Famed mountain climber Alex Lowe lost in Tibetan avalanche, expedition announces

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Alex Lowe, described by Outside magazine this spring as the best mountain climber in the world, was presumed killed Tuesday with another climber in a Himalayan avalanche, the expedition announced.

Also missing and presumed dead was cameraman Dave Bridges.

A dispatch from the American Shishapangma Ski Expedition, posted on the Web site MountainZone.com, said the climbers were struck by an avalanche on 26,291-foot Shishapangma in Chinese Tibet, early Tuesday morning Tibetan time.

Andrew McLean, the expedition leader, told MountainZone.com, an expedition sponsor, by satellite telephone that the avalanche struck the climbers above Advance Base Camp on the upper slopes.

Lowe, 40, of Bozeman, and Bridges, 29, of Aspen, Colo., were swept away along with Colorado climber Conrad Anker, McLean said. Anker was ''pretty beat up'' but not seriously injured when he was found, McLean said.

Lowe and Bridges have not been found, and the search for their bodies has been abandoned because of hazardous conditions on the mountain.

The expedition had as its goal not only climbing Shishapangma, the 14th highest mountain in the world, but also skiing down it. Bridges was part of a three-man film crew that was documenting the climb.

In an interview last month with his hometown paper, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Lowe described the traditional route up Shishipangma as ''not extremely difficult.'' But he said his team planned to take a steeper, more unconventional route up the mountain's south face, before skiing down.

''If successful, it will be the first time Americans have skied off an 8,000-meter peak,'' Lowe said.

Lowe was a celebrity in the mountain climbing community. He is on posters, in magazines such as National Geographic and on television leading the way up intimidating slabs of granite.

Lowe's latest achievement was the first-time ascent this summer of the northwest face of 20,618-foot-high Great Trango Tower in Pakistan, a vertical slab of granite. His ascent was watched daily by people on the Internet, where Lowe posted a daily e-mail diary along with digital photos. Many people sent emotional e-mail messages of support as he ascended.

Similar Internet access was part of the Shishipangma climb, which also was sponsored by The North Face and NBC.

Lowe's climbing career spanned 25 years. He logged alpine climbs in France, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Canada, Nepal, Pakistan and Antarctica. He summited Mount Everest twice.

He was a member of The North Face's ''Dream Team'' - the best-known climbers in the country - and was under contract to test and promote the sale of North Face clothing and equipment.

He was called the best climber in the world in a March 1999 cover story in Outside magazine. His own climbing companions often call him the best.

But Lowe grimaced at the label.

''I'm just the world's most dogmatic climbers, hardheaded, very focused on the goal,'' he said last month.

And, in last month's interview, he said he was proudest of summiting the Grand in Grand Teton National Park - a mountain he climbed more than 100 times - with his eldest son, Max, 10, this summer. Lowe and his wife, Jennifer, have two other children - Sam, 6, and Isaac, 3.

Bridges, at 29, already was a veteran of eight expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram and had summited Annapurna IV, Ama Dablam, Baruntse and Makalu. In 1994, he was the leader of the successful American K-2 South Spur Expedition.

He had turned to film work and specialized in high altitute photography. He also was a two-time national paragliding champion and a partner in an Aspen paragliding company.

McLean said expedition members still on the mountain reported the climbing team had split off into two groups from their 18,000-foot camp, in search of a route up the mountain.

At about 19,000 feet, with teams located on separate sides of a glacier, the climbers spotted the beginning of the avalanche some 6,000 feet above them, McLean said. The teams dispersed, but the avalanche struck Lowe's group. Anker was thrown more than 100 feet by the avalanche and partially buried.

McLean said team members looked for Lowe and Bridges, but had to abandon the search because of the hazardous conditions. Lowe and Bridges are presumed buried under the avalanche.


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