In 1999, at age 40, Bozeman, Montana, mountaineer Alex Lowe was one of the best climbers in the world. He’d reached the summit of Mount Everest twice and topped out on Annapurna and several other 8,000-meter peaks, the world's highest mountains. But the gifted athlete was best known for pioneering challenging new routes up difficult peaks, like Great Trango Tower in Pakistan, Great Sail Peak on Baffin Island in Canada and Peak 4810 in Kyrgyzstan. His colleagues knew him as “The Mutant” or “The Lung with Legs” because of his incredible stamina.
“He’s…probably the fittest person I’ve ever met,” friend and photographer Gordon Wiltsie once told the Guardian. “He’s usually the driving force in any group he’s involved with. He’s passionate about climbing in a way I’ve seen in few other people.”
According to Grayson Schaffer at Outside, in October of that year, Lowe along with a group of eight other fellow climbers and skiers were climbing Shishapangma in Tibet, the world's 14th-highest mountain, in an attempt to ski down its slopes when an avalanche struck, carrying away Lowe and expedition cameraman David Bridges. Though their colleagues searched for two days, the climbers were never found.
Their bodies remained lost in Shishapangma, until last week when two world-class mountaineers, Ueli Steck and David Goettler, discovered them while attempting a new route up Shishapangma’s south face.
Climber Conrad Anker, Lowe’s best friend who eventually married his widow, tells Schaffer that he has not seen photos of the bodies, but is sure of the ID after receiving a phone call from Goettler. “He said, ‘We came across two bodies,’” Anker tells Schaffer. “They were close to each other. Blue and red North Face backpacks. Yellow Koflach boots. It was all that gear from that time period. They were pretty much the only two climbers who were there. We’re pretty sure it’s them.”
“It’s kind of fitting that it’s professional climbers who found him,” Anker says. “It wasn’t a yak herder. It wasn’t a trekker. David and Ueli are both cut from the same cloth as Alex and me.”
Jennifer Lowe-Anker, Alex’s widow, never thought that her husband’s body would be recovered in her lifetime, and chronicles her struggle to move on in her 2008 book Forget Me Not. “Alex and David vanished, were captured and frozen in time. Sixteen years of life has been lived and now they are found. We are thankful,” she says in a statement on the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation website. “Alex’s parents are thankful to know that their son’s body has been found and that Conrad, the boys and I will make our pilgrimage to Shishapangma. It is time to put Alex to rest.”
Unlike many bodies found at high altitude, which are too high for helicopters to reach, Lowe and Bridges bodies are at roughly 19,000 feet and recoverable. They will be retrieved this summer by their families.