Tamae Watanabe: The Oldest Woman to Reach the Summit of Everest

On May 16, 2002, Tamae Watanabe, at the age of 63 years and 176 days, reached the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world (8848m). The news of this feat by the world’s oldest woman alpinist immediately spread across the world.

Tamae Watanabe was born in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1938. At the age of 27, in her first ascent, she climbed the Japan North Alps with a work colleague. At 38 she joined the front ranks of the world’s alpinists when she reached the summit of Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest peak. She was a late bloomer among alpinists, but in a splendid achievement, she conquered five 8,000 meter mountains including Mont Blanc, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua.

Watanabe calls herself a commonplace middle-aged lady. Actually it was only just before leaving for Mt. Everest that she recognized she was the oldest woman alpinist in the world. On this mountain, the wind is filled with powdery snow to a height of 500 meters and great chunks of ice, the size of buildings, collapse around you. Another alpinist, climbing about the same time, was killed in a fall. Watanabe faced the danger of Everest and returned.

Behind her records there is a history of both physical and spiritual endurance. This strength was bred into her character by the rigors of her poor farming upbringing. Her father grew ill when she was a junior high school student, so she helped her family with the farming, pulled a cart and carried a night-soil bucket on her shoulder every day. After finishing her work in the evening, she bicycled 6 kilometers to attend high school part time.

When she retired as the head manager of the prefectural high school, she returned to her hometown in Yamanashi Prefecture, and became a guide to natural history at Fuji. In the mountain climbing school there, she shares the stories of her favorite climbing adventures. And she still climbs, taking up the challenge of mountains.