Naomi Uemura: The First Japanese Person to Climb Everest

Naomi Uemura was a Japanese explorer and climber who was prominent for his solo travel. He was the first peron to summit the highest peak in North America, Denali (6,190m) solo, and the first Japanese to summit the world’s highest peak, Mt Everest, without supplemental oxygen. His solo exploits lists include not only mountains but the North Pole and rafting the Amazon River.

It’s been almost four decades; Naomi Uemura disappeared while attempting to climb Denali in the winter on 13th February 1984, aged 43. No one knows Uemura’s fate.

From Shy To Explorer: Naomi Uemura’s Early Life

Hidaka, Japan native Naomi Uemura was born on 12th February 1941.

The sixth and youngest son, Uemura’s parents were farmers in western Japan. He spent his early youth close to the family’s rice paddies. Growing up, he was a shy child with low confidence.

Upon high school graduation, Uemura attended Meiji University in Tokyo. There he was introduced to the mountaineering club. The first thing he was interested in mountaineering was to improve his physique, which was skinny at the time, and to build confidence.

But once he got into initial training in the Japanese Alps, there was no looking back. He discovered him all alone and the happiest while climbing.

Naomi Uemura’s Record-Breaking Expeditions:

Naomi Uemura
Credit: Ira Block (Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society)

In all the splendor of solitude… it is a test of myself, and one thing I loathe is to have to test myself in front of other people.

– Naomi Uemura

Early in the 1960s, Uemura began his climbing career and soon became a reputed climber in Japan. In the 1970s, he accomplished many noteworthy ascents, including the first solo ascent of Denali, North America’s highest mountain, the first solo dog-sled expeditions to the North Poles, and the first crossing of the Arctic Ocean by dog sled. He also led an expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage by dog sled.

Uemura was a Saburo Matsukata 1970 expedition member that attempted to summit Mount Everest in 1970 via South Col. With a successful attempt, Uemura became the first Japanese person to conquer Mount Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Throughout the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, Uemura continued to push the limits of mountaineering. He accomplished solo ascents of some of the highest mountains in the world, such as Denali (the first solo ascent), Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, and Elbrus.

He made a solo ascent of Denali for the second time in 1984 but vanished mid-ascent and was assumed dead.

What Happened To Uemura Naomi?

Naomi-Uemura memorial
Naomi Uemura Memorial in Narsarsuaq, Greenland.

Tragically, Naomi Uemura disappeared while attempting to climb Denali in 1984, and his body was never found. He was attempting to become the first person to climb Denali solo in winter, a feat that had never been accomplished before.

Uemura set out on his expedition on February 12, 1984. Uemura radioed the Japanese photographers flying over Denali, stating he had reached the summit and descended to 18,000 feet (5,500 m). He planned to get to the base camp in another two days.

Later, the high winds hit near the top, with the super-freezing temperature around −50 °F (−46 °C). Later, planes flew over the mountain to look after the Japanese climber but no luck.

The following day, Uemura was encountered around 16,600 feet (5,100 m) on the ridge just above the headwall. Nevertheless, the harsh weather made further searching difficult. A week passed, but no trace of Uemura or his equipment was discovered by search and rescue teams. He may have been swept away by an avalanche or fallen through a crevasse.

Uemura’s disappearance remains a mystery, and his family and supporters continue to honor his memory and pioneering spirit. Despite his untimely demise, Uemura’s legacy as a solo- adventurer, and mountaineer has inspired generations of Japanese climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. He is remembered as a true trailblazer and hero.


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