Satoshi Tamura, The World's First Deaf Person to Summit Everest


Satoshi Tamura (Japanese: 田村聡) was the first deaf person to reach the summit of Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, at an altitude of 8,849 meters, a feat that only 0.000125% of the world's population has accomplished. The ascent of Everest is a very demanding physical and mental challenge for which one must be in top physical shape and have a great deal of experience in high mountain climbing.

Satoshi Tamura 田村聡
Satoshi Tamura 田村聡 (photo: Facebook page of Satoshi Tamura)

His Dream Since He Was a Teenager

Satoshi Tamura was born deaf, in Tachikawa, 40 km from the center of Tokyo. When he crowned Everest, he was 50 years old, but before that he had to gather 37 years of climbing experience (they say he visited more than a thousand mountains around the world) and attempt the feat twice more. In fact, he started climbing with his father and uncle at the age of 13. At the age of 15 he saw the news in the press of the first Japanese team to reach the summit of Everest and from that moment on, it became his dream.

The road to the crowning was not easy. From the moment he said in his adolescence that he wanted to climb Everest, he was not taken seriously and was warned of the danger of the adventure, being deaf. However, he continued to take steps and between the ages of 20 and 30 he perfected his mountaineering and ski mountaineering skills.

One of his most celebrated milestones was in October 2007, at the age of 42, when he reached the summit of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world at 8,201 meters in the Himalayas, from where Everest can be seen at a distance of approximately 28 km. Satoshi Tamura thus became the first deaf person in the world to climb an "eight-thousander", that is, one of the 14 mountains on Earth that rise more than 8,000 meters above sea level. When he was on Cho Oyu, Satoshi Samura's Nepalese Sherpa, seeing his physical and technical skills, told him that he should challenge climbing Everest: "Tamura, you are strong. You should challenge Everest."

In 2014 he made his first attempt to summit Everest, but weather conditions stopped him at 7,950 meters altitude. Satoshi was at high risk of frostbite due to the strong wind and had to reluctantly give up. He tried again in 2015 but, while on the Tibetan side of the mountain, he felt a small tremor that resulted in a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal, causing several avalanches on Everest that ended with the death of 24 climbers and 61 people injured, so the authorities banned further climbs and Satoshi had to give up again.

Satoshi Tamura on the summit of Everest with a Japanese flag
Satoshi Tamura on the summit of Everest (photo: Satoshi Tamura)

May 21, 2016, 07.15 am

This was the date and time when Satoshi finally fulfilled his dream and reached the summit of Everest on his third attempt. It took him five days to reach the summit and during the ascent he had problems with the oxygen mask, which froze on him just 350 meters from the top, feeling dizzy and struggling not to fall, so he only thought about getting down alive.

For a deaf person, climbing high altitude mountains requires some additional skills, as he does not use hearing like other climbers, for example, to anticipate a snow avalanche. Satoshi said he communicated with his Sherpa by gestures when the cold no longer allowed communicating in writing or using apps on his smartphone due to the lack of Internet connection. In addition, he was guided by intuition and other senses such as sight and touch, observing the slope of the mountain, the quality of the snow, the hardness of the snow under his feet, etc.

To achieve his dream, Satoshi needed 8 million yen (approximately 50,000 euros at the current exchange rate), so he had to carry out a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds. In the end, his feat was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's first deaf person to climb Everest.

It is good to try what you like. If you have courage, the way will show itself. By challenging yourself, the way will open! Don't give up and have courage, passion, wisdom and defiance (Satoshi Tamura)
好きな事をチャレンジしてみると良い。勇気を出せば道が示される。チャレンジすれば道が開ける!諦めず勇気 情熱 叡智 そして 挑戦 (田村聡)

In the following video you can see Satoshi Tamura giving a lecture at Tachikawa School for the Deaf to high school students, the same school he had attended (automatic subtitles in Japanese):

Always Challenging Himself

In addition to climbing Everest, Satoshi has also undertaken a multitude of challenges. In 2002 he participated in the Paris-Dakar Rally in the motorcycle category, known to be the toughest rally in the world. He had to abandon the race due to a breakdown of his motorcycle with only four days to go but it was a rich experience for Satoshi, who said he even found it harder than climbing Everest.

In 2013 he took part in what is considered one of the world's toughest endurance races, the Tor des Geants in Italy, where a 330km course must be completed in less than 150 hours, with barely enough time to sleep.

In 2019 he obtained a paragliding license despite being rejected from most paragliding schools for being deaf, and in the same year, at the age of 54, he again climbed to the top of Mount Fuji and flew 26 km in a paraglider to near reach the Pacific Ocean, the first deaf person to do so.

Finally, Satoshi Tamura has been very active in international sports competitions: he participated in three Deaflympics (1999, 2003 and 2013) in the sports of alpine skiing and orienteering.

You can follow Satoshi on his Facebook page or on Instagram.

Satoshi Tamura paragliding
Satoshi Tamura paragliding (photo: Satoshi Tamura's Facebook page)

Who Was the First Deaf Woman to Conquer Everest?

After Satoshi, the world's first deaf woman to reach the summit of Everest was Shayna Unger, together with Scott Lehmann. This American climbing couple reached the top of the world's highest mountain on May 22, 2023, at 6:00 am. The two have been a couple since high school, they started climbing together in 2015 and Shayna is a teacher of social-emotional learning with deaf students in elementary school.

Scott Lehmann and Shayna Unger on the summit of Everest
From left to right: Scott Lehmann, Shayna Unger and both of them on the summit of Everest on May 22, 2023 (photos: Scott and Shayna's Facebook page)

Like Satoshi, Shayna and Scott know that the very low temperatures in the high alpine do not allow the use of technology for communication, so before they start the climb they work with the Sherpas for a few weeks to teach them basic signs in American Sign Language (ASL) and agree on visual cues. Even though Scott and Shayna communicate in ASL, they need to make adjustments to easily identify signs when they are far away or when vision is low, making the signs wider or even different.

We want to be role models and show our community, especially the kids, that climbing or even just being in the outdoors isn't something that only hearing people do. We want this to have a ripple effect (Shayna Unger)

The couple now aspires to be the first deaf climbers to complete the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on the six continents, something that only 460 people worldwide have achieved. However, they want to make it clear that the goal is not just to climb the mountains, but to serve to transform society's perception of deaf people and improve access to information and education for deaf people.

You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. They also have a website with a lot of pictures, videos and information, where you can also support their adventures:

Sad End of The World's Second Deaf Person

Conquering Everest is a very dangerous undertaking. More than 300 people died during the climb until 2022 and more than 25% of deaths occur on the descent, after reaching the summit. This was sadly the end of the world's second Deaf person to summit Everest, Malaysian climber Muhammad Hawari Bin Hashim, on May 18, 2023 at around 3:30 pm.

After reaching the summit, Muhammad began the descent. On the way down, after passing Camp IV, on May 19, the Sherpas had to retreat back to rescue another Malaysian climber and when they returned, Muhammad was missing. Several rescue operations were conducted in areas where he was likely missing, including a drone search, but on June 19 rescue attempts were terminated due to the close of the season and he was presumed dead.

Since there was only a few days difference between Muhammad and Scott and Shayna, they happened to meet along the way. A month later, Scott and Shayna shared photos and videos of the encounter on their Instagram account, which you can see here, where they say:

It’s currently June 18th in Nepal. One month ago from today, Hawari stood on top of the world; living out of his dream + achieving something truly incredible for his family, his country of Malaysia, and the deaf and hard of hearing community. Then, the unfolding events took an unforeseen turn, leaving all of us intertwined in the aftermath. To be honest, it has been overwhelming to process and make sense of everything. It’s going to take us some quite time to come to terms with it all. Hawari is a warm and lively soul, driven by a determination to create positive waves for the deaf and hard of hearing community— this is how we will always remember and celebrate him 🌄 (Scott & Shayna)

Muhammad Hawari, Shayna Unger and Scott Lehmann
From left to right: deaf climber Muhammad Hawari Hashim (second Deaf person in the world to conquer Everest), Kami Rita (historic record holder Sherpa), Shayna Unger and Scott Lehmann (photo: Shayna Unger and Scott Lehmann).

Muhammad, who worked at the Penang State Museum and dreamed of climbing Everest since elementary school, trained for the expedition for two years. He was 33 years old when he passed away, although his feat will go down in history.


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