The Moun­tain Life of Junko Tabei

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight Travel & Adventure -

Junko Tabei, Rocky Moun­tain Books (DE­CEM­BER) Hard­cover $32 (376pp), 978-1-77160-216-7

Ja­panese moun­taineer Junko Tabei earned in­ter­na­tional renown for be­ing the first woman to climb Mount Ever­est and to com­plete the Seven Sum­mits. Peo­ple were al­ways sur­prised when they met her; at five feet tall and weigh­ing just over a hun­dred pounds, she looked noth­ing like a moun­taineer. Lack­ing the brute strength and speed of men climbers, Tabei made up for both with dis­ci­pline, de­ter­mi­na­tion, good sense, and strength of will.

Once con­sid­ered an act of wor­ship, moun­taineer­ing was just be­gin­ning to open up as a sport in Ja­pan when Tabei came on the scene, and she was in­stru­men­tal in open­ing the door for women to ex­cel at it. Her suc­cess­ful Ever­est climb took place dur­ing In­ter­na­tional Women’s Year, 1975, and she wrote, “Whether I wanted it to be or not, our climb be­came a sym­bol of women’s so­cial progress,” es­pe­cially in Ja­pan, where the cul­ture had tra­di­tion­ally held women to a strict code of be­hav­ior.

Rather than be­ing full of bravado, Tabei’s book is a hum­ble, fac­tual, beau­ti­ful, sear­ing record of what it takes to sum­mit the planet’s high­est, most dif­fi­cult peaks. It be­gins with an avalanche and the ter­ror, dis­ori­en­ta­tion, and pain of be­ing crushed by the weight of snow, ice, and the tan­gle of fel­low climbers buried alive on top of her. It ends with an­other kind of avalanche, when cancer fi­nally con­quered her in­domitable will, though she man­aged to climb moun­tains in more than twenty coun­tries even af­ter her di­ag­no­sis.

Junko Tabei left a legacy of kind­ness and courage in sport and in life. “I would like to die say­ing it’s been a good life,” she of­ten said. And at this, she also suc­ceeded.

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