Mountaineer Kei Taniguchi fell to her death while climbing this week in the snowy Daisetsuzan range in northern Japan's Hokkaido prefecture. She was 43.
Taniguchi, who climbed Mount Everest in 2007, became the first woman to receive the prestigious Piolet d'Or (Golden Ice Axe) mountaineering award in 2009. A friend and fellow climber, Hiroshi Hagiwara, said Friday that she fell while taking a break on 6,510-foot- Kurodake after she and four companions had reached the peak.
"She was one of us, and it's very unfortunate," said Hagiwara, an editor at Yamakei magazine.
Taniguchi had detached herself from the rope she and fellow climbers were using and went behind a boulder. The group found a glove and signs that she had fallen, and a search, delayed by bad weather, found her buried in snow more than 1,000 feet below. She was carried out by helicopter and confirmed dead Tuesday.
Taniguchi and her climbing partner, Kazuya Hiraide, won acclaim for technically challenging climbs in Alaska, Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan and China.
In an essay published last month in Alpinist magazine, Taniguchi quipped that she might have been drawn to climbing because she was short.
But she also mused on the allure of Japan's rugged peaks.
"In winter, they wear only snow and ice and rock. They become luminous and quiet — although it's not easy to reach their heart in the deep drifts and the storms," she wrote.
"How will you overcome it? The answer lies somewhere between the austerity of nature and your own ability. It's as if the entire scheme of existence plays out in a brief period of time. This harsh grace helps me grow the most."
Kurtenbach writes for the Associated Press.