Hon­our­ing High Places

Gripped - - REVIEWS - Hon­our­ing High Places Tom Valis

Junko Tabei and He­len Y. Rolfe Rocky Moun­tain Books

Early morn­ing on May 16, 1975, Junko Tabei and her Sherpa guide, Ang Tser­ing, set off for the sum­mit of Ever­est from a high camp above the South Col. Nei­ther wind nor a wisp of cloud was ev­i­dent. Hav­ing warmed them­selves on milk tea they move with de­lib­er­a­tion towards the Hil­lary Step, dizzy­ing heights be­low them. The com­bined ef­forts of large, well-or­ga­nized team has got­ten them there along with a coun­try that en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ports them. This be­ing but 20 years since the f irst as­cent, they f ind them­selves quite alone on the ridge that leads to the sum­mit, as they’re the sole ex­pe­di­tion on the moun­tain. All goes well, as their moun­taineer­ing skill and no small amount of brav­ery get them to sum­mit just af­ter­noon. Junko pulls out a ra­dio­phone from the pocket of her down suit and calls down to con­firm her as­cent. She’s the f irst woman to sum­mit the world’s high­est peak, and will be­come a na­tional hero in her na­tive Ja­pan.

is her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, co-writ­ten by Can­more-based He­len Rolfe and trans­lated from the Ja­panese. Tabei de­scribes her mid­dle-class up­bring­ing in post-war Ja­pan, be­ing sent to board­ing school and hav­ing her fa­ther die of can­cer be­fore grad­u­at­ing. It’s a world that will feel un­fa­mil­iar to Cana­dian read­ers – one where the val­ues of life in the moun­tains is care­fully taught by men­tors at schools and clubs. Climb­ing in Ja­pan in the late 1960s is as far re­moved from the coun­ter­cul­ture as one can imag­ine. It’s in this strongly aff ir­ma­tive en­vi­ron­ment that Tabei gains conf idence in the alpine and it’s the club struc­ture that takes her to the sum­mit of An­na­purna iii. She becomes both the f irst woman and the f irst Ja­panese to climb the peak. This sets her up to climb Ever­est f ive years later, three years af­ter she gives birth to her f irst child.

Fol­low­ing the fame of her as­cent, she goes on to be­come the first woman to climb the Seven Sum­mits. These climbs are de­scribed in the book along­side her strong com­mit­ment to main­tain the cul­tural and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­tegrity of the world’s high moun­tains – hence the ti­tle of her book. Its charm lies in Tabei’s unas­sum­ing but ob­vi­ously driven na­ture. The book’s in­sights into how another so­ci­ety – Ja­pan – ap­proaches moun­taineer­ing pro­vides the reader with a per­sonal view of the climb­ing world be­yond the An­glo­sphere.—

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