Missing mountaineer Hilaree Nelson's body found on Manaslu

Nelson was attempting to ski down from Manaslu's summit.

September 28, 2022, 12:43 PM

The body of American ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson was found on Manaslu in Nepal on Wednesday, ABC News has learned.

Nelson was on the eighth highest peak in the world along with her partner, Jim Morrison, when she went missing Monday just below the summit, North Face, her sponsor, confirmed to ABC News.

"There are no words to describe the love for this woman, my life partner, my lover, my best friend, and my mountain partner," Morrison wrote on social media Wednesday.

Morrison detailed that the pair reached the true summit late Monday morning "in tough conditions." They then moved to ski down, starting with a plan to go around a corner to meet up with a team of Sherpas.

"I skied first and after a few turns Hilaree followed and started a small avalanche," he wrote. "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."

A high line drop from a helicopter was reportedly used to retrieve her body. Her body was then taken to Kathmandu, officials confirmed to ABC News.

Helicopter search efforts for her were underway into Tuesday but were unsuccessful, mountaineer Lukas Furtenbach told ABC News. Morrison wrote that he was part of those search efforts, which eventually involved landing at 22,000 feet to search.

Other mountaineers were instrumental in finding her, Morrison wrote, including Surendra Paudel, Nims Purja and Mingma Tenzi Sherpa.

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

At 26,781 feet, Manaslu is a difficult peak for rescue efforts. Finding someone in those conditions would take an expert of the mountain to know where to go, Seven Summit Treks explained to ABC News.

"Today we lost our hero, mentor, and our friend," The North Face said in a statement Wednesday. "Hilaree Nelson held a spirit as big as the places she led us to. She embodied possibility. Her adventures made us feel at home in the vastness of the world."

Nelson went missing as an avalanche caused tragedy lower down on the mountain. One person was killed and 14 were injured, according to The New York Times.

Helicopter rescue efforts took place on Monday and Tuesday for avalanche victims. Furtenbach said those injured have all been rescued.

Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a director at Seven Summit Treks, wrote on Instagram that the avalanche took place between Camps 3 and 4, which are above 22,000 feet, and that "more than 13 climbers (including Sherpas) were swept along." Purja, of Elite Exped, posted videos showing helicopters managing rescues from the avalanche.

Mountaineers praised the group efforts that took place across teams to respond to the avalanche. Furtenbach told ABC News Furtenbach Adventures lead guide Dave Watson was "working heroically" alongside Sherpa climbers and climber Patrick Hauser, while Purja posted that Paudel rescued two Sherpa climbers "in very tough conditions."

"Climbers who were in a position to help, helped," Purja wrote on Instagram. "They dug out the climbers who were buried and field first aid was given."

PHOTO: A helicopter carrying the body of famed U.S. extreme skier, Hilaree Nelson, lands at a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sept. 28, 2022. Nelson, 49, was skiing down from the summit of Mount Manaslu when she fell off the mountain.
A helicopter carrying the body of famed U.S. extreme skier, Hilaree Nelson, lands at a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sept. 28, 2022. Nelson, 49, was skiing down from the 8,163-meter (26,775-foot) summit of Mount Manaslu with her partner, Jim Morrison, on Monday when she fell off the mountain.
Niranjan Shrestha/AP

ABC News has reached out to the Nepal Tourism Board and Shangri-La Nepal Trek, the guiding company Morrison and Nelson were with, for further information.

It had already been a difficult time on Manaslu before Monday for Nelson and Morrison. Late last week they turned around on a summit push when "the mountain said no," Morrison wrote on Instagram.

"I haven't felt as sure-footed on Manaslu as I have on past adventure into the thin atmosphere of the high Himalaya," Nelson wrote about the failed summit push. "These past weeks have tested my resilience in new ways. 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."

Even so, she wrote, they found joy on their skis that day, including racing with Palden Namgye, Sherpa Yulha Nurbu and Pemba Sharwa and "generally just finally being present and actually seeing what I have been seeing for weeks but not absorbing."

Sunrise on the peaks of Manaslu, left.
Jon G. Fuller/VWPics via AP, FILE

Weather conditions have not been easy, including snow and high winds. A video posted by Tendi Sherpa over the weekend and verified by ABC News shows a large serac, or piece of glacial ice, falling near Manaslu's base camp.

Nelson was the captain for The North Face Athlete Team and in 2018 was recognized as a National Geographic adventurer of the year after summiting and skiing down Papsura, known as the Peak of Evil, in India and then doing the same on Denali in Alaska.

A mother of two, she was the first woman to summit Mounts Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours, according to North Face, and the first person, along with Morrison, to ski down the Lhotse Couloir.

"[Climbing] has significantly shaped who I am, the places I've travelled, the people with whom I've been privileged to share climbing experiences with," she wrote on social media last month. "From terror to triumph, tears to laughter, solitude to partnership, it's been a path of joy, one that I hope to share with others."