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 Winter Makalu 2000/2001  11-29-2000 Dispatch

Meeting Miss Elizabeth Hawley

She is a legend among the Alpinists who reach Nepal. A small, fragile, witty person with great memory. She is the biggest authority, a connoisseur of Himalaism and a chronicler of events taking place in the mountains of Nepal, although she has never climbed or wandered around them.

Miss Elizabeth Hawley is 76 years old. She found her way to Nepal by accident 41 years ago. After that she came back here and never left. She is a long-time correspondent of Reuters and sends articles and information to magazines devoted to mountains and climbing from nine countries: "American Alpine Journal" in the USA, "Himalayan Journal" in the India, "Alp" in Italy, "Climber" in Great Britain, "Klettern" in Germany, "Vertical" in France, "Yama-kei" in Japan, "Desnivel" in Spain, "Die Alpin" in Switzerland.

Miss Hawley (as everybody calls her here) calls or appears within an hour or two from the arrival of each expedition to Katmandu. Regardless of how many members it has, which hotel or hole they stay in and how many expeditions come here at one go. This woman is definitely the best-informed person in town. However, she does not want to speak about herself. She has a habit to deliver her one-and-a-half page-long biographical note, which, she thinks, should be sufficient. She may be annoyed with too much inquisitiveness, although she herself hands in a questionnaire with very detailed questions. Four of them, grouped in one package, concern the marital status: is a member of the expedition married, divorced, single or living with a friend? Miss Hawley claims to have known a man who answered yes to all the above questions. This man was Reinhold Messner, who at the time parted his wife. Italy did not recognize divorce and he was living with a Canadian Indian, with whom he traveled Tibet and the Himalayas, but he felt very lonely those days.

Elizabeth Hawley was born on 9th November 1923. She graduated from the Michigan University, at the department of history, where she was an assistant. She was 23 when she began her journalist adventure working in New York and after that traveling for the "Fortune" magazine. After 11years she gave up the job in order to regain her freedom. For the next two years she visited The Soviet Union, The Middle East, southern and eastern Asia. In 1960 she went to Nepal.

"I am too lazy to walk the mountains. Besides, I value good food and a warm bed too much. I like to look at the mountains" - she says laughing. Despite that she is a member of many mountain organizations. American Alpine Club, to which she belongs, honored her with a special literary prize. A Swiss King Albert Memorial Foundation handed her its most prestigious award - King Albert Medal of Merit granted to "individuals and institutions for outstanding activity in the world of mountains". Elizabeth Hawley not only saved a large fragment of the history of exploration from oblivion, she is also active helping the local people. She is a great supporter of the Himalayan Trust foundation established by sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand, the first conqueror of Mount Everest. The foundation builds schools, hospitals, bridges, waterworks, airports in Solu Khumbu, the region of Mount Everest. Even though she is an American she holds the position of the consul of New Zealand.

Apart from gathering information from Alpinists Miss Hawley shares her knowledge. She brought a picture of Makalu for the meeting with Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the Polish Winter Expedition 2000/2001. The picture shows a clear view of the Western Leg with a marked route to the top. She also has historical description of mountaineering of the predecessors of the French who marked the route in 1971, the Americans who also climbed the same way as well as Erhard Loretan and Jean Troillet, a famous Swiss duo who also ascended it 10 years ago. A challenge of a winter expedition is music to Miss Hawley's ears. She has been telling everyone that, despite interesting times, boredom seems to haunt the Himalayas.

"Good, old days" - says Miss Hawley of the past decades and the pioneer times when Alpinists did not dispose of any facilities. The past expeditions had one goal, they were often from one country, had one technique of setting up camps, balustrade ropes, used help of many sherpas carrying large amounts of cargo. Reinhold Messner abandoned the old style of climbing in the eighties. He introduced the new rules, which he called "mountaineering by fair means", that is minimum artificial facilities, equipment, sherpas, camps. He was a pioneer who ascended two eight-thousand-meter high mountains one year (with no oxygen to Mount Everest and taking a new route to the top on his own).

Today it is possible for a man with an artificial leg or hand to climb Mount Everest or to spend a night in a small tent at the summit. Some people started climbing the mountains of Nepal very fast, with no stops. This year a 14-year-old school pupil from Nepal attempted to climb the Everest. He wanted to be the youngest on the top. He got his fingers frost-bitten. People who are seriously ill try to climb mountains. The problem is that these are not devices that make people reach the top easier but the human madness about the Everest above all. Everything must be the biggest. We have a 63-year-old Japanese, the oldest man on Everest and a 50-year-old, the oldest woman. There is no end to this race. is more, there are commercial expeditions, the members of which are not experienced climbers but people with too much ambition. The Alpine show business starts to move into the Himalayas. You have films showing skiing from the eight-thousand-meter mountains as well as para-gliding from peaks which are only a little smaller.

This does not mean that nothing important happens in the Himalayas as far as sports are concerned. Tomaz Humar from Slovenia, an outstanding Alpinist climbed the terrifying southern slope of Dhaulagiri. Other climbers usually escaped to its side, traversing towards a ridge.  Messner once stood at the foot of the slope and said: "No, this is a one way trip". Humar ascended it. When he got to the height of 7900 meters he realized that if he had wanted more, he would have died. He traversed towards the traditional climbing route and returned covering enormous distance. He is an outstanding climber."

Elizabeth Hawley is convinced that the European history of Alpinism actually repeats itself in the Himalayas. There are two exceptions: women in the Himalayas have not played a pioneer role and there is demand only in winter.

"This winter there will be only three expeditions in Nepal besides yours. All of them go to Ama Dablam (6856 m), also in the area of Everest. Two are from Britain and one from South Korea. People from other countries (Spaniards, an Australian, American and Norwegian) are also present in the British teams." - she explained.

Although, being a journalist, she knows something about the speed of information flow, she is not satisfied that we have a satellite phone. "You have a difficult expedition ahead of you, without the help of Sherpas. The members of the expedition should think about the mountain, about what will happen, not about calling their families, talking about their kids' problems at school and missing their families. But please call me when you get back from Katmandu."

written by Monika Rogozinska, "Rzeczpospolita",
transl. by "TRANSLATOR" Technical Translation Agency
http://www.rp.pl  ("Rzeczpospolita") and
http://www.translator-warsaw.com.pl ("TRANSLATOR")

NEXT UPDATE 12/06/2000 - Across the Alps    Dispatches

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