If any American climber can be called a visionary, it is Jeff Lowe. A Utah native who lived in Colorado for much of his climbing career, Lowe envisioned countless new routes in the Rocky Mountains, Zion National Park, the Canadian Rockies, and the Greater Ranges. He invented or co-invented many types of gear and clothing, and his 1979 book, The Ice Experience, and later books, articles, and videos gave ice climbers whole new ways to think about the sport.
Lowe did the first ascent of Colorado’s Bridal Veil Falls (WI5+), with Mike Weiss, back in 1974—in the infancy of vertical water-ice climbing—and then soloed the 375-foot route just a few years later. His new routes in Nepal and Peru helped bring modern ice techniques to the highest mountains. When new equipment began to make pure ice seem routine, Lowe combined traditional mixed-climbing techniques with pre-placed protection to open radical terrain for winter climbers. His first ascent of Octopussy (WI6 M7 R, 1994) in Vail, Colorado, opened eyes throughout the world.
Though he often climbed alone, Lowe was also a keen and imaginative promoter of big events—he brought the first World Cup competitions to the U.S. and created the hugely popular Ouray Ice Festival. “Ice climbing is just one small part of Jeff’s contribution to how we look at climbing today,” says Will Gadd. “I don’t think there’s another climber to ever play so many different games at such a high level. He’s a climbing generalist who managed to redefine climbing.”
Since 2000, Lowe, 63, has been suffering from a degenerative neurological condition with similarities to multiple sclerosis or ALS. The disease has confined him to a wheelchair and limited his ability to speak. As Lowe’s condition deteriorates, friends and family are working to complete a film about his life, Metanoia, centered on his unrepeated solo route on the north face of the Eiger—a lasting tribute to an extraordinary climber.
More Golden Pitons:
Climb of the Year: La Dura Dura.Breakthrough Performance: Alex MegosBouldering: Jimmy WebbTraditional: Hazel FindlaySpeed: Kilian JornetCompetition: PsicoblocAlpine: Ueli SteckCommunity: Climbers Against Cancer
Look for the full Golden Pitons feature story, including dozens more climbs and climbers, in our February issue (Climbing 322).