Mountaineering world mourns death of Hawley; memorial service, cremation on Sunday

KATHMANDU: The world’s mountaineering fraternity today mourned the death of Elizabeth Hawley who died of pneumonia at age 95, on Friday in Kathmandu while tributes also began to pour in on social media for the grande dame of the Himalayan climbing following her demise.

Calling the death of Hawely as the ‘end of an era for Himalayan mountaineering’, family of legendary climber Tenzing Norgay Sherpa described Miss Hawley as a refreshing beacon of integrity in the world of Himalayan mountaineering.

Talking to THT, Norbu Tenzing Norgay, the eldest son of Tenzing Norgay said that Miss Hawley was a force for good and a fierce advocate for the truth. “For Sherpas, mountains are sacred places, and Miss Hawley showed great respect to these high peaks in her own way, by meticulously verifying those who climbed them,” he shared, adding that she was also a dear friend of the Sherpa people.

“And no visit to Nepal in my work with the American Himalayan Foundation was complete without an audience with Miss Hawley,” he said. “The mountaineering world has lost an important voice and Nepal has lost a dear friend. We will all miss her dearly.”

William R Chapman, an author cum climber from California, US, recounted, “I have had the pleasure of being debriefed by Miss Hawley a couple times and sat in on many other climbing expedition confirmations.”

Colorado-based climber Alan Arnette shared that Hawley's tireless work resulted in the Himalayan Database, a compilation of records for all expeditions that have climbed in the Nepal’s Himalaya. The data cover all expeditions from 1905 through 2017 to more than 450 significant Nepali peaks.

“I met her several times in Kathmandu, most recently after my 2013 climb of Manaslu. She was feisty, curious and smart,” Alan who met Miss Hawley for the first time in 1998, said. While he was in Kathmandu on his way to climb Cho Oyu when he was told by the clerk in a hotel that he had a phone call. “Who would be calling me here? I asked myself.”

Hawley’s nephew had already arrived in Kathmandu from the US and her body would be cremated at Swaymbhu-based cremation site tomorrow, according to Dr Prativa Pandey, medical director CIWEC Hospital and Travel Medicine Centre.

Born in Chicago, US, Hawley, who came to Kathmandu in 1960 as a journalist, made Nepal her second home. The government had also conferred honorary Nepali citizenship on her.

A 6,182 metre-mountain has also been named as Hawley Peak in the Dhaulagiri mountain range to recognise her contribution to Nepal’s mountaineering sector. The grande dame of Himalayan climbing also served as New Zealand’s Honorary Consul in Nepal for 20 years.

From Edmund Hillary to Reinhold Messner or Peter Habeler to Jerzy Kukuczka, no one could have escaped Miss Hawley, the sole storehouse of climbing history and knowledge, for verifying the climbing facts. Most world climbers thought that their ascents never happened unless Miss Hawley said they did.

Hawley chronicled all highs and lows of mountain climbing, over 80,000 ascents of mountains, in the Himalayan Database for nearly 60 years. The database can be downloaded for free.

“The mountaineering world has lost an almost irreplaceable icon,” Jeeban Shrestha, who worked closely with Hawley for years, told THT. She had never given up, even at the age of 90, what she loved to do, he added. “However, for past few years, she had been on wheelchair support and was receiving nursing care at her rented apartment in Dillibazaar.”

Hawley had also been working with the Reuters news agency covering mountaineering news, including the 1963 American expedition that was the first from the US to traverse Mt Everest. Reuters journalist Gopal Sharma said there would certainly be an information vacuum regarding the facts and figures on climbing world after her demise.

Gyanendra Sherstha, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, described Hawely as a remarkable person of great courage and determination. “She has made an outstanding contribution to Nepal’s mountaineering industry,” he said. “May her legacy endure.”