[FOUNTAIN]Challenge of the peaks

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[FOUNTAIN]Challenge of the peaks

Reinhold Messner was the first person to climb all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. When he was offered a silver medal by the International Olympic Committee in February 1988, he refused.

A mountain is a holy and pure object. Holding its white crown high in the sky, a tall mountain looming above in the air was holy ground where earth met sky and human met god. Our snow-capped Mount Paekdu; Mont Blanc of the Alps; and Mount Fuji, worshiped in Japan's Shinto religion, all hold such significance.

The Himalayas is the tallest mountain range in the world. Its name means the "home of ever-snow" in Sanskrit, hima meaning "snow" and alaya home. The tallest of the Himalayan Mountains, Mt. Everest, stands at 8,840 meters above sea level. It was originally called Chomolungma, or the "Goddess Mother of the World," by the Tibetans and Sagarmatha, or the "Goddess of Snow," by the Nepalese.

A passion for mountain climbing is what makes climbers from all over the world turn their eyes upon the Himalayas. European climbers in the mid-19th century first flocked there after they climbed all the 4,000-meter mountains of the Alps. The first recorded climb to the top of Mount Everest was in 1953.

Koreans have achieved much in an amazingly short time in the history of mountain climbing. In 1962 the mountain climbing club of Kyunghee University became the first group of Koreans to climb in the Himalayas. Starting on Aug. 15, Independence Day, the team headed for Dhaulagiri, standing at 7,751 meters, but had to stop at a nearby unnamed peak estimated to be about 6,700 meters high. Fifteen years later the Korean Alpine Federation's Koh Sang-don reached the summit of Mount Everest. Just 13 years later, "Little Tank" Um Hong-gil succeeded in climbing the 14 8,000-meter peaks. He was the first Asian and the eighth person ever to do so.

It has been reported that an expedition of students under the name "Dream-tree Expedition to the Himalayas" has climbed the 6,091-meter Pisang Peak. The company, including a visually-impaired high school student and a middle school student, buried a time capsule on the summit bearing the wishes of their classmates. For such a spunky feat, the students deserve to have their wishes for this new year come true.

by Oh Byung-sang

The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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