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Who was Hilaree Nelson?

Trailblazing mountaineer Hilaree Nelson died after being caught in an avalanche on Mount Manaslu, the world’s eighth highest peak

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Hilaree Nelson of Telluride, Colorado, left and James Morrison of Tahoe, California, raise their fists as the pair arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, Oct. 4, 2018.

Hilaree Nelson of Telluride, Colorado, left and James Morrison of Tahoe, California, raise their fists as the pair arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, Oct. 4, 2018.

iranjan Shrestha, Associated Press

On Wednesday, two days after she had gone missing, rescuers recovered the body of mountaineer and skier Hilaree Nelson from Mount Manaslu, part of the Himalayan mountain range of Nepal. 

Nelson, 49, had been skiing down from Mount Manaslu, the eighth highest summit in the world, with her partner Jim Morrison. According to National Geographic, the skiing triggered an avalanche and Nelson was swept away. 

Poor weather hindered immediate rescue efforts, but Tuesday’s clear skies saw helicopters out scouring the area. Morrison helped with rescue efforts, eventually being the one to find the body on Wednesday morning. Sachindra Kumar Yadav, an official with Nepal’s tourism department, told CNN that the body is being airlifted to Kathmandu for an autopsy. 

Who was Hilaree Nelson?

As reported by National Geographic, “Long before Hilaree Nelson carved her way down snow-covered 8,000-meter peaks, she had already secured a reputation as a gritty competitor on the basketball court.” Raised in Seattle, the 5-foot-11 Nelson led her high school basketball team, the Shorewood Thunderbirds, to a 23-2 record and third place in the Washington state championships.

Soon after graduating from Colorado College, Nelson traveled to Europe where she learned about big-mountain skiing. She won an extreme ski championship and became a sponsored athlete for North Face in 1999. 

Nelson would go on to dozens and dozens of first ski descents and distinguish herself over the years as “the most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation.” She had been on more than 40 expeditions in 16 countries, skiing down some of the worlds tallest peaks. In 2012, Nelson became the first woman to scale two 8,000-meter peaks, Mount Everest and Lhotse, within 24 hours. Six years later she would return to Lhotse to become the first person to ever ski its summit. In 2018, Nelson was named North Face Athlete team captain, a distinction only ever held by one other athlete. Nelson has also received exploring grants from National Geographic, winning the 2018 Adventurer of the Year Award. 

What is Hilaree Nelson’s legacy?

Friends describe Nelson as a quiet, thoughtful presence. Climber and videographer Renan Otzurk told National Geographic, “The resilience she had to be out of her comfort zone and laugh in the face of dire situations speaks to her positivity. … She had heroic strengths — not only in the mountains, but in her community, and her family.” 

Climbing partner Cory Richards remembers Nelson as “an endurance monster,” and describes her as being empathetic and kind.

Throughout her career Nelson struggled to find a balance between motherhood and a love of adventure. Going on an expedition while six months pregnant with her first son, Nelson took a pay cut because “being pregnant was treated like an injury.” She was a role model and inspiration for future generations of female athletes.

Emily Harrington, a friend, mentee and fellow North Face athlete, shared on Instagram, “I write this to tell you that beyond this tragedy, Hilaree was a force to be remembered not for this accident or even the physical mountains she climbed and so expertly skied down, but for unapologetically paving the way for women in this space to be everything they want to be. She broke ground and shattered expectations with a unique combination of grace and grit only a true leader possesses.” 

Nelson is survived by her two sons from a former marriage, Quinn and Grayden, and her partner Morrison.