge Egocheaga, a very experienced high-altitude climber:  The 50-year-old Spaniard has already stood on the summits of all 14 eight-thousanders. Only on Everest he used bottled oxygen.

Hong’s team in Chukhung near the Lhotse South Face

Uta Ibrahimi from Kosovo also belongs to the team. The 35-year-old has scaled four eight-thousanders in the past two years: in 2017 Mount Everest and Manaslu, in 2018 Lhotse and Cho Oyu. The Chinese Jing He (according to the Himalayan Database she was born in 1988 and climbed Cho Oyu in 2016, Manaslu in 2017 and Makalu in 2018), the 37-year-old Colombian Gabriel Morant (still a blank leaf on the highest mountains in the world) and the South Koreans Nak Jong Sung, Jin Kwon Woo, Jae Chul Kim and Sung Woo Jo complete the team.

In Kukuczka’s footsteps

“It will not be an easy one, rather a rough and harsh climbing,” Hong had said before leaving Kathmandu. Sung Taek wants to attempt a variant of Jerzy Kukuczka’s route. In 1989, the legendary Polish climber had fallen to his death from 8,200 meters while trying to climb Lhotse South Face.

The wall was first mastered in 1990. In spring 1990, the Slovenian Tomo Cesen said, he had soloed the wall. But he was not able to prove his success. First doubts about the details Cesen had given were expressed by the Ukrainian Sergej Bershov and the Russian Vladimir Karatayev who climbed through the wall on a different route later that year. At the end of 2006, members of a Japanese expedition succeeded in climbing Lhotse South Face for the first time in winter. They had to return 41 meters below the summit, but had reached the summit ridge and thus climbed the entire wall.

For the first time in spring

Sung Taek Hong and Lhotse – that’s  a long story. Already in fall 1999, Hong belonged to a Korean expedition, that reached on Bershov’s and Karatayev’s South Face route an altitude of 7,700 meters. In 2008, Hong did not get any further than to the base camp below the wall: for personal reasons he had to return to Korea immediately after his arrival. In fall 2013, he tried to climb the world’s fourth highest mountain (8,516 m) solo on the normal route via the West Face. At 7,900 meters, he turned back due to strong winds.

Hong while climbing Lhotse South Face (in 2017)

In fall 2014, at that time again in the South Face, Song Taek reached an height of 7,900 meters when he had to finish the expedition because he ran out of time. A year later he was there again, stormy weather stopped Hong’s team at 8,200 meters. And also in fall 2017, adverse weather conditions caused the Korean and his companions to turn back at 8,250 meters. “I climbed only in fall in bad conditions,” says Hong. “Spring sunshine is warm and abundant. It’s the time.”

14 years ago, the Korean adventurer had completed his collection of the “three poles”. In 2005, he reached the North Pole, after the South Pole in 1994 and 1997 and the “third pole” Mount Everest from the Tibetan north side in fall 1995. But he has not still achieved his “lifelong objective”, as Sung Taek Hong calls the Lhotse South Face. Maybe his stamina will be rewarded this time.

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