TOKYO – Mountaineer Kei Taniguchi died in an accident this week while climbing in the snowy Daisetsuzan range in northern Japan's Hokkaido. She was 43.
Taniguchi, who climbed Mount Everest in 2007, became the first woman to win the prestigious Piolet d'Or (Golden Ice Axe) mountaineering award in 2009. A friend and fellow climber, Hiroshi Hagiwara, said Friday that she fell while taking a break on 1,984 meter (6,510 foot)-high Kurodake as she and four companions were descending the peak.
"It's a great loss for our community. I had climbed with her in the past," said Hagiwara, an editor at Yamakei magazine.
Taniguchi had detached herself from the rope she and fellow climbers were using, and went behind a boulder. The group found her gloves and traces of her having fallen. She was confirmed dead Tuesday.
Taniguchi and her climbing partner Kazuya Hiraide won acclaim for technically challenging climbs in Alaska, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and China.
In an essay published last month in the Alpinist Magazine, Taniguchi quipped that perhaps one reason she was drawn to climbing peaks is that she was short.
But she also said it was the mystery of the unknown that also drove her.
"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 realize 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."