Japan teen eyes explorers' 'Grand Slam'

Marin Minamiya (Getty Images)
Marin Minamiya (Getty Images)

Tokyo - Japanese teenager Marin Minamiya has already conquered Mount Everest and the highest peaks on six other continents, plus a journey to the South Pole. 

Now the 19-year-old university student has the North Pole in her sights as she tries to become the youngest person to ascend the seven peaks and venture to opposite ends of the earth.

Only 51 people have completed the feat, known as the Explorers Grand Slam, according to a website dedicated to the challenge. 

Not bad for someone who thinks scaling jaw-dropping mountains is just a "hobby".

"I am not a climber so I do not intend to continue climbing high peaks", Minamiya told AFP in a recent interview in Tokyo.

"I enjoy the process of getting there, meeting people."

"(It) is all about challenging yourself, you have to go over your own limits, fight your weakness. It's almost like meditation and I really enjoy that."

The inspiration for Minamiya - who recently landed a sponsorship deal with a major Japanese clothing chain - was a school trip in Hong Kong, where her family had moved for work.

The then 13-year-old was fully engrossed in the online world, often chatting with friends through social media rather than in person.

One day her class ventured onto some of the southern Chinese city's hilly terrain - and Minamiya was hooked. 

"It was so refreshing. It was new to us," she said.

"We were communicating with each other in real life, using analog map and compasses, and we thought, 'My goodness. I did not know there was so much beauty out there.'"

Then she started scaling mountains in Nepal and Tibet. After turning 17, she took up a challenge to complete the Explorers Gland Slam.

Now, she just needs to reach the North Pole - hopefully in April - to finish the circuit.

"My family was surprised. They said, 'Out of nowhere, why?'" she said, adding that neither of her parents are climbers.

"There were times when several adults came to me and said: 'There is no way you can do it. You are just a young Japanese girl without experience.

"But that did not matter to me. I was just way too determined," she added.

Minamiya started with the 6 961-metre Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America, in early 2015.

In December last year she scaled Vinson Massif in Antarctica, where she ventured to the South Pole.

She also stood atop Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, Australia's Mount Kosciuszko, Russia's Mount Elbrus and in May this year the 8 848-metre Everest. She is the youngest Japanese to reach the top of the world's highest mountain.

Her seventh and final summit was North America's Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, in July.

While it is the highest, Everest was not the toughest, she said, shivering at the memory of Mount Elbrus.

"It is supposedly one of the easiest mountains of the 'Seven Summits'. However, this was in winter and when I climbed Elbrus it was right before Everest."

"I had one week to climb this mountain and the weather was absolutely terrible, the mountain conditions were terrifying, the whole mountain was frozen - it looked like an ice skating rink".

And two days later she was scaling Everest in Nepal. 

"I just don't give up and I feel that every mountain has taught me new lessons and it made me a much stronger person", she said.

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