Amidst the devastating Nepalese earthquakes—donations are encouraged and can be given here—we’d like to take a moment of celebration: 40 years ago almost to the day (May 16th, 1975) climber Junko Tabei became the first women to summit Everest. Not only was this a momentous physical feat, but it serves as an emotional triumph as well. Paving the way for women, Tabei is the ultimate, which is why we’ve chosen her for our first installment of Women Who Wild!
Born September 22, 1939 in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Junko Tabei got bit by the climbing bug early; we’re talking fourth grade early. It was during a class trip she summited her first mountain: Mt. Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture. Since then, Tabei has been climbing and setting records ever since.
A graduate of Showa Women’s University with a degree in English Literature, Tabei founded the “Ladies Climbing Club: Japan.” 1970’s Japan was not as forward thinking as her; Tabei faced ridicule and oppression throughout her career, specifically when she did the unthinkable: leaving behind her family to set off for Everest. “There was never a question in my mind that I wanted to climb that mountain, no matter what other people said,” Tabei stated. Co-leading the 1975 15-member, all women, expedition to the Himalayas, Junko Tabei summited Everest, sealing her fate and her name in climbing, Japanese, and women’s history.
If you think Junko Tabei stopped there, think again. 1992 marks the year she became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits: the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. To this day, Tabei—well in her late 70’s—is still climbing. As of 2013, she’s 60 countries deep in her attempt to summit the highest mountain on each country in the world. Is she a kickass badass? The answer clearly is yes.
But enough of her climbing history—of which we could fill several pages of—Junko Tabei refused to climb and ignore the growing problems around her. Inspired by Sir Edmund Hillary (the first person, along with Sherpa Tenzing, to successfully summit Everest) Tabei threw herself into environmental conservation work, completing a masters in Social Culture with a focus on cleaning up the Himalayas. This work has been key in helping the Nepalese villagers dependent on the runoff water from the mountain.
Presently, she is the chairperson on Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan, an organization formed for the conservation of mountain environment. Focusing on youth programs, this organization’s statement at the International Youth Forum is—if you’re anything like us—tear-jerking. “Now, once again, we firmly recognize the importance of the natural environment centered around mountains. Bering in mind such recognition, we would like to pass the baton to the next generation while keeping this precious nature undamaged…Now we will declare that we will cherish the greenery which we have seen here and consolidate our ideas and efforts to conserve mountains all around the globe.”
For all that you have done, and for all that you will continue to do, happy 40th anniversary Junko Tabei. We will cherish the greenery.
About the Author: Katie Verde is an aspiring actress and world explorer. She holds a BA in Theatre from Rowan University and is an avid hiker, roadtripper, and tree-gawker. Follow her adventures on Instagram @kverdz.
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