On Sunday, American ski mountaineers Jim Morrison and Hilaree Nelson became the first people to ski from the 27,940-foot summit of Lhotse, the fourth-highest mountain in the world.
The North Face announced the feat on Instagram Sunday morning, stating that the crew had safely skied a 7,000-foot descent that took them from the summit, down a steep, narrow couloir and onto an exposed face. The North Face reported that Morrison and Nelson were resting at Camp Two, set up just below the face at 21,000 feet, after a 17-hour climb to the summit and ski descent.
A neighbor to Mount Everest in Nepal’s Himalayas, Lhotse is widely considered by ski mountaineers to be one of the most aesthetic and prized ski lines among the world’s tallest mountains. A handful of elite ski mountaineers have attempted to ski Lhotse in recent years, including Adrian Ballinger, Kristoffer Erickson and Jamie Laidlaw. However, all of those attempts failed to reach the summit and were made in the spring during the popular climbing season in Nepal. Morrison and Nelson said they purposefully decided to go to Lhotse in the fall, with the hopes that Nepal’s summer monsoons would leave behind a snow-caked mountain.
Professional skier and mountaineer Chris Davenport, on Instagram, called Morrison and Nelson’s first descent one of the greatest ever. He described the summit as “narrow and challenging.” And added, “The couloir is also super difficult to find in good conditions, very steep and narrow, and has repelled many strong parties over the years.”
Morrison and Nelson are both accomplished skiers and mountaineers. Based in Tahoe City, California, Morrison has spent his entire life skiing and climbing in the Sierra Nevada. Recently, Morrison has launched to objectives across the globe, quietly ticking off a list of notable ski descents on big mountains in Alaska, Russia and the Himalaya. In May, Morrison summited Cho Oyu and Mount Everest in the Himalaya. He skied a combined 11,000 vertical feet on both mountains, including a 7,000-foot line down Cho Oyu.
Nelson, who lives in Telluride, Colorado, is one of the world’s most accomplished ski mountaineers, period. Named by National Geographic as an Adventurer of the Year, her resume is a long list of summits and ski descents all over the world. Notably, in 2017, she skied the first descent of Papsura Peak in India, known as the “Peak of Evil,” with Morrison. In May, she skied north of the Arctic Circle to ski Mount Chamberlin, the third-highest peak in the Brooks Range. Nelson is also the first woman to climb two 8,000-meter peaks in 24 hours—combining Everest and Lhotse in one push. Although she didn’t ski on that trip, Nelson says she was baited by the Lhotse Couloir.
“The one thing that makes [this] easier and more straightforward ... is that I’ve been here, and I’ve climbed the mountain before, I’ve been in the couloir,” said Nelson, in a voice memo sent from Everest Base Camp, just before she began the long climb to Lhotse.
Morrison and Nelson traveled to Nepal at the end of August, gradually making their way to the Everest Base Camp. Their team included photographers and filmmakers Dutch Simpson and Nick Kalisz, five sherpa, icefall doctors to help them navigate through the crevasses of the Khumbu Icefall, as well as base camp support staff and cooks. A juxtaposition to spring’s popular climbing season on Everest, their group was alone at Base Camp in the beginning of September, which also meant they had to set the route themselves.
The community that skis the world’s tallest mountains—there are 14 mountains that rise above 8,000 meters—is small and niche. In Nepal, Cho Oyu and Manaslu are two of the more popular mountains for ski mountaineers. Mount Everest has also been skied more than a handful of times, including by Kit DesLauriers in 2006, who became the first woman to ski Everest in an expedition with her husband, Rob, and photographer Jimmy Chin.
But this year may go down in history. In July, Polish alpinist Andrzej Bargiel skied the first descent on 28,251-foot K2, in the Karakoram range on the border between Pakistan and China. Ballinger, who is a mountain guide on Everest, said in an interview that the ski descent of K2 is “once in a generation-type skiing.”
“Lhotse sits in that same sphere,” said Ballinger. “What makes Lhotse unique is it has an incredible, potential snow line.”