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Hawley, chronicler of Himalayas, dies

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu
As a journalist, she covered stories from first Everest summit by a woman to Reinhold Messner’s solo ascent

Jan 27, 2018-Elizabeth Hawley, a leading chronicler of expeditions on Himalayan peaks in Nepal, died on Friday in Kathmandu. She was 94.

Born in Chicago, the United States, Hawley had lived alone in Nepal since 1960, seven years after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa climbed Mt Everest. She began reporting for Reuters in 1962, covering mountaineering, including the first successful US expedition to Everest in 1963.

She was inspired to move to Nepal, after giving up her job in New York and visiting Kathmandu on a round-the-world trip in 1957, shortly after it opened up to foreign tourists, the BBC reported.

She founded the Himalayan Database, an archive of more than 9,600 expedition teams. Hawley had been documenting Himalayan climbs since 1963. Hawley, who was admitted last week to the CIWEC Hospital and Travel Medicine Centre, died of complications arising from pneumonia, according to the hospital. “She had a very peaceful death,” Dr Prativa Pandey, who looked after Hawley at the end of her life, told AFP.

Tributes have been pouring in from the climbing community. Her demise has sparked tributes and recollections on social media—with many wanting to share their memories and times spent with the legend.

“Just learned that Ms. Elizabeth Hawley died today in Kathmandu. She was 94. I met her several times in Kathmandu, most recently after my 2013 climb of Manaslu. She was feisty, curious and smart. Thank you, Liz for all you have done. Rest in Peace,” tweets Alan Arnette, a 2011 Everest summiteer. The American journalist never reached the Everest Base Camp but she is acknowledged as a leading authority on the world’s tallest mountain.

“She is known as a record keeper of mountaineering activities in the world. But she was also a reporter of Nepali politics for decades and provided window on Nepal to the world starting 1960,” said senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit. By personality, she had a wry and self-deprecating humour, he said about her. “She did suffer fools. In her journalism, she reported only for fact and left the opinion making to others.”

As a journalist, Hawley covered stories from the first Everest summit of a Japanese woman, Junko Tabei, in 1975 to the first solo ascent without supplemental oxygen by Italian Reinhold Messner in 1980.

Hawley built the reputation of being a formidable, sharp-tongued judge—driving her blue Volkswagen Beetle across Kathmandu to interrogate climbers claiming to have set new records, the BBC said. “I don’t mean to frighten people, but maybe I’ve acquired this aura of being the arbitrator,” she told the BBC in 2010. “It might scare them into telling me the truth and that might be useful.”

“She was a highly intelligent and resourceful woman. A key person to authenticate climbs and verifying claims about successful expeditions that the government did not bother to keep,” said Gyanendra Shrestha, an official who has worked at the government’s mountaineering division for decades. “She had made the government’s task easy.”

The government named a mountain in the north-west Peak Hawley in 2014 in her honour.

Published: 27-01-2018 08:10

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