UKC

Ski-Mountaineer Hilaree Nelson dies on Manaslu

© The North Face

Accomplished American ski-mountaineer Hilaree Nelson has been found dead on Manaslu (8,163m) in Nepal following an avalanche and a three-day search operation.

Nelson (49) of Telluride, Colorado, had summited the peak on Monday (26 September) at 10:42 a.m. local time alongside her partner Jim Morrison ahead of a planned ski descent.

In an Instagram post shared today, Morrison explained that he began to descend first and made a few turns before Nelson followed and triggered a small avalanche. He wrote:

'She was swept off her feet and carried down a narrow snow slope down the south side (opposite from climbing route) of the mountain over 5000'. I did everything I could to locate her but was unable to go down the face as I hoped to find her alive and live my life with her.'

Following two days of hampered attempts due to bad weather, Morrison and Mingma Tenzi Sherpa were dropped by helicopter for a recovery operation this morning after locating Nelson's body at an altitude of around 6,700m. Morrison wrote:

'Today with the help of @capt_surendra [Surendre Paudel], an incredibly skilled pilot, we were able to land at 22,000 feet and search for her. @nimsdai [Nirmal Purja] was instrumental in helping organize the best team and resources possible and I found her body with the aid of @mt.sherpa [Mingma Tenzi Sherpa] today at 10:30 am. I'm in Kathmandu with her and her spirit.

'My loss is indescribable and I am focused on her children and their steps forward. @hilareenelson is the most inspiring person in life and now her energy will guide our collective souls. Peace be with us all. Pray for her family and community which is broadly stretched across our planet. I'm devastated by the loss of her.'

Initial reports of her disappearance were conflicting, with some mainstream reports suggesting a crevasse accident, while others described a ski detachment and slip.

The couple arrived in Nepal earlier this month and had made a previous summit bid last week, but aborted between C3 and C4 due to dangerous conditions, which have plagued a record season on the Manaslu, for which over 400 permits were issued.

On Monday, the same day as Nelson's disappearance, an avalanche occurring between C3 and C4 killed a Nepali climbing guide and injured over a dozen climbers. 

***

Nelson's extreme skiing career began following a season in Chamonix In the 1990s. After winning extreme skiing titles and making first descents in the US and beyond — including on Baffin Island, the South Georgia Islands, in Argentina and Russia — she shifted her focus to high-altitude mountaineering ascents combined with committing ski descents.

In 2005, Nelson skied from the summit of Cho Oyu (8,188m), and in 2012, she became the first female to summit two 8000-metre peaks (Everest and Lhotse) in one 24-hour push. In 2015, she made the first female descent of Makalu La Couloir in Nepal. 

In 2018, Nelson and Morrison made the first ski descent of Lhotse (8,516m) in Nepal, for which Nelson was subsequently named as one of National Geographic's 2018 Adventurers of the Year.

Nelson took part in — and at times led — over 40 expeditions across the globe. As the elected Captain of The North Face's athlete team, she was lauded as "the most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation" by her sponsor. 

Nelson was often vocal about and widely respected for her decision to continue with high-altitude ski-mountaineering objectives as a mother of two sons, in a society which has traditionally criticised mothers more harshly than fathers for pursuing high-risk goals in adventure sports.

"I know a lot of women who have changed their path after becoming a mom and not not necessarily by choice," she commented in a 2021 film from The North Face.

IFMGA mountain guide Caroline George wrote a tribute to Nelson on Instagram:

'In the niche of moms who pursue alpine adventures and strive to push their own limits always, she is a beacon. Sitting here, I can't really think of another mother who has done so much and so big after having children. She is my upward pull. She has legitimized my choices to keep guiding and pursue adventures all the while being a mother. This is the greatest present that she has unknowingly gifted me. I have infinite gratitude for her journey on this planet and for the legacy she leaves. A father dies in the mountains, well he was out there living his dream. A mother who loses her life living her passion will be judged a lot harsher. And this is in essence what stops women from pursuing their dreams. The judgement. She gifted me these words when my daughter was only 1 years old and I was in search of chaperoning for my path as a mother:
" As for not seeing your little girl grow up- it wont be because of what you do or don't do in the mountains. It would only be because death is part of life. "
Thank you @hilareenelson. You are a trail blazer.'

Watch a video of Nelson and Morrison's ascent and ski descent of Lhotse below:


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Amazing achievements. Touching tribute here, with Emily Harrington (Radio 4’s Last Word, 6 mins, from 21:05):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001dp2n

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