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In Memory of Hilaree Nelson: Watch ‘Earthside’ — Sisterhood, Motherhood, and Risk

Arguably the most powerful all-female adventure team ever, Hilaree Nelson, Emily Harrington, Brette Harrington, and Christina Lusti embarked on an expedition to Baffin Island, Canada, in the spring of 2022. The objective: climb and ski first descents in some of the most remote terrain imaginable.

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This kind of video isn’t uncommon, and the draw is understandable. Incredible cinematography of expansive landscapes intertwined with epic hero clips of the world’s best mountain athletes doing what they do best are staples in this video category. And, of course, some athlete interviews are in order.

In “Earthside,” the camaraderie and closeness of the four women are palpable. The excitement of completing the climbing and skiing objectives shines through the eye-popping visuals and engaging interviews. And, appropriately, the “it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters who you’re with” vibe punches through the well-executed storyline.

But ‘Earthside’ Hits Differently

Nelson died in an avalanche last September while descending Manaslu, the eighth-highest peak on the planet. She left behind a longtime partner, Jim Morrison (who was present), and two sons.

The posthumous words in Hilaree Nelson’s narration and interviews regarding risk-taking as a mother, partner, and friend couldn’t be more poignant. Especially since Emily Harrington discovered she was pregnant with her first child shortly before departing for Baffin Island. And Brette Harrington lost her partner, Marc-André Leclerc, to an avalanche in 2018.

Why I Care

I could have easily and logically assigned this story to someone who identifies as a female and/or a mother. And maybe I should have.

But as I watched and heard Hilaree Nelson’s recollections of explaining expeditions, risks, and the possibility of not coming home to her kids, it hit me in the gut.

I went through a vehemently contested divorce, during which the mother of my 10-year-old daughter attempted to deny me almost any visitation. This was based on my “reckless” risk-taking in outdoor pursuits, including climbing. Nelson’s narration vindicated my adult life and fight for my child.

But more importantly, Nelson’s words reinforced how I try to raise my child while I’m still Earthside. Nelson’s opening quotes do more justice than I ever could.

“I think there’s so much aversion to risk-taking today. And I don’t think that’s the right direction we should be going. You have to take risks if you want to learn anything about yourself. You have to take risks if you want to expand kind of the self-imposed walls we’ve got around ourselves.”

When my daughter is a little older, I’ll tell her Nelson’s story and perhaps show her this video. And I’ll let her decide for herself the amount of risk she’s willing to endure to grow and feel alive in a world that seems only to commend risk aversion.

Hilaree Nelson, 1972-2022

Runtime: 33 minutes

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