March 17, 2016–Kei Taniguchi, Mountain Climber
“To me, exploring unknown mountains resembles life itself,” wrote Kei Taniguchi in an essay titled Being With the Mountain. “Like many people, I exist, today, entangled in immense infrastructures of data. But I’d like my future to remain mysterious. I want to visit regions with the least available information—to encounter raw nature as it truly is. When I begin to see and touch the land, I’ll start discovering what I can do, how I can climb beyond the imaginable.”
Taniguchi was one of the world’s best female climbers. She climbed Mt Everest in 2007. She was the first woman to win the coveted mountaineering award, Piolet d’Or (Golden Ice Ax) in 2009. She had was known for her numerous successful climbs of mountains located all over the world, Alaska, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and China.
In December of last year, Taniguchi had just completed a successful ascent of Mount Kurodake, a peak of 1,984 metres (6,510ft), in Japan’s Hokkaido . She and her four climbing partners were descending when she unhooked from the rope to go behind a boulder for a break. Taniguchi never returned.
Her companions found her gloves, but no other trace of her. It was later confirmed she had fallen. She was 43 years old.
I don’t know much more about Taniguchi, had never heard of her before. But today, I feel her loss. The alpine climbing world is completely foreign to me. But perhaps its only the physical alpine terrain that is unfamiliar. For any woman looking to push herself beyond what she can imagine there is something familiar in Taniguchi’s spirit, the dreamer in her reaching out to the dreamer in us with these words from her essay Being with the Mountain:
“When I was a child, reading adventure stories in a house by the sea, I often dreamed about worlds above the clouds. One day, my father took me on a hike up a nearby mountain. It was just a little one – a rocky summit poking through a thick carpet of trees – in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan. But for the first time I thought I could touch the clouds,” she wrote.
“In severe, high places, I’m forced to see how small and powerless all humans are, compared to the vastness of the wild. At the same time I realise our unlimited potential: I decide whether to encounter the hardships of the mountain or not. To go up or down, right or left. No one forces me. No one leads me by the hand.”