HerStory January 2020: Junko Tabei

As we brainstormed HerStory 2020, one overarching theme kept cropping up: firsts. We wanted to honor women who were the first to do this or the first to accomplish that, both for the very real spearheading they did, but also, (and maybe even more importantly), for the opportunities they uncovered for others by being the first to ____. To that end, our first HerStory recipient is Junko Tabei, the first woman to summit Mount Everest and complete the Seven Summits.

Tabei came to mountain climbing through sheer force of will; her family didn’t have the money to support her burgeoning hobby as a child, so it wasn’t until she was in college that she was able to fully pursue her mountaineering dreams. She founded the Ladies Climbing Club in 1969, whose slogan was “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.” It was revolutionary, to create a woman-only club focused on a male past-time such as mountain climbing; many men thought Tabei’s interest was feigned, solely to secure a husband. 

Mountain climbing is not an inexpensive endeavor, so a part of Tabei’s focus was in funding her club’s expeditions. Securing funding for the summiting of Mount Everest seemed an insurmountable obstacle, but Tabei and her team were finally able to do so (while still being tasked with coming up with the equivalent of a year’s salary each) in the early 1970s. They were told, quite frequently, that they “should be raising children instead,” but their passion for climbing carried them through. The climb itself was arduous, as any climb to the summit of Mount Everest is. Tabei and her team were caught in an avalanche (like literally buried in snow), but still persevered, and on May 16, 1975, Tabei and her Sherpa guide Ang Tsering reached the summit of Mount Everest, the first woman ever to do so. But Tabei didn’t stop there; over the next 30 years, she would go on to become the first woman to complete the Seven Summits (the highest points on all seven continents), and would eventually summit mountains in over 76 countries, all while raising a family and, for the final four years of her life, fighting cancer. Her personal life-mantra was: “Do not give up. Keep on your quest.” She kept on her quest, throughout her life, inspiring countless other women to push through the sexism, misogyny, and complete unwillingness to recognize that a woman could and would want to summit mountains and explore the limits of herself, as well. 

Junko Tabei aspired to and achieved Great Heights (the colorway you hold in your hand) in her lifetime, and has earned her place in HerStory. We are honored to share her story for our first HerStory of 2020.