Junko Tabei: Pioneer, Revolutionary, and Adventuress 

In honor of Women’s History Month, AdventureWomen was inspired to learn about Junko Tabei, the Japanese adventurer who was the first woman to summit Mount Everest. We hope her fascinating story will encourage all Adventure Women to go further, reach higher, and pursue your passions!

Photo Credit: John van Hasselt-Corbis

Junko Tabei : An Unstoppable Force of Nature

All stories of adventurers are packed with “firsts”, but on a climb that has crushed the dreams of many male trekkers, thirty-five year old Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Mount Everest. Even more incredibly, twelve days earlier this pioneering adventurer had been buried under an avalanche! Fortunately for her, Junko’s Sherpa guide, Ang Tsering, was able to dig her out of the snow and on May 16, 1975, she reached the summit of Everest and made history, planting her flag for Japan and for women adventurers worldwide. Junko ultimately became the first woman to hike all Seven Summits as well as climb the highest mountains in 76 countries!

This incredible woman was married to a fellow mountaineer and raising a child while she trained to meet her mountaineering goals, juggling the pressures to stay at home while still pursuing her passion for trekking all around the world.

Junko Tabei at the Summit of Mount Everest in 2006. Photo Credit: HipCamp

“I never thought of giving up once,” she says. Hiking and climbing from a young age, Junko defied social conventions among male mountaineers and Japanese society. She eagerly sought the company of other young women who enjoyed hiking, co-creating the Joshi-Tohan (Ladies Climbing Club of Japan) just a few years after college. She found solidarity and friendship with other women who loved being active out in nature, hiking, and climbing. Sound familiar, Adventure Women?

Junko Tabei trekking to the summit of Pico Bolivar in 2008 —the tallest mountain in Venezuela. Photo Credit: Outside.com

Breaking the mold in almost every way, Junko was revolutionary in her own humble way, leading the Joshi-Tohan on to become the first women-only team to ascend Annapurna III in Nepal. To strike for the summit of Mount Everest, she again joined forces with a women’s mountaineering group, the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition (JWEE).

Before her death in October of 2016, in an interview with Outside Magazine, she described what motivated her. “It is because I love mountains. I love to go wherever I’ve never been before. So I am challenging myself to climb all the highest peaks of all countries of the world. I am now 76, and have scaled the highest peaks of 76 countries. I am suffering cancer but I would like to keep going my way and climb mountains.”

This Japanese force of nature left a legacy for all of us who truly are passionate about adventure. She spearheaded projects to elevate women’s roles in Japanese society, and led campaigns to preserve mountain ecosystems with a specific focus around cleaning up debris left by hikers on Mount Everest and other mountains.

Junko Tabei climbing Mt. Fuji in July 2015 photo with high school students from Fukushima Prefecture, the area hit hard by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Photo Credit: Japan Times

As we honor this exceptional woman and pioneer, we also remember that all Adventure Women, create their own “firsts” and personal bests every day. To that end, this month we want to honor all of you, women who break barriers, push your boundaries, conquer fears, and dare to just get up and GO!