Mountaineer Kei Taniguchi dies while climbing

TOKYO: Mountaineer Kei Taniguchi fell to her death while climbing this week in the snowy Daisetsuzan range in northern Japan's Hokkaido. She was 43.

Taniguchi, who climbed Mount Everest in 2007, became the first woman to win 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 1,984 metre (6,510 foot)-high 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.

Kei 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 hundreds of metres (over 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 the Alpinist Magazine, Taniguchi quipped that she might have been drawn to climbing peaks 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."