Climbing all about ‘brotherhood of the rope,’ says mountaineer

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George Lowe speaks at local country club

By Sandy Barnes

Reaching the summit of a high mountain peak is secondary to maintaining good relationships with fellow climbers, said George Lowe, a mountaineer with more than 50 years experience.

“The brotherhood of the rope is incredibly important to me,” Lowe said during his presentation at Mount Vernon Country Club on April 16. “The most critical message I want to leave is the companionship.”

Accompanied by cousins and friends, Lowe has climbed Mount Everest, the Grand Teton in Wyoming, the North Twin in the Canadian Rockies and the Infinite Spur on Alaska's Mount Foraker. He also has climbed El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, Calif., in one day.

Lowe, who is a physicist by profession, talked about his climbing experiences in down-to-earth tones spiced with humor.

“You don’t have a successful career in mountaineering unless you die in bed of old age,” he quipped.

Lowe began climbing in his native state of Utah in the 1960s.

“It was the only sport I was good at,” he said.

Many of his climbing accomplishments involve first ascents, including the east face of Mount Everest and the first winter ascents of the north and west faces of the Grand Teton.

Climbing on the Grand Teton in the winter, where he encountered rock slabs covered in snow, “opened up my vision of what could be done,” he said.

“The snow was blowing pretty hard by the time we got to the summit,” he recalled.

“Education in climbing is critical,” Lowe remarked. “The mountains can turn about, and you have to learn to deal with those conditions.”

While climbing in Wyoming, in Yosemite and the Canadian Rockies, Lowe said he and his companions were using “all the old traditional gear.”

“We had some relatively primitive tools,” he said.

After a day of climbing the Grand Teton in white-out conditions — with no GPS system for guidance — Lowe said he spent another half-day wandering around and trying to find a way to get down the mountain.

To stay hydrated, Lowe said, he melted snow for water, and he brought dehydrated food for nourishment. Because dehydrated food is not all that palatable, Lowe said that on later expeditions he began taking cheese and other foods that are relatively non-perishable.

In 1979 Lowe traveled to Russia, where he attempted to climb a 9,000-foot mountain face that was “pretty much untouched” at the time.

“We had a wonderful time climbing with the Russians,” who were using equipment dating from the 1920s, he said.

While climbing on the north ridge of Latok I in Pakistan, Lowe said he and his companions spent six days on a ledge in a snowstorm, where they ate half-rations of food and stayed tied-in with ropes at night.

“You try to do things so that the challenge is always there,” Lowe remarked.

“I remember climbing up this iced-up slab. It was really fun. We were exploring our limits and finding out how far we could go.”

There are active glaciers in the Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan, he noted.

“One of the ideas is you do not want to climb under hanging glaciers,” he said.

When it began snowing again on Latok I, Lowe and his fellow climbers went into a snow cave for shelter, where food supplies ran low. And his cousin Jeff Lowe began feeling ill.

“The summit is optional,” Lowe said he determined at the time. “We were at about 23,000 feet, and the storm was worse.”

Rather than attempt to reach the summit, Lowe and his companions rappelled down the mountain until they reached the ground.

“As I look back on it, it was my best climb,” he said. “We came back friends — and safely.”

In the early 1980s Lowe and his buddies headed to Nepal to climb Mount Everest, more than 29,000 feet high.

“It was a wonderful place to go,” he said. “The climbing wasn’t terribly unreasonable,” he added.

While making the ascent, Lowe said, he was in a group of 13 climbers on fixed ropes. Each climber had one bottle of oxygen, and there were no sherpas for assistance, he said.

After encountering a section of unstable rock called schist, Lowe said the rest of the journey was “fairly straightforward.” Also, on the east face of Everest where Lowe was climbing with the group, no others were present, he said.

“It was really a remarkable experience to see all these things” — especially with his climbing partners, Lowe said.

“I truly, truly love these people,” he said. “They were wonderful companions.”

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com.