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Renowned Skier and Mountaineer Hilaree Nelson’s Body Found on Manaslu

After going missing on Monday while descending from the summit with her partner Jim Morrison, Nelson was found by a search and rescue team.

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On Wednesday, rescuers located the body of missing mountaineer Hilaree Nelson on the southern slope of 26,781-foot Manaslu, Nepal government officials confirmed.

“Rescuers retrieved her body from the south slope of the mountain,” said Sachindra Kumar Yadav, liaison officer at base camp. Nelson’s partner, Jim Morrison, was part of the rescue team that recovered her body.

The 49-year-old mountaineer was skiing down from peak’s true summit with Morrison when she fell off the mountain a few meters below the top, according to Nelson’s outfitter Shangri-La Nepal Treks. In an Instagram post, Morrison explained what happened:

“On September 26th at 10:42 A.M. we reached the true summit of Manaslu in tough conditions. We quickly transitioned from climbing to skiing in cold and wind with a plan to ski around the corner and regroup with our Sherpa team. I skied first and after a few turns Hilaree followed and started a small avalanche. 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 5,000 feet. 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.”

Morrison returned to the mountain on Monday with a helicopter crew, but rescue operations were hampered by bad weather. The complex process for obtaining a flight permit in the Manaslu Conservation Area, where the incident took place, also delayed the operation.

On Tuesday, a helicopter search and rescue team spotted objects resembling skis and clothes, but could not confirm because poor weather prevented them from flying any closer. On Wednesday morning, Morrison and other search and rescue personnel returned to the scene and spotted Nelson’s remains around 9:30 A.M. local time, according to Jiban Ghimire, owner of Shangri-La Treks.

After finding the body, the helicopter dropped Morrison and another Nepali guide at around 21,325 feet, and the pair proceeded to free Nelson’s remains. “Jim told us that they literally dug up the body from the frozen ice,” said Sachindra. Her body was airlifted to Kathmandu for an autopsy.

“Today with the help of [Captain Surendra Patel] an incredibly skilled pilot we were able to land at 22,000 feet and search for her,” Morrison wrote. “[Nirmal Purja] was instrumental in helping organize the best team and resources possible and I found her body with the aid of 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,” he wrote. “[Hilaree Nelson] 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.”

Nelson was among the most accomplished ski mountaineers and alpinists on the planet, and over the past two decades she had pushed the sport forward with multiple accolades on the high peaks. A champion extreme skier earlier in her career, she transitioned to ski mountaineering in the late 1990s and quickly became one of the strongest athletes in the sport. In 2002 she completed the first ski descent of five peaks in Mongolia’s Altai mountain range, and in 2005 she skied from the summit of 26,864-foot Cho Oyu without using supplemental oxygen. In 2012 Nelson became the first woman to link two 8,000-meter peaks—Mount Everest and Lhotse—in one 24-hour climb. She also was the first woman to ski the Makalu La Couloir on 27,825-foot Makalu.

One of Nelson’s loftiest achievements occurred with Morrison—in 2018 the two became the first to descend Lhotse on skis. The expedition earned Nelson a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award. That year she was named captain of The North Face’s Global Athlete Team. Nelson lived in Telluride, Colorado, with her two sons.

She had traveled to Nepal with Morrison to notch a ski descent from Manaslu’s true summit—in previous years, mountaineers turned around at a point that was anywhere from 20 to 25 feet shy of the highest point. The two were among 400 or so climbers to obtain permits to ascend the peak for the fall season—a number that’s more than double the traditional number for the mountain.

Heavy snowfall slowed summit attempts on Manaslu, and late last week climbers reported seeing multiple avalanches on the mountain. On Friday, Nelson wrote on Instagram about the challenging conditions on the mountain, and how they had impacted her progress. She and Morrison had turned back from the summit on Thursday after encountering a story.

“I haven’t felt as sure-footed on Manaslu as I have on past adventure into the thin atmosphere of the high Himalaya,” she wrote. “The constant monsoon with its incessant rain and humidity has made me hopelessly homesick. I am challenged to find the peace and inspiration from the mountain when it’s been constantly shrouded in mist.”

The duo struck out for the summit over the weekend, and on Monday they reached the mountain’s pinnacle at approximately 11:30 A.M. Nelson’s fall occurred shortly before another tragedy took place at lower elevations. A group of climbers ascending from Camp Four at approximately 24,000 feet was hit by an avalanche, and the slide trapped 14 of them in snow and ice.

One climber, Nepali climbing guide, Anup Rai, died as a result of the slide. On Monday and Tuesday, helicopter transport flew multiple injured climbers down to Base Camp from the slide.

Abbigail Barronian and Frederick Dreier contributed to this report.