Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Mount Everest, has passed away at 77. Tabei was 35 when she climbed Everest in 1975 and she went on to become the first woman to climb the seven summits. Tabei was diagnosed with cancer four years ago and died in a hospital in Kawagoe City.
“Back in 1970s Japan, it was still widely considered that men were the ones to work outside and women would stay at home.” Tabei told the Japan Times. “Even women who had jobs – they were asked just to serve tea. So it was unthinkable for them to be promoted in their workplaces.”
Two weeks before reaching the top of Everest, Tabei was caught in an avalanche. She was dug out and insisted on continuing. Near the summit, she was faced with difficult climbing. She told the Japan Times after her ascent, “I had no idea I would have to face that, even though I’d read all the accounts of previous expeditions.”
Tabei often told people she was the 36th person to summit Everest, as if to downplay her achievement. “There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to climb that mountain, no matter what other people said,” she told the Japan Times.
Before climbing Everest, Tabei had founded the Ladies Climbing Club, whose slogan was, “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.” Her interest in climbing began on a climbing trip when she was 10 years old. “I was stamped as a weak child,” she told Sports Illustrated back in 1996, a label that motivated her to pursue adventure.
Tabei completed the seven summits in 1992, but went on many more expeditions and continued advocating for sustainable climbing in the Himalayas. The last mountain she climbed was Mount Fuji earlier this year.