Hannelore Schmatz was a German mountaineer born on February 16, 1940. On October 2, 1979 she became the first woman, and the first German citizen to die on the upper slopes of Mount Everest. Her husband, 50-year-old Gerhard Schmatz was the leader of the expedition, becoming the oldest person to have summited Mount Everest up to that time.
It is common on Everest for expedition teams to split up into smaller groups, having a few summit at a time as the rest remain at base camp. Hannelore summited that day with Swiss-American Ray Genet and a Sherpa, Sungdare.
After a successful summit, Schmatz and Genet were exhausted and decided to stop for the evening to bivouac (stay in a temporary camp without cover, such as a sleeping bag, as opposed to returning to a base camp) at 27,200 feet in the Death Zone despite their Sherpa urging them against it. During the night, there was a severe snowstorm and early the following morning, Ray Genet died of hypothermia. His body was eventually buried by the snow. Shortly afterwards, Hannelore succumbed to exhaustion and the cold, dying only 330 feet (100 meters) away from base camp. Reportedly, her last words were “water, water”. Sungdare stayed with Hannelore, even after she was deceased, and ss a result, lost one finger and most of his toes to frostbite. In 1984, a Sherpa and a Nepalese police inspector attempted to recover the body of Hannelore Schmatz; Both fell to their death during the recovery effort. For years, Hannelore remained in plain view of the mountain’s Southern Route, still leaning against her backpack and known to most as only, “The German Woman”.
Her eyes still open, hair blowing in the fierce winds, and well-preserved in the consistent subzero temperatures on the deadly mountain. Eventually, the strong winds pushed her body over the mountain. While her eternal resting place remains a mystery, she has finally received some form of a burial.
The following photos are of Hannelore Schmatz’s fatal expedition to Mount Everest from the private collection of Gerhard Schmatz, Hannelore’s widower.
Photos courtesy Gerhard Schmatz. Read his account of Hannelore Schmatz’s fatal expedition and view more photos from this and other expeditions on his website.
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