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9 trailblazing female explorers

By: Matt Hickman on Oct. 24, 2016, 12:17 p.m.
Junko Tabei climbs Ismoil Somoni Peak

Photo: Jaan Künnap/Wikimedia Commons

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Junko Tabei (1939-2016)

While only 4 feet 9 inches tall, Junko Tabei was a mountain onto herself in the world mountaineering. In 1975, at the age of 35, she became the first woman to ascend to Everest's peak, leading a team of other women. Tabei climbed the remaining six mountains that, with Everest, make up the Seven Summits, or the highest peaks on each continent: Kilimanjaro in Africa in 1981; Aconcagua in South America in 1987; Denali in North America in 1988; Vinson Massif in Antarctica in 1991; and in 1992, she scaled both Puncak Jaya of Oceania and the west peak of Elbrus in Europe.

While climbing mountains isn't an easy task, the endeavor was even more challenging for Tabei, who encountered cultural obstacles. In the 1970s, Japanese women were still expected to stay home or serve tea in offices, not form mountain climbing clubs or secure sponsorship for climbing Mount Everest, both of which Tabei did. In addition to breaking gender norms, Tabei advocated for sustainability at Everest and other summits.

Tabei was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, but according to the Japanese national broadcaster NHK, she continued to her mountain climbing activities while receiving treatment. She died of cancer in 2016 at the age of 77.

This slideshow was originally written in November 2014 and has been updated with new information.