Junko Tabei, who passed away last year, was the first woman climber of Mount Everest. Furthermore, she was the first woman to scale the Seven Summits. She was a famous and skillful mountaineer. These feats are impressive on their own. But she overcame many challenges in her life to reach where she did. This is what has made her a true icon.
Early Desires to Climb
Junko Tabei was born in 1939 in Japan. The tallest mountain there is the legendary Mount Fuji. Yet Tabei, the first woman climber of Everest, does not have many childhood memories of climbing. She was 10 when she first went climbing on a school trip. When she returned, she wanted to take this hobby further. However, her parents did not have the money to fund this interest. Thus, from the very beginning to the road to being the first woman climber of Everest was a hard one.
She only resumed her hobby after finishing her university education. At the age of 30 she established the Ladies’ Climbing Club (LCC) in Japan. This was meant to help other women realize their interest in climbing. Since women were expected to be mothers not climbers, this helped a lot of enthusiastic women climbers. Despite this late start, Tabei persevered. Within three years she had climbed Mount Fuji and made a name for herself in Japan.
Becoming the First Woman Climber of Everest
The decision to scale Everest was a made a few years after the establishment of the LCC. Tabei formed a women’s-only team of 15 members for this task. Furthermore, two of the women were mothers, including Tabei herself. This made them come in for a lot of criticism. Many popular newspapers condemned them for this expedition. They were told to concentrate on being mothers rather than climbing.
However, Tabei did not let this deter her. While this backlash made getting funding hard, she eventually succeeded. With funding and a team, she set off for Everest. Her team underwent rigorous training before arriving in Kathmandu. At Everest, a team of sherpas guided her team up the mountain. Their ascent is noteworthy not just because they were women. They also attempted it without a lot of modern equipment. This meant not having frost-proof goggles or even stainless steel ice-picks.
They followed the same route as Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had in 1953. This involved a lot of daring. At some points they had to crawl across ice shelves with 12,000 feet drops below them. Yet, they made progress. However, on 4th May an avalanche struck and Tabei and her team were buried under the snow. Tabei herself was knocked unconscious and would’ve died if her sherpa hadn’t managed to dig her out.
However, Tabei did not let this deter her. Instead, she insisted on continuing with the climb. The climb lasted 12 more days. On 16th May she became the first woman to scale Mt. Everest. The Japanese and Nepali governments praised her profusely after her return. This also garnered her worldwide fame.
However, she did not stop at becoming the first woman climber of Everest. She kept going for many more decades. In the early 1990s, for instance, she traveled to Antarctica. It is there that she scaled Mount Vinson, the continent’s tallest mountain.
She then set her sights on Puncak Jaya. This is the highest summit of Mount Jayawijaya. Furthermore, it is the highest peak of the continent of Australia. She managed to reach this summit in 1992. With this she became the first woman climber of the Seven Summits. The Seven Summits is the name for the tallest mountain in each continent.
After becoming the first woman climber of many mountains, she went on to activism. She campaigned for environmental causes related to mountains and even received a degree on this. This included extensive campaigning to maintain the pristine beauty of mountains. She was active with this cause till her death on 20th October 2016.
Junko Tabei achieved worldwide fame as the first climber of Mount Everest. Yet, her story is much more complex than that. It is one of perseverance and persistence. Despite her parents not being able to afford it, she kept her passion for climbing. Even though she had a late start, she was very determined. Not having equipment, not even an avalanche could stop her!
She rose against adversities because of her gender. She tried to instill the love of climbing in other women as well. Even in her old age she continued her passion through campaigning. This is what makes the life of the first woman climber of Everest so memorable.