The pioneering Japanese mountaineer, who has been celebrated in a Google Doodle on what would have been her 80th birthday, once said she rather be remembered as the 36th person to climb the world’s highest peak.
“I did not intend to be the first woman on Everest,” she explained four decades after the feat.
But Tabei, a 4ft 9ins mother-of-two from a small town in Fukushima prefecture, undoubtedly changed the landscape of Japanese mountaineering. She founded the Ladies Climbing Club – the first for women in Japan – in 1969 with the slogan: “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.”
“Most Japanese men of my generation would expect the woman to stay at home and clean the house,” she later said in an interview.
She reached the summit of Everest on 16 May 1975, as the leader of an all-female Japanese climbing party. They were frequently told they should be “raising children instead” as the sought sponsorship for the expedition.
The team had set out with 15 mountaineers and six sherpas, but at 9,000ft its camp was buried by an avalanche. Undeterred, after three days recovery she ploughed on – alone except for her guide – and reached the summit 12 days later.
Tabei, who devoted her adult life to scaling peaks, would go on to climb the tallest mountains in more than 70 countries.
In 1992, she became the first woman to complete the “seven summits” – the highest peaks of all the continents.
In later life she became concerned about the degradation of the world’s highest mountain, saying in 2003: “Everest has become too crowded. It needs a rest now.”
Tabei continued climbing even after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She died four years later, aged 77.