Alex Lowe

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Alex Lowe
Alex Lowe.jpg
Alex Lowe on Annapurna III in 1996.
Born (1958-12-24)December 24, 1958
Died October 5, 1999(1999-10-05) (aged 40)
Shishapangma, Tibet
Nationality American
Occupation Mountaineer, Climber

Stuart Alexander "Alex" Lowe (December 24, 1958, Frederick, Maryland – October 5, 1999, Shishapangma, Tibet), was an American mountaineer. He climbed several peaks in North America and Asia and was well regarded by his peers. He died in an avalanche in Tibet.

Biography[edit]

In 1995 Lowe climbed an icicle in Hyalite Canyon, near Bozeman, Montana. While climbing in the lead, Lowe's section of ice snapped free. He fell 40 feet (12 m) and sustained a severe cut to the head from his ice ax, which exposed part of his skull. Lowe later recalled what followed: "We ... kinda taped the scalp back into place, and put a hat on, and taped around the hat, and started skiing out. [We] kinda knew it was time to go to the ER. But we also knew it was going to be a long evening there, so we stopped down at the coffee shop and got lattes. It was great. My clothes were saturated with blood. We parked in the handicap spot in front of the coffee shop, marched right in, and then headed for the hospital."

On a climb up El Capitan in Yosemite, one of Lowe's climbing shoes was holed in the toe box. Instead of quitting, he completed the climb, friends later recalled, by wearing his shoe backward.

Rescue on Denali[edit]

In June 1995, Lowe helped the National Park Service rescue several Spanish climbers on 20,320-foot (6,190 m) Mount Denali in Alaska. On 9 June the group had been trapped for four days at 19,200 feet (5,900 m). Before a rescue team could assemble, one of the climbers fell 4,200 feet (1,300 m) to his death from the mountain's Upper West Rib. The surviving climbers were all suffering from hypothermia. Lowe and two fellow climbers were immediately lifted by military helicopter to a plateau above the Spaniards, scaled down a 400-vertical foot, 50-degree slope of ice and rock, to reach them, and determined that one needed immediate evacuation. Amid snowy conditions, he at first dragged, then carried him on his back up the steep slope at high altitude, in an incident that was photographically documented.[citation needed] Observing the dramatic rescue in adverse conditions, a Park ranger commented, "[Lowe] literally, single-handedly, saved several people. He picked one guy up who had frozen hands and feet and couldn't move and was literally inches from death."[citation needed]

Shishapangma accident[edit]

In September 1999 Lowe, Anker and David Bridges (a two-time US national paragliding champion) traveled to the 26,291-foot (8,013 m) Himalayan giant Shishapangma, the fourteenth highest peak in the world, as part of the 1999 American Shishapangma Ski Expedition. Plans called for the elite trio to become the first Americans to ski down from the summit of an 8,000-meter peak, in this case via the Swiss-Polish route on the South Face. Bridges was part of a three-man film team that was to shoot an NBC documentary of the expedition for The North Face.

During the roughly three-week trek to base camp, the group chronicled their deeds through photographic and written essays at MountainZone.com. On October 5, they split into two teams as they searched for a route up the mountain. Lowe's group (Lowe, Anker and Bridges) were crossing a flat glacier when a large serac broke loose 6,000 feet (1,800 m) above and tumbled downhill. Lowe's team at first thought the slide posed no threat, and took photographs of it,[citation needed] before realising that it was headed straight at them. Lowe yelled a warning to his team, all of whom ran. According to Anker, Lowe and Bridges may have attempted to escape by diving into a crevasse. Regardless, the 500-foot (150 m)-wide avalanche swept over the three men. Anker was thrown a reported 100 feet (30 m) by the windblast, and suffered a lacerated head, two broken ribs, and dislocated shoulder, but emerged from the snow, and led a rescue attempt that spanned a reported 20 hours in a large debris field measuring up to 20 feet (6.1 m) deep. Neither Lowe nor Bridges were wearing an distress radiobeacon, which might have helped rescuers pinpoint their bodies. Neither body was found.

Prior to his death, Lowe commented on his upcoming Shishapangma climb to MountainZone.com. "It's been a passionate goal of mine to ski off an 8,000 meter peak. I guess there's a lot of people sort of looking to do this and try to ski off Everest. But for me, it's got to be an aesthetic and quality run. And Shishapangma has the best ski line of any of the 8,000 meter peaks. It's just an absolutely straight shot right down the Southwest Face. That's going to be a good one."[citation needed]

In 2008 The Mountaineers Books published a memoir, "Forget Me Not" by Jennifer Lowe-Anker that recounts life shared with Lowe, his death and the life she continued with Anker. Forget Me Not won the National Outdoor Book award for literature in 2008. [1][2]

Climbing achievements and recognition[edit]

In 1995, Lowe received the American Alpine Club's Underhill Award for outstanding mountaineering achievement, the highest honor in U.S. mountaineering. He climbed for nearly 10 years with The North Face professional climbing team, which included in the later years mountaineer Jon Krakauer, author of the bestseller Into Thin Air. After Lowe's death, Outside Magazine posthumously declared him "the world's best climber," adding, "No matter how jaw-dropping his routes, Lowe's real genius grew out of the way he combined physical accomplishments with an indomitable spirit."

Alex Lowe Peak[edit]

Formerly known by its elevation as Peak 10,031, Alex Lowe Peak, south of Bozeman, Montana in the Gallatin National Forest was officially named after him in September 2005.[3][4] In spring of 1997 Alex Lowe climbed the northern couloir with friend Hans Saari. Upon reaching the summit the two made a first ski-descent down what they named "Hellmouth Couloir."

Legacy[edit]

Lowe was critically praised for his mountaineering skills by his peers. Dave Hahn once remarked, "There's Alex Lowe up here, and then there's the rest of us down here. The guy's just really that much better than everybody else." In its obituary on Lowe, the New York Times quoted Conrad Anker as saying, "We're all at this one level, and then there's Alex." Lowe's obituary continued, "He was widely admired for excelling in every aspect of mountaineering, from rock- and ice-climbing to ski descents." Lowe himself rejected such descriptions, and said "The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun!"[5]

Lowe improved his upper body strength as a result of an exercise regimen that included 400 chin-ups and hundreds of dips. In an article for Active Lifestyle, Gordon Wiltsie, a photographer who climbed with Lowe in Antarctica and Canada's Baffin Island, said, "he'd hog the pull-up bar to knock out 400 pull-ups in sets of 40 and 45. He disliked downtime and knew where to do pull-ups in many airports. Even on expeditions, when rest is hard to come by and much appreciated, Lowe was an oddball. He'd cop pull-ups on a ship's rigging en route to Antarctica, or do dips in a snow pit he dug at base camp." In that article, Wiltsie said, "At Baffin Island, after hauling supplies to a high point on a climb, we went back to camp beat and tired, but Alex proceeded to do pull-up after pull-up. He even brought an exercise device on climbs."

Climbing and skiing resumé[edit]

Notable climbs[edit]

Skiing[edit]

  • First Descents
    • Hellmouth Couloir, Alex Lowe Peak (formerly Peak 10,031), Montana, 1997
    • Northwest Couloir, Middle Teton, Wyoming, 1992
    • Enclosure Couloir, Grand Teton, Wyoming, 1994

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Outside Magazine, December 2005, All-Stars, The Believers, Conrad Anker: High-Altitude Altruist, Mission // Improving the odds for Sherpas, (Retrieved 27 March 2010)
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference Outside_Anker was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  3. ^ everestnews.com "Alex Lowe Peak": A Mountain Honoring a Mountaineer [with photograph, localization and the climbing history of the peak] (Retrieved 27 March 2010)
  4. ^ alexlowe.org/peak.shtml "Alex Lowe Peak": A Mountain Honoring a Mountaineer. (Retrieved 27 March 2010)
  5. ^ americanalpineclub.org, pdf version of AAJ 2000, p. 441 (the motto of In memoriam: Alex Lowe 1958-1999, pp. 441-443, by Gordon Wiltsie)

External links[edit]