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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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The Art of Ascent

Marie Yanaka

Feb. 24, 2017

Marin Minamiya has conquered the 7 summits, the highest peaks on each of the 7 continents, and she did it by the age of 19. She’s the youngest Japanese ever to accomplish the feat, and it took her only a year-and-a-half.

The 7 summits are Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceania, Elbrus in Europe, Kilimanjaro in Africa, and Mount Everest -- the highest point in Asia as well as the world.

At the age of 20, Minamiya is already famous in the world of mountain climbing. Her quest to conquer the 7 summits started with South America's Aconcagua, which is 6,962 meters high. When she was 18, she ascended Manaslu, in the Himalayas, becoming the youngest climber in the world to reach the top.

But why did she decide to take on the 7 summits?

"Because even by climbing the smallest peaks, I could create the greatest friendship and I would learn so many things that I wouldn’t be able to learn just at school or in normal daily life environment," Minamiya says. "So I thought, what would it be like to climb the highest peak in the world, I must be able to meet the greatest people and learn just so much from climbing that peak and conquer my inner weakness and I thought that’s why I must climb it one day."

Surprisingly, she says that Mt. Everest wasn't the hardest climbing expedition she has been on.

"This mountain that I climbed right before climbing Everest in March, it was Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe," Minamiya says. "It’s in Russia and I went to climb it in winter season as training for Everest, where most people climb this peak in summer. The weather was terrible and, since the wind was so strong, the snow was really packed and turned into ice, and it was almost like a skating rink."

"The 7 summits -- I didn’t originally plan to climb them all," she adds. "I was only planning to climb Mt. Everest and in order to climb Mt. Everest I had climb 7,000-meter peak and then an easier 1,000-meter peak to climb Everest for preparation, but while I was climbing a 7,000-meter peak, which was Aconcagua, I realized that I needed to do more training and I was climbing a mountain in Japan, which was Mt. Amida. It was in Nagano, but I got in an accident."

It was in March of 2015. The team she was with had just started to descend from the summit, when the snow under her feet suddenly crumbled. She slid partway down the mountain, and spent the night alone. The next day, a rescue team found her and flew her to safety by helicopter.

But the accident didn't deter her. Instead, she stepped up her preparations to climb Mount Everest. In May of 2016, she made it, and stood on the summit of the world's highest peak.

"There was this 6 years of wanting to climb the peak, and so right before getting to the summit of Everest when I saw the summit a few meters away from me, tears just burst out of my eyes," Minamiya: says.

Kenji Kondo is an international mountain guide. He’s reached the peak of Mount Everest several times, and he met Minamiya at a base camp there.

"She climbs really fast. I sensed she has lots of physical strength and stamina. She was adapting to the high altitude quite well and steadily acquiring experience," Kondo says. "She understands climbing from a number of perspectives. For example, she knows what happens to the body at high altitudes, how it is affected by low oxygen, and how to cope with that sort of situation. She understands her instructor's advice, and then practices it. One other factor: she knows how to control her life, including her health."

Minamiya disputes the idea that it's more difficult for women to endure the harsh conditions involved with climbing mountains like Everest.

"I think that’s a very stereotypical way of thinking that if you’re a girl you need to bath and it would be tough if you cannot have these kind of cleaning facility but it’s not true," she says. "Even if you’re a girl, you can endure these environments because it’s not about the showering that you are climbing the mountains for. You’re climbing the mountain for whatever reason you’re climbing it for. It doesn’t matter what the mountain offers you."

When she’s not making her way to mountaintops, Minamiya studies politics and economics at university. She blends in with all the other college students, but her friends know she isn't an ordinary student. One of her friends says that, while she's worried that Minamiya might take big risks, she understands how enthusiastic she is about mountain climbing.

Minamiya says she started to climb mountains in her early teens to help her figure out where she belongs in the world.

"I moved to Malaysia when I was a year and a half old. I was born in Japan but this was because of my father’s job, he did trading and through moving to many different countries I kind of lost the sense of where I belong and who I am and I wanted to figure it that out," she says. "So, when I was in Hong Kong, this was when I was 13 years old, I started climbing mountains and through my climbs I was able to face my inner weaknesses and this sense of where do I belong. And so being in mountains it was just the sense of being in nature and it made me feel that it’s the world that I belong to it’s not a certain nation."

Minamiya plans to travel to the North Pole in April. Her training involves a lot of cross-country skiing. And she's getting ready to move to Norway to finish preparing for the expedition. After all of her adventures, she’s also starting to become more interested in the world outside mountaineering.

For example, the North Pole expedition that I’ll go in April, it will have to do very much with global warming," Minamiya says. "Because at times when I am crossing the polar ice to the North Pole, I might have to swim because all these ices are breaking up and I’d feel I would be able to learn exactly what the damage is happening also."

After the North Pole expedition, Minayama may sail around the world. She says she wants to be a mother one day too.