She was educated at the University of Michigan. She moved to Nepal after giving up her job as a researcher for Fortune magazine in New York and visiting Kathmandu on a round-the-world trip. Working briefly as a reporter, Hawley went back to San Francisco, returning to Nepal a few years later as journalist for Time.
While she has never climbed a mountain herself, Hawley has been the best-known chronicler of Himalayan expeditions for over four decades. She is respected by the international mountaineering community because of her complete and accurate records, despite their unofficial status. Her records are summarized in a database  used in several analyses of success and death rates for climbers in the Nepal Himalaya.
French ice climber François Damilano named a peak in Nepal after Elizabeth Hawley. Damilano made a solo first ascent of Peak Hawley (6,182 meters) in the Dhaulagiri Group on 9 May 2008, after climbing 7,242-meter Putha Hiunchuli.
- Jolly, Joanna (28 August 2010). "Elizabeth Hawley, unrivalled Himalayan record keeper". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-03-21.
- Hawley, Elizabeth; Salisbury, Richard. "The Himalayan Database". American Alpine Club. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Hawley, Elizabeth; Salisbury, Richard (2011). The Himalaya by the Numbers, A Statistical Analysis of Mountaineering in the Nepal Himalaya (PDF). Kathmandu: Vajra Publications. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- "Research (bibliography)". American Alpine Club. Retrieved 24 April 2014.
- Newly Climbed Peak Named for Elizabeth Hawley by Dougald MacDonald on climbing.com
- Francois Damilano (2009). "Asia, Nepal, Dhaulagiri Himal, Peak Hawley (6,182m)". American Alpine Journal. American Alpine Club. 51 (83): 321. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
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