The route to Everest is silent. Everest Basecamp, usually a bustling city of tents, is an empty white bowl between towering mountains. Only a tiny cluster of red and yellow nylon shelters breaks the white. Where is everybody? This is the side of the Everest route that almost no one sees. The famous South Col route: in winter.
It is September and Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison have a single aim: to ski the face of Lhotse, from summit to couloir. Lhotse: the 8516m peak that sits next door to Everest. Their ascent will require all three advance camps on the South Col route, before turning right and heading straight up the Lhotse face. Only this is winter, far better skiing conditions but no pre-set highway from camp to camp. Accompanied by the ominous rumble of avalanches, raining down the side of nearby Nuptse (7,861 m).
Hilaree, American ski mountaineer says, “I always find that it’s really hard for me to leave home and switch that identity: go from Mum, family, busy… to climber. I’m also happy and living intensely in these moments and I have explained that to my kids.” She continues, “I have those bouts of guilt or just that desperate feeling of ‘What am I doing here, this is too dangerous’, and I just tell myself: this is what I love. I’m so passionate about it and I just feel that if I can convey that to my kids then they’ll see me as a person as a passionate person. Not just their mom, but their mom.”
Her partner Jim says, “I’ve been through lots of different phases of life and climbing mountains has been a huge part of what’s allowed me to go on. I lost my wife and children in an aeroplane crash in 2011. I had life by a string, I had everything going in the direction that I’d worked hard to put it in. And in an instant I lost everything near and dear to me. I was crushed and I think the mountains have helped keep me alive, keep me going.”
Watch the full film by Jimmy Chin on The North Face channel: