billi bierling female mountaineer and journalist from Germany

Confusion over Kathmandu

Miss Hawley and I in her office and home in Dilli Bazaar in Kathmandu

Miss Hawley and I in her office and home in Dilli Bazaar in Kathmandu

I seem to have confused a few people with my sudden return to Nepal but I guess I did not explain why I am actually back in Kathmandu.

I have taken a two-week holiday from my job in Islamabad and have come back here to help Miss Hawley with interviewing expeditions.  Spring and autumn are the main mountaineering seasons and as I was already absent for most of the spring season because of Everest, I am using my days off to help the old lady.

It has been pretty busy since I have arrived here as many teams are currently coming back from Cho Oyu, an 8,000m peak at the border between Nepal and Tibet, and Manaslu in Nepal. Miss Hawley and Jeevan, a Nepali man who has worked for her for more than 10 years, are pretty relieved that I am here as it takes quite a lot of weight of their shoulders. I spoke to Miss Hawley’s driver Suban yesterday, who told me that he was nearly ‘unemployed’ when I was in town.

However, for those who do not know what I actually do for the Himalayan Database I will shortly explain what this work looks like.

Miss Hawley has been interviewing teams and archiving their expedition details since the early sixties, when she first came here as a Reuters journalist. In 1963, the first big American expedition went to Everest and successfully climbed the west ridge of the mountain. Thomas Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld reached the summit via this difficult ridge on 22 May 1963 at 6.15pm. This route has been known as the ‘Hornbein Couloir’ since then.

Miss Hawley covered the expedition as a journalist and found it so fascinating that she continued doing it and without thinking much about it, she ended up archiving all expeditions to so-called ‘Expedition Peaks’, of which there are more than 200, in Nepal.

My work involves ringing dozens of trekking agencies at the beginning of every season in order to find out which teams are coming, when they are arriving in Kathmandu and where they are staying. As all expeditions in Nepal are handled by trekking agencies we find most teams with their help and I have to say that the majority of the agencies are extremely helpful and I could not do my work without their information. Once I know the details, I put them on my expedition list and start chasing the mountaineers. Finding the expeditions is actually the main bulk of my work as the climbers normally do not come to find us – we have to find them.

Miss Hawley is very well known for the fact that she rings the hotel the minute the people walk into her rooms and everyone is stunned by it. As I am racing around Kathmandu on my bike anyway, I often just drop into the hotel and see whether the teams are already there and it has happened to me that the people had just walked into the hotel lobby and I was already there.

The great thing about this job is that you can just stop people in the street and ask them whether they are a particular team. As people hardly ever stay in the hotels for a long time it is important to catch them once they get there, however, that is not always possible. I have developed a good eye for mountaineers over the years – they differ quite significantly from trekkers – and it has happened that I have stopped people in the street to find out whether they are the particular team I am looking for.

Once I have located the teams, we make an appointment for a meeting as we interview them before they go to the mountains and when they come back. The interview after the expedition is, of course, more important as we find out whether they made it, how many people reached the summit, whether they used oxygen, fixed any ropes etc. etc.

I really enjoy this work and both Jeevan and I are doing it for the love of the mountains and not for the money (that’s why I have to do jobs like the one in Islamabad). I have met extremely interesting people since I have worked for Miss Hawley and it is great to see some mountaineers come back every year. There is, however, a sad side of the job as sometimes the climbers do not come back from their expeditions and even though I only met them for a short while I feel incredibly sad when they died on the mountain – but thankfully this does not happen that often.

So, I will be helping Miss Hawley and Jeevan for another week and will be back in Islamabad in mid-October and stay there until mid-February.

5 Responses

  1. Beth said on October 5, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Hi Billi,
    Thank you for clearing that up from me too! Like Jill, I smiled too when I read that you could tell the difference between mountaineers and trekkers. At some point, tell us your secret. :-)))
    Stay safe!
    For Rosemary: Miss Hawley’s first name is Elizabeth.

    Reply
  2. Rosemary in Irl said on October 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Good to be able to put a face on Miss Hawley. Next time tell us what her first name is, its so strange to hear anyone been called ‘Miss’ these days.

    Reply
  3. Markus said on October 2, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Hi Billy,

    in these days there must be a lot of trekkers and mountaineers in the streets of Kathmandu and hundreds of souvenir-shops and traders are doing good business

    have a great time in this fascinating city

    Reply
  4. Kate said on October 2, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Very interesting. You sound so happy to be back in Kathmandu. Safe biking!

    Reply
  5. Jill said on October 2, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Thanks for explaining. I thought you were back in Kathmandu for your main job – helping Miss Hawley. I’ve got it now. Sooo, trekkers are fatter, more naive, less leathery skin, ? than mountaineers? I smiled when I read that you can easily tell the difference.

    Reply

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