Jeff Lowe was born to Ralph and Elgene Lowe on September 13, 1950 in Ogden, Utah, the 4th of 8 children. Jeff started skiing at 4 and climbing with his father and brothers at 6 years old. He was blessed with physical ability, inherited from his WWII pilot and climber, father, and dancer, mother. The Lowe children ski raced, hiked, camped and worked hard. The boys also climbed.
Theirs was an adventurous family, living right up against the Wasatch Mountains on the East Bench in Ogden. Jeff's father, Ralph took the kids climbing on the limestone and quartzite cliffs close behind the house. Summers were a time for longer excursions to the Tetons in Wyoming. At 7 yrs. old, Jeff became the youngest person to climb the Grand Teton when Ralph took Jeff up the Exum Ridge with his brothers Mike and Greg.
Ralph's climbing techniques were old school and rough, but Jeff can't remember any close calls. His dad seemed to have things under control and instilled in the kids the absolute need to be responsible for their own actions. Those were wonderful, simpler times when safety was not looked for or found in gear, but rather was expected of each individual.
The Lowe's had an unusual extended family. Ralph Lowe was a bit of an animal whisperer. People often brought him injured or abandoned animals. Ralph kept a menagerie of sorts both at home in Ogden and at the Rim Rock Hotel that the whole family helped build in the sandstone country of Torrey, UT. There was a bear named Bruno that Ralph often walked on a leash on the dirt roads and trails behind the family home. Animals came and went as the kids grew up. There was a pair of wolves, a pair of mountain lions, a badger, a 3 legged bobcat, a dingo, coyote, fox, owl, eagle, hawk, squirrels, rattle snakes, blow snakes, and many more. In addition to the wild animals there was, of course, the usual assortment of horses, dogs and cats.
When Jeff was 14 years old, Yvon Chouinard came to Ogden to present an aid-climbing seminar to the Steinfells Climbing Club. At the end of the second day, when the seminar was over, Yvon let Jeff tag along on a bouldering and unroped climbing session. Even at the time, Jeff understood that Yvon was taking a big risk by allowing Jeff to follow him. Jeff felt honored and respected by Chouinard's acceptance of him as a fellow climber. This reinforced for Jeff the importance of self-responsibility. It was a pivotal moment for the young Lowe.
Soon after Yvon Chouinard's visit, Jeff packed a small rucksack, said goodbye to his mother and set off to climb a new route on Mt Ogden, literally in his back yard. This photo of the Schoolroom Cliffs and Mt Ogden was taken from driveway of the Lowe family home. Alone, Jeff climbed into the evening shadows and made a small campfire for his first ever solo bivouac. Soon the constellation Orion rose above him, hovering over the Wasatch Mountains.
Jeff felt an immediate kinship with Orion. The constellation became his talisman throughout his life, always auspicious when appearing in the night sky before a climb. The next morning Jeff completed his first ascent, trotted down the other side of the mountain and climbed another route up the east face of Mount Ogden, seen here in the photo to the right. Jeff then trotted down the mountain back home. He excitedly began telling his mother all the details of his great adventure. She listened for a minute, and then cut him short saying, "That's wonderful Jeffery, but you need to get that lawn cut before supper."
A few words about his mother, Elgene from Jeff Lowe; "Mom was always supportive. She sewed my first haul bag, packed my food for my first overnight solo (when I was 14!) and cheered from the sidelines over the next five decades of adventures. Dad died in 1984. Mom was 59, and although she never found another man she could marry, she took up dancing again, travelling around the country and winning dozens of awards in ballroom dancing.
In the early 2000's Mom developed debilitating arthritis. At about the same time, I developed symptoms of a neurological disease that has continued to progress.
We were two active people who had been stopped in our tracks. One of the great gifts of my life has been that I was thus free to move back to Utah and share the last years of mom's earthly presence with her. Not the least of her gifts was the lesson of the power of unconditional love, which frees and elevates both the giver and receiver".
Jeff climbed often with his older brothers Greg and Mike Lowe and cousin George Lowe. After high school, Jeff spent a few years ski racing for California's Tahoe Paradise College. After 3 years the fledgling school closed. At the same time, the US Ski Team coaches were insisting Jeff cut his hair and leave his girlfriend behind on the racing circuit. Jeff walked away from his Olympic Skiing dreams and chose climbing full time as a more creative and personally satisfying form of self-expression.
Jeff discovered climbing in Zion National Park in the fall of 1969 while driving from Yosemite to Ogden. He had heard about the big walls of sandstone and stopped to take a look. It marked the beginning of a 3-4 year period of big wall climbing in Zion. During that period he also spent time on unclimbed faces of mixed rock and ice in the Canadian Rockies.
Jeff moved to Colorado and worked for Outward Bound in the winters, keeping the summers free for climbing on the big unclimbed faces of rock and ice in the Canadian Rockies. Later, Jeff made his way to Ventura, California where, for a short time, he worked for his mentor, Yvon Chouinard, at the Great Pacific Iron Works (which later became Black Diamond).
In the meantime, Greg Lowe had started Lowe Alpine in the garage of the Lowe family home in 1968. By the early 1970's he moved the business to Colorado and brought Jeff and Mike Lowe on board. Lowe Alpine Systems quickly made a name for itself with the Lowe brothers designing and manufacturing technical climbing gear and backpacks.
In 1974 Jeff and Mike Weiss did the first ascent of Bridalveil Falls in Veil, Colorado. A seminal climb for the future of ice climbing. That same year Jeff went to the then Soviet Union as part of the first American Expedition to the Pamirs which was sponsored by Eddie Bauer. While there, Jeff and John Roskelly did the first ascent of the north face of Peak 19.
In 1975 Jeff was invited to Scotland to work on a film by National Geographic, featuring Yvon Chouinard and John Cunningham, Scotland's greatest ice climber at the time.
In 1976 Jeff and his brother, Mike Lowe, opened the International Climbing School based in El Dorado Canyon, near Boulder, CO.
Jeff Lowe was visionary in his explorations and innovations. In 1978 Jeff made a landmark attempt to climb Latok 1 in Pakistan with Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy and George Lowe. The team climbed easily and synergistically.
In July of 2010, the 4 climbers went camping together in the central mountains of Utah for a little reunion. They spent a weekend recalling their Latok experience. The longtime friends each spoke of the climb without a summit, as a high point in their respective climbing careers. Jeff had been sick with dengue fever on the climb. At 400 - 500 vertical feet below the summit, amidst yet another storm, the team unanimously agreed to head down. 22 days on the face of Latok had taken its toll. It took four more days to make the descent. Such incredible climbing, team solidarity and commitment to safety has immortalized this climb. The photo below/left shows Jeff climbing on Latok 1. Photo below right shows Jeff after the descent and his bout with Dengue Fever.
In 33 years there have been dozens of attempts, but no one has reached their highpoint. Read more about the climb in Rock and Ice Magazine here
- and also in the climbing forum here.
In 1979 Jeff was invited to climb Ama Dablam in Nepal, for a film by ABC. His father Ralph and brother Greg were also along on the trip. While there Jeff did the first solo, first ascent of a major Himalayan route on the south face of Ama Dablam.
In 1981 Jeff was invited to join the American Medical Research Expedition to Everest. It confirmed his distaste for what he later called an "assault" on a mountain, cementing his preference for alpine style climbing; fast and light, with only 1 or 2 climbing partners or going solo.
In 1982 Jeff started his own company, aptly named Latok, a technical gear and clothing company. That same year Lowe married Janie Hannigan and built a home in South Saint Vrain Canyon, near Boulder, CO.
In 1988 Jeff's daughter Sonja was born, which greatly altered his view of a climber's life. She opened his heart and tugged at it wherever he went. He always carried a small picture of her in his breast pocket whenever on he was on a big climb. He claims that on Tawoche with John Roskelley, his thoughts of her warmed him when temperatures plummeted.
Many climbs and business ventures later, Jeff brought the first Sport Climbing Championships to America in 1988, at Snowbird, Utah. CBS broadcast the event to millions.
In 1989, Jeff Lowe invited Catherine Destivelle to join him on trip to Pakistan to free climb the Nameless Tower of Trango. The climb would to be filmed for broadcast on ABC. Catherine was the winner of the 1988 Sport Climbing Championships. I was on that trip that Catherine decided to return to an alpine life and leave the world of competition. Jeff and Catherine shared a lifelong love of climbing. Their relationship deepened while in Pakistan, which led to an affair and a painful divorce for Jeff. In the photo on the left, Jeff and Catherine scope out Jeff's proposed new route that would go right up the middle of the north face of the Eiger. The estrangement from Lowe's daughter Sonja was excruciating for him. In the months that followed, financial troubles ensued and Jeff found himself in a "mountain of trouble", a phrase coined by David Robert's, who wrote a story about Jeff's 1991 solo first ascent on the Eiger. It was on the Eiger that Jeff came to terms with what kind of father he would need to be to demonstrate to Sonja that she was most important in his life. His commitment to her has brought Jeff and Sonja very close. Together they now enjoy Sonja's baby daughter, Valentina.
This film explores Jeff's challenges and the climb that changed everything for him.
By 1993 Jeff and Catherine had gone their separate ways. Jeff married Teri Ebel in 1994. Together Jeff and Teri started the Ouray Ice Festival to support the incipient Ouray Ice Park
. Today it is one of the most well attended and successful climber's rendezvous in the world.
In 2000 Jeff began to experience issues with balance and coordination. He set out for run in the spring of 2000 and fell flat on his face. He got up and gave it another shot, falling once again. Shaking his head, he headed back home, not giving it too much thought. Jeff and Teri divorced in 2001. It was not until 2002 that Jeff began to explore his health issues, with no answers forthcoming.
In 2002 Jeff moved to Ogden, Utah to be near his mother in the last years of her life.
In 2003 the mayor of Ogden invited Jeff to get involved in the town's efforts to become an outdoor adventure destination and revitalize Ogden. At about the same time he was given a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
Jeff worked on various projects with the city and in 2006 started Ogden Climbing Parks, an organization honored for serving youth and the disabled by taking them climbing. They also established the very successful first year of Utah's High Adventure Mountain Film Festival in 2008.
Life was good and his projects were thriving. Sadly, his symptoms were also thriving. In 2008, Jeff was given a probable diagnosis of Olivopontocerebellar Atrophy, which has a relatively short life expectancy. Jeff closed Ogden Climbing Parks and the film festival and retired.
A year later, Lowe's diagnosis changed yet again, to "an unknown neurodegenerative process". Leave it to Jeff Lowe to do a first ascent in the disease department! His symptoms are progressive and similar to that of MS and ALS.
Jeff's cutting edge equipment and clothing designs are among his many contributions to the sport that are legendary. Over the years Jeff designed and promoted clothing and equipment for many companies including Lowe Alpine, Latok, Marmot, REI, Vaude, Bluewater Ropes, La Fuma, Nike ACG, Solomon, Asolo, La Sportiva, Omega Pacific, Trango and more.
Perhaps most important is Jeff's ability – throughout his career - to inspire others. Jeff's writings about his experiences have been widely published in magazines and journals for over 40 years. He has written several widely acclaimed books. His instructional videos have taught generations of climbers, safe and innovative techniques. Jeff has also been the subject of several award winning films and books.
Jeff has received the highest awards from both the American and British Alpine Clubs as an Honorary Member. He was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and was named Man of the Year by the Utah Chapter of the MS Society in 2009.
Annual Jeff Lowe Service Award
- On Saturday January 12, 2013 at the Ouray Ice Festival Jeff Lowe was honored by the creation of the Annual Jeff Lowe Service Award. Jeff created the Ouray Ice Festival in 1996 - still going strong today. Bill Whitt was the first recipient for his many years of contributions and support of the Ouray Ice Park. Jeff received a standing ovation and raised a glass in honor of his many friends and good times in Ouray.Hall of Excellence
- On April 6, 2013 Jeff Lowe was inducted into the Mountaineering Hall of Excellence at the Bradford Washburn Museum in Golden, Colorado for his many climbing and alpine accomplishments around the globe, including equipment and clothing design, special events, writing, photography and so much more. Jeff is featured in several displays in the Museum as well.
Today he is revered as an icon in the climbing world. Wonderful honors for Jeff for his pursuit and love of all things climbing.
Jeff's experiences in the mountains required him to stay in the present moment: to be here now; to live each moment fully. This lifelong practice of being in the moment coupled with his indomitable spirit, enable Jeff to accept his life as it is; to embrace increasing disabilities and continue to forge ahead one day at a time.
Today Jeff remains very active. He is passionately involved in the film, Jeff Lowe's Metanoia. He continues to write and is working on a book about his best climbs and the lessons he learned from them.
Jeff is also a volunteer with Paradox Sports
, supporting their efforts to inspire and empower disabled athletes to enjoy the outdoors.
Jeff spends as much time as he can with his daughter Sonja and granddaughter, Valentina, and of course makes time for family and friends.
On Hospice since 2012, Jeff doesn’t let that stop him. He continues to outlive all predictions, though considers hospice his tribe of angels that help to keep everything afloat.
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“These days I am often asked if it doesn't feel especially unfair to be stricken in this way when my life was so centered on the exact physical and mental abilities that are now so diminished, or completely gone. Although I do miss those things, instead of feeling bitter over the loss, I can't help but be forever grateful for the gift of fifty fantastic years. Whatever time I get from here on is gravy. I'll continue to "Have fun, work hard, and get smart"--to the best of my abilities.” -- Jeff Lowe
Jeff lives with his partner, Connie, near Boulder, Colorado. He spends as much time as he can with his daughter Sonja, granddaughter, Valentina, and of course makes time for family and friends.