One of the world's most accomplished female alpinsts dies in Japan

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 24/12/2015
Kei Taniguchi in Chamonix, 2010. Lindsay Griffin

A tragic accident has robbed us of one of the world's foremost female mountaineers, Kei Taniguchi, while climbing on Mt Kurodake in Japan.

Taniguchi's achievements have been considerable but perhaps most notable is that she is the only woman to have been awarded a Piolet d'Or in the entire 25-year history of the event.

According to close friend and editor of Rock and Snow, Hiro Hagiwara, on Monday 21st December Taniguchi climbed the north ridge of Kurodake (1,984m), on Hokkaido, with four male companions, reaching the summit at 2pm.

At that point she needed to go to the loo, so untied from the rope and went down behind a big boulder.

When, several minutes later, she hadn't returned, the rest of the team went to investigate and discovered her rucksack, both ice tools, and a pair of gloves.

Investigating the north face they saw slide marks, so continued down, roped, for several hundred metres. Unfortunately, they could not locate her.

At 9am on Tuesday 22nd Hokkaido Mountain Rescue Team found her body in the Kurodakesawa Gorge at the base of the north face, 600m below the summit. A helicopter transferred Taniguchi to Asahikawa Hospital for formal confirmation of death.

The diminutive 43-year old Taniguchi was a cheerful, unassuming, spirited yet strong and talented woman. She was much loved and will be much missed by the Japanese mountaineering community.

A reasonably accomplished rock and ice climber, Taniguchi came into her own in the Greater Ranges, particularly at high altitude.

She first became known globally in 2005 after making an alpine style second ascent of the east ridge of Muztagh Ata (7,546m) in China's Kun Lun, and then followed this the same summer with a partial new route on the north face and northwest ridge of Shivling (6,543m) in India's Gangotri region.

However, the year previous she had made the first ascent of the northwest spur of Spantik, the route followed in descent in 1987 by Mick Fowler and Victor Saunders after their historic first ascent of the Golden Pillar.

In 2006 and '07 she successfully climbed Manaslu and Everest. This gave her the high altitude experience to attempt what would prove to be her hallmark climb in 2008

With her usual climbing partner Kazuya Hiraide, she travelled to the Garhwal Himalaya and the much coveted but unattempted 1,800m southeast face of Kamet (7,756m). They climbed in pure alpine style, starting up the face on September 28, reaching the summit on October 5 and regaining base camp on the 8th. Their route, Samurai Direct, involved pitches of AI5+ and M5+

This ascent resulted in an international jury awarding the climb a Piolet d'Or in 2009. No other women before or since has gained this honour. She was a member of the Piolet d'Or jury in 2010.

In 2011 she made the first traverse of Gurla Mandata (7,694m) in Tibet, which included the first ascent of Gurla's south summit (7,422m).

The following year Hiraide and Taniguchi made a very spirited attempt on the northeast face of Gaurishankar's south summit and after overcoming steep and technical ground had to retreat from 6,850m on this 7,010m summit, just below the summit ridge, when they were unable to find a route through the final rock band.

There were also several new routes in Alaska. In 2009 she climbed a new, thin mixed line, Wasabi Gully, close to Kahiltna Queen, and in 2014 climbed a possible variant to the south face of Dan Beard, a possible second ascent of its east face, and two new routes on Peak 11,300', all accessed from the Ruth Amphitheatre. This collection gained her a Piolet d'Or Asia.

Taniguchi worked as a freelance instructor, personnel manager, and facilitator for corporate team building. In 2014 took a team of female students from the Japanese Alpine Club to Mustang in Nepal, where as their technical advisor she made sure they made a safe ascent of the previously virgin Mansail (6,235m).



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