Alex Lowe’s Son Reflects on Finding Closure

Alex Lowe leads his eldest son max up his first climb on puppy some in Yosemite, 1991. Jenni Lowe-Anker boots in the for ground.
Alex Lowe leads his eldest son, Max, up his first climb in Yosemite, 1991. Jenni Lowe-Anker’s boots are in the foreground. Photograph courtesy Max Lowe

I don’t remember him leaving that early September morning. He probably woke up at some ungodly hour like he always did, made coffee for himself and my mom, and sat with her at the kitchen table before saying goodbye. Maybe he stepped into each of my brothers’ and my rooms for a kiss and a last look, backlit from the light of the hallway, and then he was off into the growing light of dawn, never to step back into our lives again, until now.

Ten days ago, my phone rang with a strange caller ID, and I answered to hear my mother’s voice on the line. It was early, maybe 6 a.m., and her call woke me, but Jennifer Lowe-Anker was still in Nepal, 11 hours ahead and on the other side of the world. It took me a moment to absorb what she told me in a choked voice, that the bodies of my father, the renowned climber Alex Lowe, and fellow climber David Bridges had been found 16 and a half years after they disappeared in the ghostly plume of a massive avalanche on Shisha Pangma, an 8,000-meter peak in Tibet.

Climbers Ueli Steck and David Goettler had been traversing the base of Shisha Pangma en route to climb the south face of the peak when they stumbled across some scraps of clothing emerging from the glacier’s foot. They found two climbers, a red North Face pack, and yellow Koflak boots—Alex’s uniform on the Shisha Pangma expedition of 1999. When my mother and adopted father, Conrad Anker, heard the facts, they knew beyond a doubt that this was Alex and David. Conrad had survived the avalanche that took their lives.

Conrad and my mom would get home to Bozeman, Montana, the following evening, and our whole family—my parents, brothers, and me—would be together again for the first time in three months to share the shocking news. We feigned the idea that the knowledge would remain ours alone for a bit of time, but within 12 hours the news had made its way to the ears of the press, and our family was receiving media inquiries for comment. Before I really had time to process what it meant to me, a storm of voices reported that my dad’s body had been discovered. It’s taken me a week to find the courage and voice to put my fingers to the keyboard, but I’m finally trying to grasp what this might mean to me, my father returning from the ether to confront me, my life, and all of those who he touched while living.

Alex Lowe celebrates a birthday with his three young sons, Max, Sam and Isaac in 1998.
Alex Lowe celebrates a birthday with his three young sons, Max (far right), Sam, and Isaac in 1998; Photograph courtesy Max Lowe

After the loss of my father in the fall of 1999, six days before my 11th birthday, I felt numb and alone, torn from a reality that I had understood all my life up to that point. Like all immense trauma in life, with time the wounds healed, anger and hurt turned to acceptance and remembrance, and I moved forward into my new life without Alex. For those of you who don’t know the story, Conrad became part of our family two years after Alex’s death, marrying my mom and adopting my brothers, Sam and Isaac, and me, and stepping into the empty space in our lives that Alex had left. I’m not unique in the sense that I lost a pillar in my life, nor in that I eventually overcame that loss and moved on to see it as an inescapable part of who I am. But looking back on my week since news of the discovery started pouring across the world, I feel somewhat isolated in this strange and confusing place.

As I struggled to understand conflicting emotions, I thought of my father and my personal memories of how he had brought me up to see the world as he had, with hungry eyes and a lust for each new day. I was ten when he died, but I recall him speaking to me as though I were an adult, telling me tales of the wondrous places that he traveled to and always excited for adventures that he would share with me. I knew we would explore the wider world together one day. After all, we had been exploring the outdoors as a family since I was a baby, and that August, he and I had shared my first big climb to the summit of Grand Teton.

In the week before he left for Shisha Pangma, Alex and I spent a day together, rock climbing in the Gallatin Canyon, stopping for burgers and milkshakes afterward. We spoke of how it made me sad when he left on expeditions and why it was that he went away to those mountains in a far off land. It was hard for me to understand at ten, but I remember telling him that I understood that it was his job but also that it was important for him to go. Now, looking back on those memories and meshing them with the life I’ve made as an adult and an adventure photographer, I understand that need to go. I’ve made my own forays into Asia, South America, and all corners of the globe, discovering and celebrating the diverse joys of our planet, its people, and its unique wild places.

When he was swept away by that rushing wave of snow and ice, it seemed as though Alex may well have been lost in space, eternalized only in the memories and stories of him that I’m able to still pull from my youth and from friends and family. On April 27, close to 16 years, 6 months, and 22 days after his death, the reality that this is no longer the case is what has held my thoughts for the last week. He is found. What will take place as we travel to see where he lived his last weeks and day, and discovering what that means to me is something I will find out in the weeks to come.

Max Lowe, along with his brothers Sam and Isaac Lowe-Anker, his mother Jennifer Lowe-Anker, and adopted father Conrad Anker plan to travel to the Tibetan Himalaya in the coming weeks to recover Alex’s body from the ice, where it has been preserved for the last 16 and a half years. They’ll perform a cremation ceremony there, in the last place where Alex loved being.

Comments

  1. Julie Reynolds-Grabbe
    United States
    May 12, 2016, 1:37 pm

    Hi Max, I remember meeting your whole family when you came to Apple in Cupertino in 2007 or 2008. It was such a joy to meet all of you back then (I think you were in high school perhaps?)! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It sounds like a difficult and bittersweet time of reflection and I wish you all peace on your life’s journey!! 🙂 ~Julie RG

  2. Chris mathias
    Los barriles
    May 12, 2016, 3:37 pm

    This is big.
    So big.
    Waves of appreciation to you, your father, your mother, brothers.

  3. David flynn
    Usa
    May 12, 2016, 3:59 pm

    Sad to here this happen . you can finally have your dad home but I am thinking is not the mountain his final home just my thought

  4. Fred Bahnson, MD
    Brevard, NC
    May 12, 2016, 5:30 pm

    Our prayers are with you all at this time.

  5. Theresa Leland
    Bozeman, Montana
    May 12, 2016, 6:45 pm

    Thank You Max! For the courage to share your private thoughts with the world.

  6. Suzy Hall Hoberecht
    Bozeman
    May 12, 2016, 7:50 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Max. So many of us have held your family in our thoughts these last few weeks.

  7. Carolyn Seriani
    Vancouver Island
    May 12, 2016, 8:16 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts and giving everyone a glimpse into the lives of those left behind.

  8. Connie Self
    United States
    May 12, 2016, 10:55 pm

    Well said Max. Jeff Lowe and I are thinking of you all. Sending love and respect for the journey ahead.

  9. Larry
    United States
    May 12, 2016, 11:42 pm

    Sorry for your loss and have it reappear is the worst

  10. Brenda Mbaja
    Kenya
    May 13, 2016, 2:21 am

    Sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing.

  11. Ian Lanier
    Denver
    May 13, 2016, 7:21 am

    Thinking about you brother. Seems like a situation full of emotion but a great avenue for deep closure.

  12. 1964
    United States
    May 13, 2016, 2:49 pm

    Beautiful and profound, thank you for sharing this with us. I admire you and your family enormously for the grace and connection you have maintained through all of this.
    Peace be with you, and also with him.

  13. Malin Dellenhed
    Sweden
    May 13, 2016, 4:34 pm

    Thank you for sharing….
    Your fathers soul was trapped on that mountain
    To find him reunited the whole family again
    Now, you can set his soul free to find eternity

  14. Colonel Veer Chauhan
    Redmond WA98053
    May 14, 2016, 6:31 am

    Very touching, I am a Mountaineer too& have similar family.
    Bless you,your brothers, mom and father

  15. Ms. LYNN
    Bozeman
    May 16, 2016, 10:03 pm

    My dear sweet Max. It is so good to read your words. Some times,no matter how early, when your Dad was gathering up his belongs to leave, you would rush into the living room with your little North Face duffel bag,crying to go with him. See, even when you were little you had an adventurous spirit. Maybe this is what it took to forge that spirit. I love reading your work, and seeing your photography. ..you truely have growen into an adventure. .my heart will always be yours and your brother’s

  16. Ami Collar
    CO
    May 16, 2016, 11:18 pm

    Thank you Max for taking time to share your thoughts. Peace to you and your family during this challenging time.

  17. Abdul Rashid Yusoff
    Singapore
    May 19, 2016, 11:36 pm

    While my eyes were welling as I read your reflection, I stand in awe of your courage, together with your family, to have braved these years. I will never be able to fathom the thoughts and emotions that will run through you and your steadfast family, as you traverse this episode of your lives. But I pray that you, as a family, will find peace as you go through the closure, in full knowledge that both your beloved father and his friend have both found their peace.

  18. Canyon Wren
    United States
    May 20, 2016, 2:26 pm

    So beautifully written. Thanks for sharing. I read your mom’s book and have held your family in my heart ever since.

    Safe travels to you all, and my this bring peace to all who loved him.

  19. Jim Travis
    Sandy, Utah
    May 20, 2016, 6:29 pm

    Thank you, once again, for sharing with us in the outdoor recreation community. Your mother, dad, brothers, and Conrad are our royalty. By freely and frequently sharing your adventures in the outdoors we are able to vicariously go to places we never thought we would. Know that you will be in our thoughts and prayers as you say goodbye to Alex. Namaste.

  20. Mark Cain
    NE China
    May 20, 2016, 7:31 pm

    A very touching article. Thanks for sharing your heart. I truly believe your words will reach out and touch someone who desperately needs them to cope. You are a brave young man. Blessings…MJC

  21. Lew Shelley
    Walpole, NH
    May 23, 2016, 9:42 pm

    Max, Thank you. I have found it difficult to find the words that explain the emotions I have been feeling since your father was found. Your words have helped me to have hope that each of you will find peace in the next steps of the journey. Namaste and peace to all.