Kim Chang-ho (climber) Redirected from Kim Chang-Ho (climber)

Kim Chang-ho
Personal information
NationalitySouth Korean
Died (aged 49)
Climbing career
Type of climberMountaineering
Known forEight-thousander world record
First ascentsHimjung (7,092m); Batura II (7,762m)
Major ascentsAll 14 eight-thousanders

Kim Chang-ho (Korean: 김창호) was a South Korean mountain climber.

In 2012, he won the Piolets d'or Asia award with An Chi-young when they made the first ever ascent of Himjung (7,092m) in Nepal; the British Mountaineering Council noted that, "Kim also made the first ascent of 7,762m Batura II. Together with Batura I West (7,775m), which remains virgin, Batura II was one of the highest unclimbed named summits in the Karakoram (and indeed Asia)".[1]

In 2013, he became the first Korean to climb all of the world's 14 mountains over 8,000 metres without using supplementary oxygen;[2] in doing so he also set the record for completing the feat in the shortest time.[3] His new world record of seven years, 10 months and six days was over a month quicker than the previous one, held by Jerzy Kukuczka of Poland.[1] Unusually, Kim used an "eco-friendly" approach, taking 60 days to reach the Mount Everest base camp using "kayak, bicycle and foot" rather than flying to Lukla.[2]

He was killed, along with several others including fellow South Korean climbers and local mountain guides, in Nepal in October 2018, when a snowstorm destroyed the 3500m-altitude base camp beneath Mount Gurja in the Dhaulagiri.[4]

Early life

Kim Chang-ho was born in a rural town of Yecheon-gun at around the center of South Korea, September 15, 1969. Kim was in no sense an outstanding personality during his juvenile years. He performed well in his intramural hand-ball team in his elementary school, playing at the province-level sports festival.[5]

Mountaineering Experience

University Alpine Club

In 1988, he entered the University of Seoul with a major in international trade. It was only in the year of 2013, however, after 25 years since he entered the university, when he graduated. This was because he participated in three international expeditions during his undergraduate years.[6] He said for the reason why he decided to complete his undergraduate degree that he needed to learn more in humanities for the sake of climbing.[6] Due to the curriculum change his bachelor's degree was not international trade but business administration. In the first year he temporarily joined a student club that concerns philosophical and social issues and another associated to the campus newspaper publisher.[7] Yet once he joined the university's alpine club, he fell deeply into the world of climbing and mountaineering. He appreciated his undergraduate education in international trade expanding his knowledge in geography.[8]

In the 1980s, university alpine clubs across South Korea offered a distinctive niche for those unable to find from elsewhere a solution for sociopolitical and existential crises.  South Korea's collegiate culture in the late 1980s reached the culmination of two decades of civil conflict for democracy.  Common among university students were lively debates and strong moral convictions for fellow citizens’ rights and well-being.  On the other hand, the drastic economic advancement and relative wealth combined with the nationalistic agenda had bolstered a firm ground for the explosive boom of Himalayan expeditions. Financially as well as ideologically supported by well-off graduates and outdoor corporations, most university alpine clubs were eager to send undergraduate members to the Alps, Yosemite, Denali, and most notably the Himalaya.[9]

In the 1990s, Kim, then a fine climber racking up 5.12 on rock,[10] participated in two Karakoram expeditions organized by University of Seoul Alpine Club: Great Trango (6286m, 1993) and Gasherbrum IV (7925m, 1996). In both expeditions Kim climbed at the forefront.  Meanwhile, his competent climbs often exhibited recklessness.  An audacious penchant characterized Kim's as well as part of his club's approach to mountaineering, and it was seldom regarded anomalous or unwarranted within the grandiose alpine-club culture in his generation.  In the impregnable east face of Gasherbrum IV, for example, Kim's pair climbed up to 7450m.[11][Notes 1]  The leader Kim faced an impasse: the rocky face was crystal solid, with no crack to secure protection.  “Let the rope go if I got a fall!” shouted the gutty young Kim to his belayer.[12]  Years later Kim referred to this and other moments in the 90s as “my immature younger years when I pursued only great achievements on mountains.”[13]

Pakistan Exploration

In no sense Kim garnered special attention until the summer of 2000 when he ventured a monumental, unprecedented project of exploration to Karakoram.  Before this, he worked at a small outdoor company for two years, and then devoted one full year to study Karakoram geography and climbing history.  And he left for Pakistan, alone.  In total of about 1700 days from 2000 to 2004, Kim surveyed virtually every mountain range across Karakoram, Hindukush, and Pamir in northern Pakistan.  He walked every mid- and large-sized glacier, crossed numerous passes across, thoroughly investigated and took photos of mountain formations and almost every known or unknown peak that seemed to him noteworthy for climbing.  In several cases he was first to step in the deepest side of remote glaciers, or second to the first Western explorers in the nineteenth century.  Also, he collected local names of the peaks, passes, and glaciers, and meticulously compared them with those in several different maps of the regions.  He read books and reports on Karakoram exploration, in English and Japanese; collected about five thousand books mostly on the particular subject; and picked up words of nine local languages used around northern Pakistan enough to communicate with villagers and herders.  While in villages, he labored for and stayed with the residents, enabling himself to converse long hours in order to collect geographic information and regional myths associated with the mountain landscape surrounding.

Kim published some of his findings and experiences in the format of travel report series in Monthly Magazine Mountain, from 2002 to 2006—he from then on published many other climbing reports in this magazine based in Seoul.  Laconic and unassuming, however, he was known to have hardly boasted or exaggerated his own accomplishments on mountains, in both his writing and informal conversations, remaining for years a man unpopular in the mountaineering community.[10] He had also apparently suffered economic hardship during this time.  He further shared his findings with many Korean expeditioners, suggesting new peaks to climb, giving advice for climbing strategy, such as the first ascent of Amphu I (6740m) in Nepal by three Korean mountaineers.[14]

One of the vignettes that shows how meticulous he was to his exploratory climbs was when he had to name two peaks he made the first ascent in the Chiantar valley, Hindu Raj (a mountain range between Hindu Kush and Karakoram) in 2003. The two peaks are 6189m and 6105m high each.  The first peak is labeled in Tsuneo Miyamori's map published in 2001 as “Suj Sar SW,” pairing with a 6177m-peak named “Suj Sar NE.”  In Kim's view this naming was inappropriate. These two peaks are, in his view, completely separate and independent from each other, thus unnatural to classify them in the same group. Also, Kim observed, “Sar” means peak in Wakhi language, which was no longer used in the villages where the peak is viewed.  Instead, Shina is the vernacular language. In Shina, a distinct peak is called “Kor.” The second peak Kim climbed was labeled in the map as “Koh-I Haiz.” Descending from the peaks to the village, Kim consulted a local expert on their naming. Since each peak is located closely to Atar Sar and Haiz Gah, Kim and the informed villager came up with new names: “Atar Kor” and “Haiz Kor,” respectively.[15]

His leavings included books, journals, rolls of films and the digital database of 2.4 terabyte.[10]  Kim's climbing mate and biographer, Young-Hoon Oh, argues, "As far as I know, in the mountain ranges in northern Pakistan no one has ever ventured a geographic exploration in such a massive scale and in such a meticulous manner, nor anyone or any institution has accumulated mountaineering geographic information of the area in such comprehensiveness and detail."[14]  At the time of his death, Kim was known to have kept a detailed plan of climbing for the next five years.[14]

Changing Attitude

The ordeal of Pakistan exploration fundamentally transformed his attitude toward mountaineering in a way that appreciates relationships with the other.  The trips were beyond arduous: he fell into a crevasse numerously, his ankle sprained, the jeep overturned, starved many days, suffered from desolation and hallucination, bandit-attacked and murder-threatened.  It was herders, farmers, housewives, village children who came first to give him a helping hand. Realizing how egocentric he was to mountains Kim learned a valuable lesson on the importance of relationship and appreciation and gradually began to consider obtaining and harmonizing with local knowledge and wisdom an integral part of mountaineering in remote places.

Moreover, he realized how mountaineering can bring about a moment of purification and bliss beyond proclaiming the self.  In 2005, after ninety days of exhaustive and dangerous climbing in siege tactics on the Nanga Parbat's sheer Rupal face, Kim stood on the top with late Lee Hyun-jo (who perished on Everest southwest face in 2007).  Through the radio, Lee sobbingly chatted with one of his close friends at the basecamp, saying, “Bro!  It should’ve been much better if you’re here together …”  This struck Kim.  Trudging toward the basecamp after descent, Kim reflected upon his own egocentrism in the context of expedition, noting, “What I’ve just climbed was an imaginary Nanga.  This mountain is full of selfish desire.  What could then be the true Nanga to me? … Standing on the summit gives no pleasure nor any meaning whatsoever when lacking this: the true Nanga begets only when I return alive with my teammate.”

He began to climb the fourteen giants, not necessarily because he coveted the title.  The still young and relatively unheard-of Kim shined to the eyes of Hong Bo-Sung, the leader of Busan Alpine Federation's fourteen-peak project.  Under the leadership of Hong—a studious leader and a person of understanding—combined with Kim's skills and experience on high mountains, Busan Dynamic Hope Expedition subsequently excelled on 8000m peaks in many regards.  Highly pragmatic in the approach, the expedition continued to form a small team of three to four, barely relied on external supports such as Sherpas and oxygen tanks, traveled and climbed in extreme efficiency by virtue of encyclopedic research on each peak.  The whole project completed in mere five years and four months (2006-2011).

Notable Climbing Achievements

Kim completed climbing all fourteen 8000m peaks in 2013, without breathing bottled oxygen and, though not specifically intended, in the shortest-ever period of seven years and ten months—until Nirmal Purja of Nepal broke the record in October 2018.  Less known but more significant is that he climbed formidable new routes and gathered superb first ascents in Himalaya and Karakoram.  Peaks and faces he opened a new route include: Shikari (5928m, 2001) in the Yasin valley, Khache Brangsa (5560m, 2001) in the Arandu valley, Nanga Parbat's Rupal face (8125m, 2005), all in Pakistan, Gangapurna's south face (7455m, 2016), Gangapurna West's south face (7140m, 2016), both in the Annapurna range in Nepal, and Papsura's south face (6451m, 2017) in India.  With the Gangapurna ascent he and his two colleagues earned the Piolet D’or award in 2017, firstly ever as Korean.

The list of his first ascents is even more impressive and includes: Batura II (7762m, 2008) in Pakistan, Himjung (7140m, 2012) in Nepal, both with partner(s), an unnamed peak (6006m, 2002) near the Lupgarsar pass, Delhi Sang-i-sar (6225m) in the Chapursan valley, Atar Kor (6189m), Haiz Kor (6105m) both in the Chiantar range, Bakma Brakk (6150m, or Bukma peak, 2003) in 2003, all alone and in Pakistan.  It is noteworthy that he strove for and maintained excellency in all three subgenres of contemporary Himalayan mountaineering: the fourteen-peak bagging, the high-altitude wall climbing, and the lightweight approach.

Korean Way Project

In 2018, Kim planned to climb Gurja Himal's untouched 3800-meter-long south face in the alpine style.  This climb was part of what he called “Korean Way Project,” an unconfined series of Himalayan climbs he embarked from 2016.  The project aimed to climb a new route on a mountain, with no external assistance.  Interestingly, Kim specified the following three criteria in the choice of climbing destination: the potential merit of exploration in the entire travel, the mountain's significance in the local culture, and the planned route's naturalness.  This stylistic, innovative approach to mountaineering stems from his own mountaineering philosophy that distinctively concerns the ethics of relationship, or what he called “mountaineering of coexistence.”  

Mountaineering Philosophy

Before and after his death, Kim has been a mountaineer both most acclaimed and least understood within the community of Korean mountaineers as well as among the larger public.

Although Kim apparently preferred a lightweight style of climbing in the Himalaya, he also appreciated virtues of climbing by forming a larger expedition.  It may result in bringing about more meaningful climbing experiences. In contrast, the alpine style favors minimalism.  In this concept, the autonomy of climbing, which allegedly constitutes the core value of the sport, is thought to be divided and reduced when accompanying someone else.  Securing the man-versus-mountain frame, solo climbing could therefore become the ideal in the alpine-style approach.

Most Korean mountaineers have rejected this simplistic individualism in climbing and mountaineering.  All mountaineers are different, and an excellent combination can bring about wonderful joy and genuine glory.  As a leader Kim's art of leadership and strategies for teamwork sought harmony, in the expectation to avoid undermining individual autonomy but amplify it instead.  “What each member wishes to achieve makes up what the expedition wishes, and vice versa,” Kim used to say. 

In 2013, Kim organized an Everest expedition which marked his culmination of climbing all fourteen-eight-thousand-meter peaks. He and late Seo Seong-Ho aimed the highest mountain starting from the Bay of Bengal, solely on human power. The duo kayaked, cycled, hiked, and climbed to the top without oxygen.  While both successfully reached the top of Mt. Everest without using bottled oxygen, Seo died while sleeping at the camp of South Col.

Kim did not ignore Seo's wish to create an organization that helps younger generations climb Himalayan mountains by means of financial and other supports.  Consequently, Korea Himalayan Fund was born in the year of Seo's death.  The rest in the Everest expedition donated and began to serve as the committee members. Kim defined the fund as to aid those who attempt a climb that is “creative and progressive.”  It accepts no donation from one who is not currently an active mountaineer, especially a corporation, because in Kim's view sponsorship may spoil the purity of mountaineering.  When sponsored, said Kim, the outcome is generally favored over mountain experience and mountaineers could easily become imprudent out of fueled ambition.  While, sponsored or not, no mountaineer will ever be free from the desire for achievement, they, Kim emphasized to me, must place priority on the desire to “taste the mystique of mountain and mountaineering.” Unfortunately, however, most Korean mountaineers thus far did not, according to Kim.  As one of Kim's few institutionalized legacies, Korea Himalaya Fund is based on his view of mountaineering that is fundamentally both personal and social.

In his later years Kim appreciated thoughts of Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer Arne Næss (1912-2009).  Næss began the movement of ecological philosophy by the name of "deep ecology," a view that all things are nothing but the self and therefore must be pursued as the ultimate goals themselves. Kim's take on this thought is “to follow nature’s right way,” that is, “climbing and exploring in coexistence” with other climbers, nonclimbers, and those in the past and in the future—all combined to form the “nature.”

Kim's use of "Korean" in his Korean Way Project defies the naïve dualism of individualism and nationalism.  To this question whether the project sounded nationalistic by his mountaineering friend, Oh Young-Hoon, Kim said, “The corrupted nationalism remained in me as well.” 

Being then perhaps the most eminent mountaineer in South Korea, Kim also carried an ethical responsibility of sharing the “right way” with his fellowmen. And for this he must prove his approach successful, and successful internationally.  “Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) is too an alcohol good enough, but why must (western) wine?” Kim asked himself.  When he was awarded the Piolet d’Or in 2017, he regarded the fame as the Korean mountaineering community's collective key taking off the decades-old shackles of craving for international recognition.  It was an exorcism for all Korean mountaineers living and dead, at last opening for next generations a door for real freedom of thoughts on the mountains.

Thus, he regarded himself as an apostle rather than the Messiah, for the new wave of mountaineering movement in South Korea.  The truly “futuristic” mountaineer, according to him, was not himself but Choi Seok-Mun.  Five years junior to Kim, Choi had been Kim's most favored climbing partner, previously with on Khache Brangsa, Shikari, Bublimotin (“Ladyfinger”, 6000m), Batura II, Paine Central, Gangapurna, and Gangapurna West.  Tackling 5.14s as well, Choi is arguably “the best Korean mountaineer” as referred to by Kim.  Choi shares most of Kim's ethics and visions of coexistence, but also Choi has been actively sharing them with others by organizing climbing festivals, opening new trad routes, and writing on climbing ethics.  While Kim is gone, his passion and visions on the mountains remain indelible to the minds of a few.


Choi Hong-Gun, former president of Corean Alpine Club, grew worried that his trekking companion Jung Jun-Mo didn't return to the Gurja Khani village (2620m), east of the Dhaulagiri range, western Nepal.  Both planned to visit the basecamp of Korean Gurja Himal (7193m) south face expedition, and yet Choi, due to a headache from altitude, stopped in the village and waited for Jung's return.  Early in the morning of the next day, October 12, 2018, he sent to the basecamp (3576m) his guide, who delivered a breaking news: all nine individuals in the basecamp—five Koreans and four Nepali staff—were found to be dead.

The bodies were found scattered around below the camp as far as about 500m.  Many have inferred the cause of the accident to be the blast of an avalanche occurred while everyone sleeping.  The Google Earth image shows a massive serac at the edge of the upper plateau on 5900m to the west of Gurja Himal's summit. It broke off, so does the hypothesis go, and seconds later blew away the basecamp straightly down the wall.  While no one will probably ever be able to confirm the exact cause of the tragedy, history has it: in 1997 a tremendous blast of an avalanche catastrophically struck at the end of the successful Ganagawa expedition to Skil Brum (7360m) near K2, when six including the leader Hiroshima Sanro died and seven injured.


  1. ^ According to Lee Gye-Nam, the leader of the University of Seoul Gasherbrum IV Expedition in 1996, 7,450 m is the best measure of the height Kim reached. While Kim stated in the interview with Monthly Magazine Mountain in 2013 that he climbed another 20 m from 7,450 m, Lee said "the pitch was short and they were unable to proceed far from the belay point."


  1. ^ a b Griffin, Lindsay (27 May 2013). "Korean Everest Sea to Summit marred by tragedy". British Mountaineering Council. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  2. ^ a b Kwon, Ji-youn (21 May 2013). "Kim scales 14 Himalaya peaks without oxygen tanks". The Korea Times. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  3. ^ "Nepal storm kills climbers on Himalayan peak Gurja". BBC News Online. 13 October 2018. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  4. ^ Bhadra Sharma; Kai Schultz; Choe Sang-Hun (13 October 2018). "Snowstorm Kills at Least 8 Climbers in Nepal". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  5. ^ 기자, 김제덕;장석원;민경석 (2018-10-16). "예천·영주 학교동창 등이 말하는 故 김창호 원정대장". 영남일보 (in Korean). Retrieved 2020-02-24.
  6. ^ a b "25년만에 서울시립대 졸업하는 김창호씨 "인간의 힘만으로 에베레스트 도전"". m.kmib.co.kr (in Korean). 2013-01-28. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  7. ^ Lee, Young-Jun (September 2005). "고산자, 산을 오르다". 월간 마운틴.
  8. ^ Nakamura, Tamotsu (February 27, 2020). "Chang-ho KIM – Korean Alpine Federation" (PDF). Asian Alpine E-News. 61: 2–3.
  9. ^ Nam, Seon-Woo (1998). 역동의 히말라야. 서울: 사람과산. ISBN 9788988245002.
  10. ^ a b c Oh, Young-Hoon (2019). 탐사가, 비평가, 구도자 김창호. 경상북도 울주군: 울주세계산악영화제.
  11. ^ "[김창호 8,000m급 14좌 무산소 완등 특집 | 등반역정] 탄탄한 등반 경험이 8,000m 14좌 무산소 완등 이끌다". san.chosun.com (in Korean). 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2020-02-23.
  12. ^ Han, Pil-Seok (December 2001). "이 클라이머의 삶: 전쟁도 막지 못한 히말라야 떠돌이 김창호씨". 월간 산. 12월호.
  13. ^ Kim, Chang-Ho (January 2004). "파키스탄 히말라야 처녀봉 등정기<중>, 힌두라지 치안타르 산군의 아타르코르 & 하이즈코르 초등기". 월간 산. 1월호.
  14. ^ a b c Oh, Young-Hoon (February 27, 2020). "Mountaineering of Coexistence: Short-lived Vision of the Korean legendary mountaineer Kim Chang-Ho" (PDF). Asian Alpine E-News. 61: 4–14.
  15. ^ "파키스탄 히말라야 처녀봉 등정기 (중)". san.chosun.com (in Korean). 2004-02-08. Retrieved 2020-02-29.

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