Updated: Jan 26, 2020
“Do not give up,” said Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei, when asked for advice. “Keep on your quest.”
Born on this day in 1939, Tabei was raised in Miharu, a small town in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture. She discovered the joy of climbing at age 10 during a class trip to Mt. Nasu. Though she was the first woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, Tabei once said she preferred to be remembered as the 36th person to climb the world’s highest mountain peak.
“I did not intend to be the first woman on Everest,” she explained. Still, it’s undeniable that the 4-foot-9 (144.8-centimeter) mother of two made history in 1969 when she founded Japan’s first Ladies Climbing Club, defying the traditional notion that women should stay at home and clean the house.
The Everest expedition started in the spring of 1975 with 15 climbers and six sherpas. At an elevation of 9,000 feet (2,743.2 meters), their camp was buried by an avalanche. After three days of recovery, Tabei continued with the climb, reaching the summit on May 16, 1975, accompanied only by the sherpa Ang Tshering.
After returning from the summit, she received congratulations from Japan’s emperor, crown prince and princess, among others. “It took two months until I could settle at home,” she recalled. “My three-year-old daughter was scared of all the cameras.”
Excited more by mountain-climbing than media attention, Tabei continued to scale new heights, including the “seven summits” — the highest peaks on each continent — as depicted in today’s Doodle. Even when battling illness, she continued climbing.
Tabei eventually reached mountaintops in 76 different countries.
Happy Birthday, Junko Tabei!