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U.S. ski-climber Hilaree Nelson found dead after fall on Himalayan peak

Hilaree Nelson, a ski mountaineer, posed with partner Jim Morrison in 2018 . (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

Nepalese rescuers discovered the body of an American ski climber Wednesday, two days after she went missing while skiing down the world’s eighth-highest peak.

Hilaree Nelson, 49, was making her way down from the 26,781-foot summit of Mount Manaslu with her partner, Jim Morrison, when she fell.

The helicopter search, which had been hampered by bad weather, found her body about 6,200 feet from the summit, according to Capt. Surendra Paudel of Simrik Air, who recovered the body.

“The body has been badly damaged,” he said. “It took an hour and a half to retrieve the body that was buried half in the snow.”

Bigyan Koirala, an official at the Department of Tourism, the government agency that issues climbing permits, said the helicopter dropped two high-altitude Sherpa guides and Morrison to search for the body Wednesday morning.

“The body was around 50 meters down to our landing point,” Paudel said. A postmortem was conducted at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu.

Based on details shared by Morrison, Nelson slipped on the mountain near the summit and fell down the southern side of the peak. Locals have called Manaslu a “killer mountain” because more than six dozen mountaineers have perished on its slopes.

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Nelson, who had undertaken about 40 expeditions in the past two decades, was billed as the “most prolific ski mountaineer of her generation” by one of her sponsors, North Face.

A resident of Telluride, Colo., Nelson grew up in Seattle and spent weekends at Stevens Pass in Washington’s Cascades. North Face said she became hooked on ski mountaineering after visiting Chamonix, a French town at the foot of the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc, after college.

In 2012, she became the first woman to climb two of the world’s tallest mountains, Mount Everest and neighboring Mount Lhotse, in a 24-hour period. In 2018, she and Morrison returned to the area and became the first to ski down from the 27,940-foot summit of Lhotse — the fourth-tallest mountain in the world — in exploits she detailed on her website.

“It’s hard to summit a 28,000-foot mountain, let alone get your skis up there, have the right conditions and be able to make the ascent,” she said in a 2019 video about that feat.

Nelson is also credited with inspiring young female climbers. A parent of two boys — born two years apart — she wrote in 2019 about the difficulties of balancing her mountaineering career with motherhood. Nelson said she went on one expedition while six months pregnant and she took pay cuts because, for an elite climber, “being pregnant was treated like an injury.”

Just days before the fall, Nelson wrote on Instagram about the challenges of her latest expedition.

“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.”

Nelson and her partner abandoned one attempt to reach the summit when it became too dangerous to move between camps. “We went up high and tried hard but the mountain said no,” Morrison wrote on Instagram. “Tails between our legs we bailed from camp 3 and headed down.”

Climbers in the area regularly grapple with changing weather and avalanches. On Monday, an avalanche farther down the mountain killed a Nepalese guide and injured several other climbers, the Associated Press reported.

Sherpas and climbers described the tough conditions on social media as climbers braved bad weather to beat the crowds vying to make it to the summit during the peak fall climbing season.

The Nepalese government issued 504 permits to foreigners wanting to climb in the Himalayan mountains this season, most of them for Manaslu, the AP reported. The tourism board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pannett reported from Sydney, and Sangam reported from Kathmandu, Nepal.