He never set foot on Everest base camp, but he knew every corner of the planet’s roof. He was born in Chicago in 1923, but made Kathmandu his place in the world. Elizabeth Hawley’s life is one of the most fascinating in the history of mountaineering even though she did not write it with an ice ax but with a pen. Known as the notary of the Himalayas, this small and enigmatic woman became the greatest expert on the eight thousand.
For decades, every mountaineer who came to Nepal passed by his house. The questioning was severe, like a hound. Hawley asked about every minute detail, from the mountaineer’s marital status to what was seen from the top or where the Sun was. This is how he hunted down those who lied about his achievements. His verdict was not in dispute. It was as respected as it was feared.
In The Miss Hawley Story, The guardian of the mountains (Slope), Bernadette McDonald portrays this unique woman, voracious newspaper reader, fine documentary maker. She did not want to study typing so as not to be anyone’s secretary, she refused to marry, always independent, and worked for magazines such as Fortune Y Time. He saved to travel around the world until in 1959 he arrived in Kathmandu and put the suitcase away. There it became a living encyclopedia of its mountains. He hated writing but loved researching. He kept every piece of data in hundreds of files on shelves, long before he bought his first computer.
“The mountains around here are crawling with guys crazy enough to want to break their skin just to get to the top,” he wrote to his mother. She was friends with Edmund Hillary (it was she who told him that his wife and daughter had died in a helicopter accident) and Reinhold Messner, whose exploits she experienced in the first person. “When I came to Kathmandu with some crazy idea, she would listen to me. And he never said it was impossible, ”remembered Messner, the first man with 14 eight thousand.
Elizabeth Hawley did not stop working until she was 92 years old, when commercial expeditions had buried the adventures of the pioneers. He died in 2018, at 94. His memory is eternal.