KATHMANDU: American journalist Elizabeth Hawley, whose 50 years chronicling summits and tragedies in the Himalayas earned her the moniker “the Sherlock Holmes of the mountaineering world”, died Friday aged 94.
Hawley built a reputation as one of the most authoritative voices on Himalayan mountaineering after moving to Nepal in 1959 as a journalist, where she continued to live up to her death.
“She had a very peaceful death,” doctor Prativa Pandey said, who looked after Hawley at the end of her life.
She passed away at a hospital in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu in the early hours of Friday, a week after falling ill with a lung infection. She later likely suffered a stroke, Pandey said.
Hawley founded the Himalayan Database, a meticulous archive of all mountaineering expeditions in Nepal that she managed until five years ago.
Known for ferreting out the truth from climbers claiming to set new records, her word on summits in the fabled mountains was considered final, though she never climbed any peaks herself.
Every climbing season Hawley — behind the wheel of her 1965 sky-blue VW Beetle — would drive to mountaineers’ hotels in Kathmandu to grill them before and after their expeditions.
“I guess I am quite forceful, I come to the point and if someone thinks they can evade my questions, they can think again,” she told AFP in a 2014 interview.
Billi Bierling, a journalist and climber who took over managing the Himalayan Database in recent years, remembered Hawley as a stickler for accuracy who would keep calling a source until she was satisfied she had the answer.
“The mountaineering world today has lost of its most important pillars. Even though Liz Hawley was never a climber, she never wore crampons, she was interested in the people,” Bierling said.
Tributes for Hawley poured in from mountaineers around the world.
“Kathmandu will be a lesser place without her and her original VW beetle,” wrote 12-time Everest summiteer Kenton Cool on Twitter, describing her as the “Oracle of Himalayan climbing”.
Elizabeth Ann Hawley was born on November 9, 1923 to a Chicago-based chartered accountant and a suffragist.
She attended university in Michigan and promptly moved to Manhattan after graduation in 1946, landing a job as a researcher with Fortune magazine.
The job bored her and she took off to see the world in 1957, finally ending up in Nepal in February 1959, then a Hindu kingdom which had only recently opened its gates to foreign visitors.
Hawley eventually became a correspondent for the Reuters news agency in Nepal and landed her first major scoop during the 1963 US expedition to Everest.
The American military attache offered her access to secret radio communication between Everest base camp and the embassy, enabling her to be the first to file when they reached the summit.
In 2014, Nepal named a 6,182-metre (20,328-foot) mountain in her honour: Peak Hawley in the country’s northwest.
“I retire when I die. It might be the same thing,” Hawley said in her book “The Nepal Scene”, a collection of monthly dispatches she wrote until 2007.
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