On The Top Of The World
Junko Tabei was the first woman to successfully climb Mt. Everest and break stereotypes. This is her story
It was a cold dark night. Nothing could be heard except for the swooshing wind. No birds chirping, no lights, no civilisation nearby. It was pitch black and scary. The snow fell in heaps, mercilessly.
In the midst of this, stood tents housing about 15 women and 6 Sherpas to guide them 9000ft above sea level. It was dangerous not to mention deadly. These 15 women were headed to an unprecedented feat- to become the first women to scale the Mt. Everest.
As of this time, they were resting, sound asleep to gain strength for their ascent the next day. Just then everything began shaking. There was a tremble and a lot of snow, huge amounts of snow, cast upon them. Inside their tents, they would be trampled. Junko Tabei woke up with a start. With quick thinking she unclasped the penknife from a cord on her neck and held it up. Just then another climber grabbed the knife and slit the tent. Yet Junko lost her consciousness.
On 4th May 1975, an avalanche had struck the group. Would they make it?
Junko Tabei their leader was unable to move for two days after the catastrophe. But she knew she had to make this expedition a success. These women had a lot riding on them. They had to prove all the naysayers wrong. ‘Women must stay at home’ they had said.
Junko had one strategy- One leg in front of the other “Make each step sturdy.” 10 days later, on 16 May, she resumed her climb more determined than ever.
The avalanche wasn’t the last of Junko’s travails. As she made her way up, she got angry by what she saw. She had read numerous journals and periodicals by people who had previously made it to the top yet none of them had mentioned this- a knife edge traverse. She had to crawl sideways. The experience must have been scary, the steep fall below would mean death. She couldn’t think of dying yet, she had left her three year old daughter and her husband back in Japan and she intended to return to them.
On hands and knees she recalled “I had never felt that tense in my entire life. I felt all my hair standing on end.” Would she make it?
Wearing trousers made of curtains, waterproof gloves made from the cover of her car and a sleeping bag that she had herself padded, Junko made it all 29,029-feet up the Mount Everest. She buried a coffee thermos as offering to the Mountain Goddess.
Later Junko explained the summit to be “smaller than a tatami mat”
Tiny in size, a mere 4ft 9 inch woman weighing a measly 42 kgs, Junko had a lot of courage in her. She loved climbing peaks and Everest was her crowning glory.
When she wanted to climb this mountain no one was willing to sponsor her. She had been told she should be raising children instead.
When in her fourth standard, Junko’s teacher took them climbing for the first time. Junko had expected the peak to be green. The entire experience of climbing Mt. Nasu in Tochigi Prefecture in Japan was fascinating for the elementary school girl.
At that time the Second World War had brought poverty to Japan. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings had worsened the condition. As a result, children like Junko were affected. She never imagined that mountain climbing could be a full time activity for her. So she had graduated in English and American Literature.
A few years later during a climbing expedition Junko met Masanobu Tabei. Their love for mountain climbing immediately connected the two and they wanted to get married. Junko’s parents were against the match. Masanobu did not hold a college degree. Nonetheless they gave their blessings to the couple.
Masanobu Tabei sympathised with his wife’s love for climbing. In doing his part he supported her wholeheartedly.
In 1969, Junko formed a group for women mountaineers. At that time in Japan women weren’t given any opportunities. If they had jobs, they were given the work of making tea for the staff. They would never be promoted. And for mountaineering male dominated groups would often berate women.
Ladies Climbing Club: Japan (LCC) was established with the motto “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.” With her group Junko climbed the Annapurna III and they group went on to scale Mt. Everest.
In 1992 Junko became the first woman to scale all the 7 Summits in the World. On an average she would scale 3 peaks. Junko had climbed 56 peaks in 2008.
In 2012 she was diagnosed with cancer yet she persisted in her climbs. She told The Japan Times, “I never felt like stopping climbing, and I never will.”
Only when it got too severe for her did she take a halt. She passed away last year on 20th October aged 77.
Her life story is fulfilling. She was modest beyond all thought. She would call herself a homemaker yet her children realised the kind of daunting strength their mother possessed.
If we are to take about an inspirational woman this Navratri it should be Junko Tabei.
Know something more about Junko Tabei? Comment below. Share this article with your friends to inspire them as well!
This is a special blog celebrating our 4th woman on the 4th day of Navratri. We’ll be sharing the inspirational life stories of 9 women in 9 days so stay tuned.
Junko Tabei is the 4th woman who’s achievement we are celebrating. Here are the other three-
- Bertha Benz- Read here
- Coco Chanel- Read here.
- Rani Lakshmibai- here. This is a special guest blog by Jack Edwards
Picture Curtesy- Google Images