Scaling of high mountains abroad by Koreans

By Kim Jeong-tai

Korea was colonized in 1910 by Japan who defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. The colonial rule lasted for 35 years until 1945 when World War Ii came to an end. Under the Japanese rule Koreans were not free to travel abroad.
Korean climbers were thus unable to scale high mountains abroad. Instead they trained themselves at home by rock climbing low mountains and traversing the length of mountain ridges, sometimes using combined methods. To cite an example of expedition-style climbing at home, a group of mountaineers climbed Mt. Paekdu, the highest mountain on the Korean peninsula, in January 1942, the coldest month of the year. Opting for a difficult approach, they did so by successively tackling five peaks of Machonryong Range, all about 2100m above the sea level and setting up seven advance camps under the polar method. Such trainings for the expedition of high and challenging mountains overseas continued with higher and more difficult mountains chosen as the targets.

Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945 but soon underwent the Korean War of 1950-53 and then saw the 1960 student uprising and 1961 military revolution. It was in the 1970s that Koreans began to tackle high mountains abroad. Korea's successful scaling of high mountains overseas, however, was realized only after a dear price was paid in not a small number of human lives.
In February 1969, 10 expert climbers engaged in an oversea expedition training in Mt. Sorak under the sponsorship by Corean Alpine Club (CAC) perished in a snow slide following the heaviest snowfall in 40 years. In 1971 Kim Chong-sop and his party attempted to scale Manaslu (8156m) in which one member fell to death. An expedition of Lhotse Shar (8252m) by a party of the Korean Alpine Federation (KAF) failed in the same year due to snowstorms. In the second attempted expedition of Manaslu in 1972 by Kim Chong-sop and his party, five members and nine sherpas met death.

The Corean Alpine Club, ten of whose members met a disaster at the Mt. Sorak training in 1969 suspended expeditious climbings and instead dispatched a total of 13 climbers, to French National Climbing and Skiing School (ENSA) at Chamonix for training. 8 were sent in 1971, 4 in 1972 and 1 in 1974. Upon completion of their courses in France, most of them returned home and trained leading climbers at home.

Yoo Jae-won, one of the 13 trainees, remained in France and scale a number of high Alpine peaks including Mont Blanc pinnacles. He pioneered 19 climbing routes and one of them is Aig Des Pele Yoo, Sso designated by Chamonix guides in memory of Yu's achievements in Alps climbing. He died in wind and snowstorm in 1976 while descending after successfully scaling the NW pinnacles of Mont Blanc for the first time. He is buried in Chamonix alpinists cemetery. He was the first Korean climber who succeeded in climbing a number of highest Alpine peaks and thereby paved the way for fellow climbers to tackle high and challenging mountains overseas.