Junko Tabei: Ascending Peaks and Attaining Historic Heights

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Junko Tebei climbing Tajikistan, 1985 © Jaan Künnap, Creative Commons

In the vast and challenging realm of mountaineering, each climber’s journey is a unique testament to human resilience, determination, and a relentless pursuit of the extraordinary.
Several weeks ago, I embarked on a journey of my own—a digital odyssey that led me to explore the lives of 10 legendary mountaineers and share their awe-inspiring stories with the world. Little did I know that within the jagged peaks and treacherous slopes of our research, I would stumble upon the remarkable tale of Junko Tabei—a mountaineer whose indomitable spirit and groundbreaking achievements demanded a spotlight of their own.

As I delved into the world of mountaineering, initially inspired by the tales of iconic climbers, I found myself captivated by the resilience and courage that characterized these adventurers. Their tales of conquering nature’s challenges fueled my fascination, but it was the discovery of Junko Tabei’s incredible journey that compelled me to get deeper and share her story in greater detail.
In this blog, I will unravel the chronicles of Junko Tabei’s life, think of it—a narrative that transcends the icy altitudes and rocky landscapes.

It’s a tale of a woman who defied societal expectations, climbed to unparalleled heights, and carved her own path in a male-dominated arena. 

As I unraveled the layers of Junko Tabei’s life, her journey from the literature to the challenging landscapes of mountaineering emerged as a testament to her unyielding determination. She graduatedfrom Showa Women’s University with a degree in English and American literature, Tabei initially set out on a path within the education field. Little did she know that the allure of the mountains would beckon her away from the conventional and into uncharted territories.

Her entry into the climbing world was marked by a bold step into male-dominated climbing clubs, where skepticism and raised eyebrows met her aspirations. The question of what drove her to venture into a predominantly male domain lingered in the crisp mountain air.
Yet, fueled by an unwavering love for the sport, she weathered the challenges and skepticism, emerging resilient and resolute

“ I believe that everyone has the potential to achieve great things. All you need is the determination and the will to never give up. ”

In 1969, Tabei decided to rewrite the narrative that circumscribed her passion. Faced with skepticism from male mountaineers who doubted her commitment to the craft, she founded the Joshi-Tohan Club—a groundbreaking all-women mountaineering group. With a rallying motto of “Let’s embark on an overseas expedition independently,” the club was a declaration of independence and a commitment to proving that women were more than capable of conquering peaks on their terms.

As the founder of the Joshi-Tohan Club, Junko Tabei embarked on a mission to shatter the glass ceiling that loomed over female mountaineers. The club not only provided a platform for women to hone their mountaineering skills but also served as a powerful symbol of empowerment and solidarity. Tabei’s vision was clear – to create a space where women could thrive in an environment that had traditionally excluded them.


The first major milestone in Tabei’s climbing career came in 1970 when she summited Annapurna, becoming the first woman to conquer an 8,000-meter peak. This historic achievement was a resounding statement, challenging the preconceived notions surrounding women in high-altitude mountaineering. Tabei’s ascent of Annapurna not only showcased her physical prowess but also highlighted her mental fortitude and determination.

Undeterred by the challenges ahead, Tabei continued to etch her name in the annals of mountaineering history. The Seven Summits challenge, which entails climbing the highest peak on each continent, beckoned her. By completing this daunting feat in 1992, she solidified her status as one of the most accomplished climbers of her time. Tabei’s tenacity and resilience on each summit were not just a personal triumph but a testament to the capabilities of women in the world of extreme adventure.

Beyond the personal accolades, Junko Tabei remained committed to fostering community among female climbers. She continued to lead the Joshi-Tohan Club on various expeditions, inspiring a new generation of women to challenge the status quo and pursue their passion for mountaineering. Tabei’s impact extended far beyond the mountains – she became a symbol of empowerment for women across the globe.

Japanese climber, Junko Tabei, gives a climbing demonstration outside Frankfurt Station, circa 1975 © Keystone- Hulton Archive-Getty Images

In the face of adversity, Tabei remained unwavering in her belief that gender should not limit one’s aspirations. 

Her mantra, “I believe that everyone has the potential to achieve great things. All you need is the determination and the will to never give up,” echoed not only through the jagged peaks she conquered but also through the hearts of those who admired her  (me included hahahahaha… )

Junko Tabei’s legacy endures, serving as a beacon for aspiring mountaineers and a reminder that the mountains, much like life’s challenges, are there to be conquered by those with the courage to reach for the summit. Her story continues to inspire individuals to defy expectations, break barriers, and forge their paths, both in the mountains and in their personal and professional lives.

As we reflect on the remarkable journey of Junko Tabei, let us carry forward the spirit of determination, resilience, and inclusivity she so ardently championed. In doing so, we honor not only a pioneering mountaineer but a trailblazer who reshaped the narrative of what women can achieve in the world of adventure and beyond.

Junko Tabei on Ismoil Somoni Peak, Tajikistan, in 1985 with two other Japanese climbers © Jaan Künnap
Junko Tabei on Ismoil Somoni Peak, Tajikistan, in 1985 with two other Japanese climbers © Jaan Künnap

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