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Woman Dies on the Mountain She Was Named For

In 1948, American mountaineer William “Willi” Unsoeld saw India’s Nanda Devi peak for the first time.

“I had a dream about Nanda Devi,” he later recalled. “I dreamed of having a daughter to name after the peak.”

nanda deviAnd that’s exactly what happened. He married Jolene Bishoprick (who would later represent Washington state in Congress). Together they had four children: Krag (boy), Regon (boy), Nanda Devi (girl) and Terres (girl).

The Nanda Devi peak was named for local Himalayan goddess Nanda Devi, whose name can be interpreted as either “goddess Nanda” or “joy goddess.” Nanda and devi are Hindi for “joy” and “goddess,” respectively.

William went on to become one of the first climbers to reach the top of Mount Everest via the peak’s western ridge, in May of 1963 — 10 years after Sir Edmund Hillary’s famous ascent. He lost nine toes during the climb.

In July of 1976, William, daughter Nanda (then 22) and several others set out to climb Nanda Devi via a new northwestern route.

[Nanda] felt almost mystical about the climb she was about to undertake. “I can’t describe it,” she said, “but there is something within me about this mountain ever since I was born.”

But two months after they started the trek, just 1,500 feet below the summit, Nanda died from an “abdominal ailment, complicated by high altitude.” Her father buried her on the mountain.

Sources:

  • “Named for Peak, She Dies in Conquer Try.” Daytona Beach Morning Journal 18 Sep. 1976: 1A+.
  • Sharma, K. K. “‘I Am Going to Die,’ Whispered Nanda Devi on the Mountain She Regarded as Her Own.” People 4 October 1976: 30.
  • Lochtefeld, James G. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: N-Z. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2001.

Image: Nanda Devi by Anirban c8