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with Stefan Nestler

Miss Hawley: “I’m just a chronicler”

Miss Hawley in her home in Kathmandu

Miss Hawley in her home in Kathmandu

When I saw the Beetle, I knew I was right. I knew the street, but had no house number, only a rough description of where Miss Hawley is living in Kathmandu. But there it stood in the courtyard: the light blue VW Beetle, built in 1963. “The car is right, of course. Those Beetles are just incredible durable,” says the legendary chronicler of Himalayan mountaineering. For decades, the US-American has driven with the light blue car in front of the hotels in Kathmandu to interview climbers about their expeditions in the Himalayas. However, the 92-year-old is no longer driving her Beetle by herself, she has a driver. “I can’t drive a car with a walker”, says Elizabeth Hawley and grins. Since she broke her hip, she is not quite as mobile as before.

More braggarts

Miss Hawley has been living in Kathmandu since 1960. Since then, she has collected more than 4000 expeditions in her chronicle “Himalayan Database”. At the beginning she worked for the news agency Reuters. “At that time mountaineering was becoming a very important part of a foreign correspondent’s job in Nepal”, Hawley recalls. From Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first ascenders of Mount Everest, through to the clients of commercial expeditions – the chronicler has met all types of climbers. I should like her to tell whether there is more fibbing among today’s climbers. “Has the percentage of liars per expedition that gone up? I don’t think so,” says Miss Hawley. “Maybe the commercial climbers rather brag about it.”

Kind of fishy

The highest mountain she ever climbed was only about 1,000 meters high, tells the old lady, “in Vermont in New England. It was just a walk. A mountain? No, it was like the hills around Kathmandu.” Nevertheless, again and again the American was able to unmask climbers as liars who previously had claimed to have scaled eight-thousanders or other high mountains in Nepal. She checked it with the other teams who were on the mountains, other got tangled up in contradictions: “Some of them sounded really a kind of fishy. But I’m sure I missed a lot.”

On the back of a Sherpa

North side of Everest

North side of Everest

Miss Hawley depicts the “interesting” case of the Japanese climber Tomiyasu Ishikawa, who ascended Everest from the north side in 2002. The 65-year-old was then “the oldest to reach the summit but had he really climbed it? How many realized the distinction,” Miss Hawley asks. The Japanese became tired in the summit area. “He got to the summit on the back of a Sherpa.” She considers an age limit for old Everest climbers – as it was announced by the Nepalese government in 2015 – for needless but pleads for stricter rules for young people: “Certainly young kids should not be climbing mountains, certainly not Everest. They are not strong and developed enough, physically and mentally.”

Held on the table

Miss Hawley is eagerly awaiting the upcoming spring season. “I’m quite curious about what happens this year,” she says. “I think probably the numbers will not be very great partly because people are afraid of earthquakes. We still have aftershocks occasionally.” She experienced the devastating quake on 25 April 2015 in her home. “I sat at a table, just held on. You wait until it’s over and carry on.” Like many people in Nepal, Miss Hawley speaks of an even stronger earthquake that could hit the country in the near future. “I hope I am near my strong table again,” says the 92-year-old, laughing.

Her successor

Billi Bierling

Billi Bierling

Step by step she wants to hand over her work on Himalayan Database to her German assistant Billi Bierling. “Maybe she knows it, maybe she doesn’t. We work very well together. She is good, she is crazy, she is fast,” says Elizabeth Hawley who can not even imagine retiring completely. “It depends on how it works out. I’ll probably criticize her. Well, I hope I don’t.”


Without airs and graces

Recently, the Nepalese government has dubbed a six-thousander “Peak Hawley”. “No mountain should be named after any individual and certainly not for me,” Miss Hawley plays it down. She should take it as an honor, I reply. “Okay, but It’s a funny kind of honor”, Hawley says, giggling. She also can not base anything on nicknames. I mention “Mama Himalaya”, “Miss Marple of Kathmandu” or “Sherlock Holmes of the mountains”. Miss Hawley grins: “Actually I never heard any of them, you can keep them. There was a book and a documentary film about me called ‘keeper of the mountains’. I don’t know that I keep them. I am just a chronicler.”


5. April 2016 | 9:46