"Illustrator," not "mountaineer," reads the business card of Kim Yeong-mi (32, Outdoors) who recently came back from successfully conquering Amphu 1 (6840m) of the Himalayas, Nepal. A cartoon illustration of a woman with a big smile on her face drawing comfortably in her sleeping bag on top of a mountain is printed on her business card. That woman is none other than Kim herself. The only female member of Team AOK Amphu 1 Expedition is an alumni of Kangnung National University (now Gangneung-Wonju National University) Mountaineering Club. Team AOK was named after the first letters of its team members' names. Kim also works at the online outdoor retail shop Tricycle. Having majored in industrial crafts designing, she does illustrations for a mountaineering encyclopedia as well. The Women's News met her at a cafe in Mapo-gu, Seoul.
Kim entered university a year before the new millennium in 1999 and joined the school's mountaineering club. It was a natural step for her as she grew up is a small mountain village in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province. Although the trainings were not easy, she stopped by the club room nearly every day, drawn to the strong bond between the club members.
"That's how I began my mountaineering career. After climbing the Baekdudaegan mountain range in 50 days, the seniors in my club recommended going overseas. They even supported me financially when I couldn't afford the oversees mountaineering trips. I am so grateful for everything they've done for me."
Amphu 1 had never been conquered by any team including a Japanese group that recently attempted in vain. Although the summit is relatively low, it is one of the roughest and steepest in the world eyed by many mountaineers. Team AOK chose to climb the left couloir on the south-western wall of the summit, taking the west ridge to the peak. They named the route "Windy Couloir" as it was extremely windy.
"My friends back in my hometown are all shocked when I tell them that I climb mountains as a profession. The reaction is understandable considering that I ran 100 meters in 23 seconds in high school. I wasn't aware of my physical capabilities back then, either. Basic physical training is critical to build the lung capacity and lower body strength required to climb high mountains."
Calling the male seniors "Hyung"
During the interview, Kim referred to her teammates Ahn Chi-yeong (36, VANTT Club) and Oh Yeong-hun (35, Seoul National University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Mountaineering Club) as "hyung," a Korean word used by men to refer to an older guy. It lead to the question whether the mountaineering circle requires denial of femininity or has an oppressive culture.
"It's a kind of tradition. Not all mountaineering clubs have such tradition. Kangnung National University Mountaineering Club, which I belong to, calls all seniors "hyung" and juniors "ah-woo (meaning a younger sibling)." Even between women. I think such tradition was created based on a culture that puts seniority before gender. The seniors support me not because of my gender, and likewise, I can help out my male juniors when they have too much stuff to carry. (laughs) "
Kim conquered the highest summits of 7 continents at the age of 28. From Vinson Massif of Antartica (4897m, conquered in 2004), to North America's Mount McKinley (6194m, conquered in 2005), Mount Elbrus of Europe (5642m, conquered in 2005), South America's Acongagua (6962m, conquered in 2006), Oceania's Mount Carstensz (4884m, conquered in 206), Africa's Kilimanjaro (5895m, conquered in 2007), and the Asia's highest, Mount Everest (8848m, conquered in 2008), it took her 5 years to climb all of them.
"It definitely feels great to conquer the summits after months of preparation. After coming back to Korea, however, I often feel empty and lacking in a way. I think of the moments I has quarrels with my teammates in our tiny tent, regretting that I was not nice enough to them."
Kim came back on November 28th after successfully conquering Amphu 1. Although she said she has not recovered 100% from the trip, her face lit up when she was asked about her next expedition plan.
"A senior mountaineer gave me a nice nick name - "an illustrating mountaineer who draws the unseen world." Mountain climbing is my life. Of course it does have deadly risks, but it's what makes my heart beat."
Kangnung National University Mountaineering Club Alumni
Instructor, Korea Alpine School
International Relations Commissioner, Korean Alpine Federation