“Hi, now in Nepal on my way to Everest base camp!”
Even just the first line of Marin Minamiya’s latest email to Young Post is steeped in adventure. It’s just a sneak peek at the excitement that has filled 19-year-old Marin’s life for the past six years, when she first discovered her love of mountaineering.
“I first tried mountaineering when I went trekking to Annapurna base camp [in Nepal] with some friends and teachers from South Island School,” says Marin, who graduated from the school in 2013.
“I instantly fell in love with the beautiful view while trekking, and the feeling of tranquillity, peace, and freedom that this mountain brought me. I just couldn’t get enough of it.”
And that’s an understatement. Marin is currently on her way to completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam, an adventurer’s challenge to reach the North and South Poles and to climb the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. She has already completed seven of the climbs, and skied to the South Pole, and is currently on her way to the top of Everest.
“I started my first seven summits expedition in 2014,” she says. Marin spent her 18th birthday in Argentina during her expedition to summit Mt Aconcagua, and her 19th birthday in Antarctica, conquering Mt Vinson and skiing to the South Pole.
“I will complete the seven summits this July, if all goes according to plan,” she says. “I will complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam in April 2017, with the final expedition to the North Pole.”
Marin is currently the youngest female in the world to summit
Mt Manaslu in Nepal, the eighth highest mountain in the world at 8,163 metres. The climb also earned her the title of Japan’s youngest 8,000-metre climber.
But Marin says it was also one of the most difficult climbs of her life, calling it an “other-worldly experience”. While she had topped plenty of 4,000m-7,000m peaks, this was her first at 8,000m – and it was an entirely different experience.
“The expedition itself was long, taking up to 40 days, and the people were very different to the types of people who climb lower-altitude peaks,” she says.
“I met many climbers that had challenged Everest several times, many with lost fingers and toes. All were serious and no one was on the mountain lightheartedly.”
And with good reason. The mountain is treacherous, even in the best climbing conditions – which Marin did not have.
“Manaslu’s conditions in 2015 weren’t the best, and the weather didn’t allow us to make the summit until almost the end of expedition,” she says.
“Some climbers had already given up by then. It was all about patience, and maintaining peace of mind and body.”
At the top of the mountain, tragedy struck. “After making the summit, the strongest climbing member from our team died due to high altitude sickness and severe fatigue,” says Marin.
“His partner had to be rescued by helicopter from around 7,000m. The experience was overwhelming for me. It would be impossible to describe in words what it was like
on that mountain.”
But danger is an integral part of mountaineering, as Marin found out first-hand in March last year.
“I was tied to another climber when descending a mountain in Japan,” she recalls. “While we were walking on a snow ridge that was only about 30cm wide, he decided to untie himself from me.”
Marin and her team were balanced on the narrow ridge facing a 250-metre drop.
“His side of the rope got tangled in my crampons [a metal plate with spikes fixed to a boot for walking on ice or rock climbing]. I tried to untangle the rope, so I lifted one foot to tug it away with my hands,” Marin recalls.
“As soon as I lifted my leg, all my body weight [shifted to] my other foot, which caused the snow beneath me to crumble and break apart. In a matter of seconds, I was falling face first off the edge...”
The next few moments happened in slow motion for Marin. “To this day, I still remember very clearly the images I saw and the thoughts in my head from that exact moment,” she says. “I hit my body multiple times, and after falling a few more times, I stopped on a steep, snow-covered slope.”
“Miraculously, I was alive, with no fractures or open wounds.”
Marin had survived her fall from a 250 metre cliff. But the danger had only just begun.
“Exactly a month before my accident, two people died on the same valley, so no one thought I’d be alive,” she says. “They were sure I was dead, until the mountain rescue team followed my tracks from the fall, and noticed my foot steps descending the mountain.”
Marin tried to climb back to the point from which she had fallen, but the fresh powder snow proved impossible for her to climb through.
“That night I descended the valley as much as I could and bivouacked [created a temporary shelter] for myself by digging a human-sized hole in the snow and slept there alone,” she says. It was an excruciatingly long and cold night for Marin. “I couldn’t sleep for longer than 15 minutes because my body wouldn’t stop shivering. But I was lucky I didn’t fall asleep because I could’ve lost my life if I did.”
Marin made it through the night, and continued her descent down the mountain after the sun rose. “Luckily the rescue helicopter found me and flew me to the nearby helipad, where I was quickly escorted onto an ambulance that was waiting to take me to the hospital,” she says. “The whole falling experience was unbelievable, and still scares me to this day. It has made me extremely careful when climbing, when choosing climbing partners, and has made me become a much more self-reliant climber.”
But the fall took a toll on her climbing. “My physical recovery from this accident was fairly quick, aside from my lymphatic nodules being swollen for about a month or so,” she says. “On the other hand, the psychological recovery took a little more time, around four months or more.”
Nothing could hold Marin back from the mountains for long though. Soon she was back up and tackling the next peak on her way to completing the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
And while she may be prepared for everything, it wouldn’t be an adventure without a few unexpected twists. Marin’s most recent climb up Mt Elbrus in Russia surprised her by being the most challenging of the seven mountains in the Grand Slam so far.
“This peak is supposed to be the easiest of all seven summits,” she says. “Knowing this, I decided to challenge the mountain in winter as a training and acclimatisation climb for Everest.”
But Marin found that the mountain was not as easy as she had heard. “The weather on Mt Elbrus in winter was insane, on some days the wind was up to 120km/hr, and temperature down to -60 Celsius,” she says. “Even on a good weather day, my partner got frost bite on his nose and I almost flew in the air.”
Now Marin is on her way to summit Mt Everest, a climb she has been eagerly anticipating since she first fell in love with mountaineering six years ago.
“I used to live in Malaysia when I was younger, and every weekend I’d go explore in the jungle with some friends and read books up a tree by a beautiful lake,” she remembers. “When I trekked to Annapurna with SIS, the feeling of freedom I’d experienced when I was younger became came rushing back. Living in two extremely busy cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo made me crave fresh air and intense experiences. I didn’t enjoy being in the middle of a concrete jungle.”
To keep up with the rigours of her passion for mountaineering, Marin has to work hard both on and off the mountains. “I have trained for all my climbs through intensive cardio exercises, weight training, CrossFit training, and of course by climbing a lot,” she says.
And she works hard to source the specialised equipment she needs for her expeditions. “I need technical equipment and some of my equipment is tailor made,” she says. “The equipment is definitely not the easiest to get. Climbing gear can be found at stores but the expedition wear and foot wear can be quite difficult to find. Finding the perfect fit is definitely not easy.”
To find the funding for both her gear and travels, Marin seeks the support of companies to sponsor her. “I am completely, 100 per cent financially independent from my parents,” she says. “I do not rely on my family members for financial support.”
It’s a hard life, but Marin wouldn’t choose to do anything differently. “There is risk but I try my best to minimise it. The difficulty is there, but training and preparing for it makes my expeditions easier,” she says. “The best feeling is when I break or challenge my limits and get to a new level that I worked hard to reach. It’s that feeling of becoming a stronger version of myself.”
“But, hey, I love everything about my expeditions. I love what I do.”
Marin is currently climbing Everest. She plans to climb Mt Denali in June 2016 and ski to the North Pole in April 2017 as the final steps to completing the Grand Slam, an adventurer’s challenge to reach the north and south poles and to climb all seven continents’ highest peaks.