The body of top American mountaineer Hilaree Nelson has been found near a 26,700-foot (8,138-metre) mountain peak in Nepal where she went missing earlier this week.
Nelson, aged 49, was blown off Manaslu, the world’s eighth-highest mountain, by a small avalanche on Monday morning Nepal time as she and her partner, Jim Morrison, skied down from the summit, according to Morrison and her sponsor, The North Face, an outdoor gear company.
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“She was swept off her feet and carried down a narrow snow slope down the south side [opposite from climbing route] of the mountain,” Morrison posted on his Instagram.
Search-and-rescue teams were unable to find Nelson’s body until Wednesday when Morrison and a sherpa were airlifted to a spot 22,000 feet (6,705 metres) up the mountain.
Her body was flown by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu where doctors planned to perform an autopsy.
“I’m in Kathmandu with her and her spirit,” Morrison wrote. “My loss is indescribable and I am focused on her children and their steps forward.”
Nelson, who grew up in Seattle, was considered one of the top women ski mountaineers in the world. At the time of her death, she was living in Telluride, Colorado, with her two sons.
Nelson and Morrison, from Tahoe, California, are extreme skiers who reached the summit of Mount Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest mountain, in 2018. The feat earned her the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award.
“Today we lost our hero, mentor and our friend,” tweeted The North Face, which described her as “the most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation”.
“Hilaree Nelson held a spirit as big as the places she led us to,” the company said.
Mountaineers and well-wishers have shared heartfelt messages for Nelson since she went missing.
“Let’s pray for Hilaree,” fellow The North Face athlete Fernanda Maciel, currently at the Manaslu base camp, wrote on Instagram on Tuesday.
Mountain guide Caroline George thanked Nelson for inspiring her own adventures. “She is a beacon … I have infinite gratitude for her journey on this planet and for the legacy she leaves,” she wrote.
Also on Monday, an avalanche at a lower elevation on the same mountain killed Nepali climber Anup Rai and injured several other climbers. Hundreds of climbers and their local guides were attempting to reach the summit during Nepal’s autumn climbing season.
The deaths of Nelson and Rai are the first confirmed casualties of the autumn climbing season in Nepal.
Nepal’s government has issued permits to 404 climbers during the autumn season. Most are climbing Mount Manaslu, where constant rain and snow have been challenging.
Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks and foreign climbers who flock to its mountains are a significant source of revenue for the country.
The industry was almost completely shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, but the country reopened its peaks to mountaineers last year.