Even though Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, the Japanese mountaineer was never comfortable with that distinction.
“I was the 36th person to climb Everest,” she told Sports Illustrated in 1996. She was also the first woman to complete the Seven Summits, reaching the highest peaks on each of the seven continents in 1992. Although she was the first to summit Everest, it’s apparently for the latter achievement that Google is honoring Tabei on Sunday with an animated Doodle on her 80th birthday.
For almost as long as Google has been around, it’s livened up its bare-bones search page with artwork that draws attention to notable people, events, holidays and anniversaries. It typically embellished the letters in its Doodle with other objects that resemble the letters, but this time the six letters in Google have been replaced with seven peaks being conquered by a cartoon version of Tabei.
Born on this day in Miharu, Fukushima, in 1939, Tabei began climbing at the age of 10, even though she was considered a frail child. In 1969, she founded a women’s climbing club after being treated poorly by male mountaineers, some of whom refused to climb with her.
“Some thought I was there to meet men, but I was only interested in climbing,” Tabei told SI.
The club’s slogan was “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.”
In 1975, she defied Japanese societal norms again when she left her young daughter with her husband while she traveled to Nepal to lead a group climbing Everest.
“Back in 1970s Japan, it was still widely considered that men were the ones to work outside and women would stay at home,” Tabei told the Japan Times in 2012. “Even women who had jobs — they were asked just to serve tea. So it was unthinkable for them to be promoted in their workplaces.
“We were told we should be raising children instead,” she said.
But her greatest hurdle on the journey came when she was pinned under four climbing companions by an avalanche at their camp more than 20,000 feet up the mountain. She lost consciousness for about six minutes before her Sherpa guides dragged her out of the snow by her ankles.
“As soon as I knew everyone was alive, I was determined to continue,” she told SI. Her injuries prevented her from being able to stand until two days after the avalanche, but 12 days after the disaster, Tabei would become the first woman to stand on the Earth’s highest peak.
She stayed active in the climbing community for the rest of her life, focusing her energies on the environmental damage Everest suffers from waste left behind by climbers and participating in many climbs designed to clean up that litter.
In all, Tabei climbed 69 major mountains in more than 60 countries and continued to climb after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She died four years later, on Oct. 20, 2016, at the age of 77.