ExWeb interview: Billi Bierling - Miss Hawley's mobile unit, part 2

Posted: Apr 18, 2006 06:35 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net) Pedalling her bike through the streets of Kathmandu, Billi Bierling has become a familiar face with climbing expeditions. Miss Hawley's assistant has fought hard to make a name for herself with the climbing community and local climbing agencies, but the struggle has paid off: Many already know her as 'Miss Billi'.

Yesterday she revealed - not surprisingly - that the hardest part of her job is to please Miss Hawley. In this second part of ExWeb's interview, Billi talks about controversial testimonies, why she must climb off season, how she finds all the climbers and what it's like to work in a conflicted Kathmandu.<cutoff>

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>Disputed summits and unclear reports; climbing controversies come up every single year. How do you manage to find out what really happened?</i>

<b>Billi: </b>I honestly dont know and I think that is something that comes with experience. The only thing I do when there is a dispute is talking to as many people as possible and find out what they have seen on the mountain but then again, you often get conflicting answers there. Sometimes you just have to trust the people!

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>Would you something if you learned about serious wrong-doings in the mountains (refusal to help, stealing and lying)?</i>

<b>Billi: </b>I probably would but I have not yet come across any of that.

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>You're a climber. Does that fact help you to understand the people you interview? </i>

<b>Billi: </b>Yes I am a climber. I might not be a very good one but I love the mountains, I love rock climbing and I just love going on expeditions. And that makes my work here in Kathmandu sometimes a bit difficult as I speak to the expeditions, who are off to the mountains and I am stuck in the smoggy capital. To Miss Hawleys dismay I actually do get out during most climbing seasons but I try to go at times when not many expeditions are in town. I think being a mountaineer myself helps me understand the climbers, their ambitions, their dreams and their addiction to the mountains.

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>How do you keep track of them all? Do you have access to an official expedition list, or is it all blood, sweat and tears?</i>

<b>Billi: </b>I suppose that is one of the most difficult tasks and with Miss Hawley having been in hospital at the beginning of the season I actually realised how much work it was to find the expeditions. We normally go to the Ministry of Tourism a couple of times a week to find out, which applications have been submitted. Then we ring the trekking agencies of which there are hundreds in Kathmandu to find out where the expeditions are staying and when they are arriving. Once I know the hotel and the arrival date I normally cycle to the hotel and if I am lucky the expeditions are there, but most of the time they are out. So I leave a message to tell them when I would be back and if I am lucky they are there if not I do the same over and over again.

Some of the expedition leaders, who have been coming here for many years, ring Liz Hawley to let her know that they are here but that is only a fraction.

And then of course there are the expeditions to the North side of Everest and Cho Oyo something the Ministry of Tourism does not know anything about. So we have to find out from the trekking agencies by ringing them and pestering them to tell us. That is why it is important that I have a good standing with them without their help I could not do my job and I must say they have been great in helping me out.

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>By the way, how do you deal with crazy traffic and smog, moving around KTM on bicycle? Have you been able to work during the curfews? </i>

<b>Billi: </b>Dealing with crazy traffic is ok as I have cycled in London for about ten years and compared to London cycling in Kathmandu is actually a lot safer as traffic moves very slowly. There are of course no traffic rules and everybody just go as they wish, but somehow it works. I do not know how I would get around Kathmandu and find expeditions without my bicycle I would go mad if I had to rely on taxis. There are of course times when even cyclists get stuck in traffic jams. I think Kathmandu is the only town where it can get impossible to move even on a bike.

Over the past few days my work has been more difficult as mobile phone lines have been cut and I have not been able to go out for up to 13 hours each day due to the imposed curfews. However, the situation seems to have calmed down and we havent had a curfew for the past days.

<i><b>ExWeb: </b>Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?</i>

<b>Billi: </b> I wish I could answer that. I dont know whether I can stay in Kathmandu for the next ten years but then again the thought of going back to Europe for good also scares me. I suppose if I can establish myself more as a freelance journalist in Nepal and carry on working for Miss Hawley. I would like to be here for about six months per year. Living in Nepal is not always easy and even though I love this country it can be tough sometimes especially in times like these. Nobody really knows what will happen in the next instance, but I do hope the King, the political parties, the Maoists and the Nepali people will find a compromise that puts an end to this sad conflict.

<i>Born in the US in 1923, Elizabeth Hawley moved to Kathmandu to work as a correspondent for Reuters and has since the sixties been devoted to interviewing and keeping track of climbing expeditions. Although she has never climbed a mountain, her long and diligent work has made Liz a major authority for Himalayan (Nepal and Tibet) climbing statistics.

Born in Germany, Billi Bierling lived in London for 10 years. She visited Nepal for the first time in 1998, and returned every year since. As a member of an expedition to Baruntse, Billi met and was interviewed by Miss Hawley in 2000. After living in Switzerland for three years, Billi decided to move to Kathmandu permanently and asked Elizabeth Hawley for a job. Miss Billi has worked with Miss Hawley since 2004. </i>
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"The only thing I do when there is a dispute is talking to as many people as possible and find out what they have seen on the mountain but then again, you often get conflicting answers there. Sometimes you just have to trust the people!" (click to enlarge).
"I think being a mountaineer myself helps me understand the climbers, their ambitions, their dreams and their addiction to the mountains." In the image, Billi on Cho Oyu (click to enlarge).<br><br>
"I have cycled in London for about ten year and compared to it, cycling in Kathmandu is actually a lot safer as traffic moves very slowly. There are of course no traffic rules and everybody just goes as they wish, but somehow it works. I do not know how I would get around Kathmandu and find expeditions without my bicycle." In the image, Billi riding a much lonelier Tibet. All images courtesy of Billi Bierling (click to enlarge).