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Famed U.S. ski climber Hilaree Nelson found dead after fall from Nepal mountain

Rescuers had been searching for Nelson, 49, after she fell off the world's eighth-highest mountain near its peak Monday.
Hilaree Nelson and fellow climber James Morrison in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2018.
Hilaree Nelson and fellow climber James Morrison in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2018. Niranjan Shrestha / AP file

The body of a famed U.S. ski mountaineer was discovered in Nepal on Wednesday, two days after she fell off the world's eighth-highest mountain near its peak.

Hilaree Nelson, 49, had been skiing down from the summit of Mount Manaslu with her partner, Jim Morrison, also a celebrated extreme skier, when she fell off the Himalayan mountain Monday.

Bad weather had hampered rescue efforts, but teams were able to renew their search Tuesday. Nelson's body was found and retrieved Wednesday, said a spokesperson for Shangri-La Nepal Trek, the company that organized the expedition.

The spokesperson said Nelson's body would be transported to Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.

Tour company Elite Exped and mountaineer Nims Purja, its co-founder, said on Instagram that the company's team had recovered Nelson's body. They said she would "be on her way home soon."

Morrison did not immediately reply to requests for comment. In an Instagram post, he hailed Nelson on Wednesday as a "beacon of light" in his life "day in and day out," describing her as his life partner, lover, best friend and mountain partner. 

He recounted in the post how the two reached the true summit of Manaslu at 10:42 a.m. Monday 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," he wrote. "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 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."

He said he spent the last two days searching for her from a helicopter. On Wednesday, with the help of a skilled pilot, he said, they were able to land at 22,000 feet and search for Nelson. He said he found her body with the aid of others at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. He said that he was "in Kathmandu with her and her spirit" and that he was devastated by the loss.

"My loss is indescribable and I am focused on her children and their steps forward," he continued, adding that Nelson "is the most inspiring person in life and now her energy will guide our collective souls."

The North Face, the outdoor clothing and equipment company that sponsored Nelson, confirmed in a statement Monday that she disappeared below the summit of Mount Manaslu. The company said it was in touch with her family and "supporting search and rescue efforts in every way we can."

In a statement Wednesday, the company said: "Nelson held a spirit as big as the places she led us to.

"Today we lost our hero, mentor, and our friend," it said. "She embodied possibility. Her adventures made us feel at home in the vastness of the world."

It added: "For us, Hilaree transcended the idea of an athlete, a sport or a community. She helped lead our family at The North Face, by being a teammate and team captain who changed our perspective of the outdoors by showing us exactly what it can mean. Her light will forever be an offering, and her optimism in the face of adversity, will forever be our guide."

The North Face said its hearts are with Nelson's children, her family and Morrison.

Nelson, of Telluride, Colorado, and Morrison, of Tahoe, California, are extreme skiers who summited Mount Lhotse, the world's fourth-highest, in 2018.

The North Face has previously described Nelson on its website as "the most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation," noting that she was the "first female to link two 8000m peaks, Everest and Lhotse, in one 24 hour push." The company said Nelson was also a mother of two.

In her last Instagram post, published last week, Nelson described her difficulties in her latest climb, saying: "I haven't felt as sure-footed on Manaslu as I have on past adventure into the thin atmosphere of the high Himalaya.

"These past weeks have tested my resilience in new ways," 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."

Still, she also described happier experiences, describing skiing down to base camp with Morrison in a journey "full of shenanigans rappelling over seracs with our skis on, posing for pictures with climbers going uphill."

"We got back to BC [base camp] soaking wet, in the pouring rain, just in time for a hearty BC dinner. Smiling and laughing felt amazing!" she had written.

On Monday, an avalanche at a lower elevation on Mount Manaslu swept away several climbers, killing a Nepali guide and injuring others people.

All of the climbers were accounted for, with some of the injured flown to Kathmandu and treated in hospitals.

Nepal's government has issued permits to over 500 climbers looking to scale high mountain peaks during the autumn season, with most of them setting their sights on Mount Manaslu.