First ski descent on the 4th tallest mountain in the world
Just over year ago, Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison crawled out of a tent at 23,800 feet, shouldered packs with skis and ascended into the dark of the Himalayan night. They had one objective: reach the 27,940 ft (8,516 m) summit of Lhotse Peak and ski its infamous ‘Dream Line:’ the 2000 foot, at times 50 degree Lhotse Couloir. If they succeeded, they would be the first to ski the fourth highest peak in the world and neighbor to Everest.
Spoiler alert: they did succeed. The play by play of their feat was released in a mini documentary last week on channels across the web. The film follows Hilaree and Jim’s 28-day journey into thin air and up to the Lhotse summit. En route, they navigate the Khumbu Icefall with the help of their Sherpa team (some of which who accompanied them to the top), make camp to the sound of avalanches crashing off the nearby Nuptse face and …as for the skiing itself, well, you can watch to find out.
Doug was lucky enough to catch up with Hilaree and Jim not long after they returned stateside last year. After hanging out at a Cripple Creek Backcountry’s opening party in Aspen, the crew settled in to record Totally Deep Podcast Episode 51, linked above. Here’s Doug’s recap of the conversation:
Hilaree is an accomplished ski mountaineer with over 40 expeditions under her belt and Jim is no stranger to the steeps, at the time coming back from his third trip to the Himalaya in a year. Both of them deserve their own hour-long podcast to tell their stories, but the Lhotse trip was too exciting to even do an intro. Before recording, I had read several accounts of the trip, but getting to spend a half hour hearing their story paints the picture of how remote and intense this expedition was. In an incredibly unique set of weather and circumstances, they were able to skip a Camp 4 and push to the summit over a 12-hour effort. They did this well outside the normal climbing season, deep into the fall so as to take advantage of post-monsoon snow before winter winds blew it away. Accompanied by Sherpas, who they give great credit to, their team fixed all lines and broke trail through unconsolidated sugary snow to the summit.
From the top, they were able to ski the entire length of the couloir in one push without any repels. They were so gassed and the air was so thin for most of the descent, they said it was next to impossible to complete more than four turns at a time. Listen to the episode and watch the film to get the full story.
Jim, Hilaree and Doug at the after party.
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Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.