On April 27, 2016, David Goettler and Ueli Steck reported finding the bodies of Alex Lowe and David Bridges on Shishapangma in Tibet.
More than sixteen years ago, on October 5, 1999, an avalanche poured down the south face of the mountain, striking Lowe, Bridges and Conrad Anker. “Being dragged down the glacier,” Anker later recounted, “I thought this was it, that death was meeting me. [The avalanche] stopped, and the huge cloud began to settle. I realized that I was alive, by some miracle. I immediately stood up and began looking for Alex and David. The surface I had just run across was now a landscape with huge blocks of ice…. I was calling their names, but to no avail” (as quoted in Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s book, Forget Me Not).
The three American climbers were part of an expedition planning to make a ski descent of the mountain, and their teammates spent days looking for Bridges and Lowe, without coming across any traces of them. “There wasn’t that sense of closure,” Anker later told Grayson Schaffer of Outside.
Then in the spring of 2016, Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck and German David Goettler arrived in Tibet, planning to climb a new direct route on the south face of Shishapangma. While acclimatizing, they found two bodies amid the glacier ice.
According to a statement by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation on April 29, 2016: “Goettler described the clothing and packs of the climbers to Conrad [Anker], who concluded that the two were undoubtedly David Bridges and Alex Lowe.” Jennifer Lowe-Anker, Lowe’s widow, now married to Anker, wrote: “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.”
Bridges was only twenty-nine at the time of his death. A high-altitude climber and filmmaker, he had gone on expeditions to mountains around the globe, including Himalayan peaks such as K2, Ama Dablam, Makalu, Baruntse and Kusum Kanguru. In 1995 and 1996, he also won the United States National Paragliding Championships. In a 1999 obituary in Outside, one of Bridges’ friends, Joel Koury, told the writer Tyler Stableford, “[At twenty-nine] Dave [had] led as full a life as any 70-year-old I’ve ever met.”
Craig Britton, another friend of Bridges, tells Alpinist that from the moment Bridges began climbing as a teenager, “He was instantly hooked. He told a friend, ‘I may have to break up with my girlfriend because I don’t know if I will now be able to devote a fair amount of time to her. Well, he didn’t give up on girls, but he devoted a tremendous amount of his joyous energy climbing and paragliding.”
According to Britton, while Bridges was attending California State University, he would sometimes commute to classes by paragliding from a spot near his parents’ home in the mountains above San Bernardino, “landing off campus…and then running back up the mountains after school.”
Like Lowe, Bridges was intensely fit, Britton says: “When [Dave Bridges] did Mt. Russell [4294m] with Brad Singer, Dave asked if it was all right if he took a run up the trail while Brad hiked down. Dave then ran to the summit and back while Brad hiked out. And caught him.”
Lowe, age forty at the time of the accident, was known as one of the top alpinists in the world, the author of cutting-edge routes in far-ranging places–from frozen waterfalls in Hyalite Canyon, near his Bozeman, Montana home, to cold, high peaks in remote regions. During the 1990s, Lowe and his partners had established a number of new lines in Antarctica, including the first ascent of Rakekniven, a tall granite spire jutting above the vast ice of Queen Maud Land. In 1992, he made the first winter solo of the shadowy Direct North Face of the Grand Teton. Mere months before the avalanche, Lowe participated a new route on the sheer northwest face of the Great Trango Tower–to list only a few of his many legendary climbs.
In his own writing, however, Lowe focused on the internal side of alpinism, rather than on external accomplishments for their own sake. Reviewing Andy Fanshawe and Stephen Venables’ Himalaya Alpine-Style, published in the 1997 American Alpine Journal, Lowe lauded the vision of “alpine climbing as a pure, exploratory, and soul-searching human endeavor.”
Despite his fame, Lowe preferred to say: “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.”
Two days before his death, he had written for the expedition website:
“I appreciate why I come to the mountains: not to conquer them, but to immerse myself in their incomprehensible immensity–so much bigger than us; to better comprehend humanity and patience balanced in harmony with the desire to push hard; to share what the hills offer; and to share it in the long term with good friends and ultimately with my own sons.”
In her memoir, Forget Me Not, Jennifer Lowe-Anker recalled: “It was his character, his pure magnetism that drew people to him. Alex was on fire for life. ‘There’s not enough time in this life to do everything,’ he used to say. ‘If only there was more time.'”
Our thoughts and prayers go to the family and friends of David Bridges and Alex Lowe in this time.