Memories–Kei Taniguchi

Kei Taniguchi and I used to belong to the same mountaineering club in Tokyo. Kei-chan was a world class climber, recipient of the prestigious Piolets d’Or award. News of her death in a mountain in Hokkaido in 2015 was a big shock to everybody.


Many years ago, four or five young people (cyclists) came to see our club meeting, and three of them joined the club. One woman (Kei-chan) and two men. Two of the three perished in the snow mountain on separately occasions later. Two third of the probability!


Anyway. She started the mountain career in her twenties. As she practiced adventure race, she had physical and mental strength. Lots of people in our club tried to teach her mountaineering skills and she learned quickly.


One day, she went to Nokogiri-dake (Southern Alps in Japan) in winter alone. She had to break the trail in the deep snow by herself while it kept on snowing. As she became missing, the club members started discussing how to organize a rescue team. Then we got a call from her that she could come down the mountain safely. Later we had a club meeting to recap this incident, and somebody said we should prohibit a solo mountaineering. Kei-chan, showing no remorse, stated an objection to that idea.


When a club member and Kei-chan went to Mount Mckinley together, he developed mountain altitude sickness in the camp and went down the mountain to acclimatize. Several days later, he adjusted to high altitude, and came back up, only to discover she had climbed Mckinley with another group of climbers she met there. He was a little upset about that, but she accompanied him to the top of Mckinley, making two trips to the peak in one expedition! Come to think of it, he died in Andes some years later.


When she went to learn ice climbing from her “mentor” in Yatsugatake mountain, he dropped a big chunk of ice on her (she was belaying him) breaking her helmet and injuring her. She was taken to a hospital for treatment (medical cost was covered by the insurance).


From the standpoint of career development, she was an employee of an ad agency initially, then she was organizing seminars for company employees, and she came to work as a mountain guide for commercial expeditions. I heard from one of the sales reps of such company that she is popular as a guide. With her name, the company could draw customers.


After she got the Piolet d’Or, I saw her on TV. She was in Spain and climbed a mountain in Pyrenees with Spanish climbers. She mingled with them all right, even when they were speaking with one another in Spanish in a mountain hut. When they set out for climbing, their pack was huge, and they walked without any rest. Kei-chan’s pack was as huge as theirs, and she could keep up with them. That was wonderful.


I was not close to her, and I don’t have sweet memories of her, but I never imagined she will be lost in the mountain so young. May she rest in peace.

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