• TNB: Climbing's Big Mistake
  • TNB: Trad Dads and Dad Bods
  • TNB: Do the Right Thing
  • TNB: Big Wall Soloing Sustenance – Cookies vs. Bugs
  • TNB: When Your Rope Falls Off—and 5 Ways to Prevent the Nightmare
  • TNB: Before I Die - What Would Climbers Think?
  • TNB: Raphael Slawinski - Firsthand Account of Everest Earthquake
  • TNB: Point Break - Sharma, Andrada on the Big Screen
  • TNB: Muscle Shoals - Rock and Soul
  • TNB: Naked Soloist is Saner Than Me
  • TNB: The Hard Climb to Heaven
  • TNB: Summer Camp
  • TNB: Suicide in Our Sights
  • TNB: Ethan Pringle's 10 Tips for Sending Your Project
  • TNB: Hawaii Rocks - Totally Aloha
  • TNB: PointGate - Why Comp Climbing Is Not The Future
  • TNB: My First Epic
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Avoid Braking Bad - The Art of the Soft Catch
  • TNB: #Dawnwall and The Creation of Alex Honnlove
  • TNB: Vision Quest - Benji Fink and Mexico’s Steepest Big Wall
  • TNB: The New Dawn (Wall) of Climbing
  • TNB: The Top 5 Weekend Whippers of 2014 (Plus the Comments)
  • TNB: 10 Tips for Jolene Kay, Professional Climber (and Hot Actress)
  • TNB: The Story Behind the Craziest of Rescues
  • TNB: The Risk of Climbing
  • TNB: How to Get Stronger by Doing Nothing for 5 Minutes a Day
  • TNB: Eight Ways to Improve Your Footwork
  • TNB: In Praise of the Weekend Warrior
  • TNB: Joe Kinder Visits the World's Hardest Cave
  • TNB: Celebrating Insomnia in Chamonix
  • TNB: Run, Rabbit - Hermann Gollner, 71, Cranks Pump-O-Rama (5.13a)
  • TNB: Five Best Photos of 2014
  • TNB: Clip Like A Pro - 5 Tips from Sasha DiGiulian and Sean McColl
  • TNB: Five Things Every Gym Climber Must Know About Climbing Outside
  • TNB: Still Jeff Lowe
  • TNB: Moving Over Stone With Doug Robinson
  • TNB: Wheels Up—The Top 5 Climbing Rigs
  • TNB: Is K2 The New Everest?
  • TNB: Things—Besides Us, That Is—That Fall
  • TNB: When Homemade Gear Works, Sorta
  • TNB: The Outsiders
  • TNB: R.I.P. Homero Gutierrez Villarreal - The Padrino of El Potrero
  • TNB: A Short Talk with Sierra Blair-Coyle
  • TNB: Ian Dory, Ninja, or The Craziest Thing I Ever Seen
  • TNB: The Best Crag Dogs of All Time
  • TNB: 5 Ways to Make People Love Your Routes
  • TNB: Hudon and Jones, and Don't Forget It!
  • TNB: Climbing's Tribal Rites
  • TNB: Sasha DiGiulian and Alex Johnson On How to Be a Modern Pro
  • TNB: Is Dean Potter A Bad Father?
  • TNB: Silly Places We’ve Slept - Tales of Unplanned Bivies
  • TNB: Forgotten Hero - Frank Sacherer 1940-1978
  • TNB: The World-Class Weekend Warrior – Martin Keller Climbs V15
  • TNB: Everest Sherpas No Longer Willing to “Grin and Bear It”
  • TNB: Hardheaded Helmet Lesson Learned
  • TNB: Six Most Awesome Jobs for Climbers
  • TNB: The Coolest Climbing Deal Breaker
  • TNB: Sharma and Glowacz Send World’s Steepest Rock Climb
  • TNB: An Encounter with a Legend - Patrick Edlinger, Plus A Whipper Vid
  • TNB: Six Things Every Climber Should Do Before They Die
  • TNB: Falling from the Top
  • TNB: Weekend Whipper
  • TNB: Band of Crushers
  • TNB: Charlie Porter, We Hardly Knew You
  • TNB: Climbing's Greatest Route Names
  • TNB: Hot Women Die and Have Sex on Everest
  • TNB: The Great Tragedy at Carderock
  • TNB: Thoughts On Death, and Last Words
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Big Story
  • TNB: Next Level? Honnold Pushes the Game on El Sendero Luminoso
  • TNB: Jeff Lowe Invented the Sport
  • TNB: The Most Popular Weekend Whippers of the Year
  • TNB: If Ondra Isn't The Best Climber In The World, Who Is?
  • TNB: Storm Years or Typhoon? The Biggest Issue in Climbing
  • TNB: Jim Bridwell Speaks
  • TNB: Honnold's Biggest Solo
  • TNB: Death on Forbidden Peak - Was the NPS Complicit?
  • TNB: Ice Climbing Goes to Sochi Olympics
  • TNB: When Gear Attacks
  • TNB: 8a.nu: The Best Climber in the World is the One with the Most Points
  • TNB: Shutdown: Illegal Climbers in Yosemite—Ninjas or Criminals?
  • TNB: Who is the Best Climber in the World?
  • TNB: The New Courage in a Rucksack
  • TNB: Unsolved Mystery - The Ten Sleep Shooting
  • TNB: The Pad Problem - Honnold, Kehl on Headpoints and Highballs
  • TNB: Travels with Delaney Miller - National Champ Turns to Rock
  • TNB: Jail Food and Booty
  • TNB: Love on the Road
  • TNB: Is Pakistan Safe for Climbers?
  • TNB: Flash Floods, Climbers and How to Get Out of the Way
  • TNB: Climbing's Next Level
  • TNB: Best in Show - Brand New Gear from the Outdoor Retailer Show
  • TNB: Adam Ondra Ties the Knot
  • TNB: Under Pressure - Trotter and Honnold On How Bets Can Help You Send
  • TNB: The Tragedy of Tito Traversa
  • TNB: DR's Crazy Brain Puzzle. Get It Correct or Else.
  • TNB: What Happened To Climbing Films?
  • TNB: Cry of the Colorado Fussy Snivel
  • TNB: Mystery Solved!
  • TNB: The Mystery of Moses Tower - Help Answer a 25-Year-Old Question
  • TNB: No Such Luck
  • TNB: Erasing Midnight Lightning
  • TNB: Mayhem - Crawling, Balling & Brawling on the Evere$t Soap Opera
  • TNB: Watching the Boston Marathon
  • TNB: Chasing the Devil's Snort
  • TNB: Born-Again Gumby
  • TNB: Super Unknown - Austin Dark Horse Establishes 5.14d in Random Texas Cave
  • TNB: Fearless?
  • TNB: The Big Freaking Deal, Ain't Bouldering
  • TNB: Honnold's Achilles' Heel
  • TNB: He's Either Crazy or a Poet
  • TNB: The Fish Cheat and the Prince of Climbing
  • TNB: A Letter from Santa... I mean Sharma
  • TNB: Traveler's Advisory - El Potrero Chico, Mexico
  • TNB: A Year Ago - Athol
  • TNB: Gun Control
  • TNB: What's the Problem?
  • TNB: Derek Hersey's Magic Carpet
  • TNB: The Apprentices
  • TNB: The Jungle
  • TNB: Klem Loskot is Back Climbing V15 and 5.15
  • TNB: Eliminated
  • TNB: The Hurt Locker
  • TNB: The Perils of Sport Climbing
  • TNB: Baddest Climb of the Year
  • TNB: Crossfit Misfit
  • TNB: Eating People and the Real Seventh Summit
  • TNB: Bring It On, Bitch!
  • TNB: What Would Warren Harding Do?
  • TNB: The Curse Of The Bandit
  • TNB: Reality Pro
  • TNB: Chris Sharma and The Art of Jeep Maintenance
  • TNB: American Dirtbag
  • TNB: How Not To Climb 5.12
  • TNB: Project FAIL
  • TNB: The Backwards Future of Climbing
  • TNB: The Death of Progress
  • TNB: The Da Vinci CO
  • TNB: The Philosopher King
  • TNB: Spam Alert
  • TNB: Bad Genes - The Different Types of Gumbies
  • TNB: Mouth Wide Shut
  • TNB: Outside Reality
  • TNB: The Day I Saved Jésus
  • TNB: My Pad, Your Problem
  • TNB: House Rules
  • TNB: Five Things I Don't Hate About Climbing
  • TNB: Metro-Pointing
  • TNB: Beast in the East
  • TNB: Artificial Intelligence
  • TNB: To Boldly Go Sprad Climbing
  • TNB: Self-Destruction
  • TNB: Soul Sport
  • TNB: Nine Pitches
  • Video Spotlight
    Margo Hayes Sends La Rambla (9a+/5.15a)
    Margo Hayes Sends La Rambla (9a+/5.15a)
    Whipper of the Month
    Weekend Whipper: Chris Sharma's 100-foot Pont d’Arc Deep Water Solo
    Weekend Whipper: Chris Sharma's 100-foot Pont d’Arc Deep Water Solo

    TNB: Who is the Best Climber in the World?

    By Alison Osius

    Alex at the base of a climb in El Dorado, 1982  "This is my favorite pic of him by far," Jenni Lowe-Anker writes. "I think of him beckoning me like the Pied Piper into a world of adventure." Photo: Lowe-Anker Collection. In 1993 I traveled to Bozeman, Montana, and spent several days with Alex Lowe for a magazine profile. It was a long time ago, but I still chuckle to think of it. I knew he’d earned a cult-like following, that he established the hardest, often unrepeated, ice routes in the country; that he onsighted 5.12+; that in South America he was dubbed the Lung with Legs after a speed ascent of Aconcagua. That he darted around the mountains rescuing people on Denali, Everest, etc., perhaps toting them upslope. In fact, one friend of mine, who with his partner was aided by Alex after a rockfall accident, later proposed fancifully there should be annual reunions of all the people ever rescued by Alex, “complete with picnics and little children playing on the grass.”

    Alex was a gifted athlete, strong at altitude, born with the VO2 max of an Olympian—and the drive of one as well. Alex would carry rocks in hand when hiking, running or guiding. He knew places in airports to go for pull-up fests. Would do dips between twin beds in a motel, or on skis over a snow pit. Jack Tackle maintained a summer cabin by the Lowe family’s in Jackson, Wyoming, and heard the rafters creaking daily as Alex did pull-ups. “I don’t know how Jenni puts up with that shit,” Jack would say fondly of Alex’s patient wife. Alex would often wake at 3 or 4 in the morning, ski a peak or fire up an ice climb, and return by the time his family rose. When I was in Boze, Alex, a few others and I went rock climbing one day, and after we returned to his house Alex quietly slipped out.

    “Oh, he’s probably at the gym,” Jenni said mildly.

    “You think so?” He’d just climbed, after all.

    “I’m sure he is,” she said. (And he was.)

    Saturday, October 5, was the anniversary of Alex Lowe’s and Dave Bridges’ deaths on Shishapangma, 14 years ago. Dave, 29, was a high-altitude videographer, another great mountain athlete, capable of moving with the fast climbers Lowe and Conrad Anker to be able to film them.

    Alex was 40. None of us could believe the loss.

    “I thought he was like James Bond!” I remember Mark Synnott saying. “That things could happen but he was so good and so smart, he’d always find a way out.”

    In the years since, in conversations with climbers, whenever Alex’s name comes up, one line always seems to surface, too.

    “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.” Alex said that.

    I knew at the time of my visit that many considered Alex the best all-arounder in the country, and indeed some of his friends liked to tease him by calling him The World’s Greatest Climber. I asked Alex, in a rather jocular tone, who he thought that person was.

    “The best climber in the world,” Alex mused. I can hear his voice again, hear the pause as he thought. Then he commenced with his now-signature definition.

    After several days, I flew home again, bearing thousands of words of notes, and in time wrote an overlong profile. I let it steep a bit and then started cutting words. When the article went into layout, I had to trim some more.

    It’s hard cutting text: Arthur Quiller-Couch called it “murder[ing] your darlings.” I had put the “best climber” line in the story, but eventually cut it. Plenty in the article attested to Alex’s spirit and charisma, though he was also honest about his dark moods when he couldn’t climb or was out on a trip but pinned by bad weather.

    Alex in England in 1982. Photo: Jenni Lowe-Anker.I needed a caption for a cheerful, colorful shot of him climbing steep ice, and remembered the deleted line. Hmm, I liked that one. I can just put it in here.

    That was the best thing I ever did in climbing and outdoor writing, though I almost missed it. Even running that sentence solely as a photo caption turned out to be better than having it as text, because anyone leafing through a publication tends to read headlines and captions, not necessarily the associated articles.

    Alex Lowe’s three sons, Max, Sam and Isaac, have grown up now. His widow, Jenni, married his best friend and climbing partner, Conrad Anker, who loves the boys and has adopted them, offering love and discipline. Last year I heard a funny story from Conrad about arriving at the Bridger Bowl ski area to see that young Sam had parked his truck halfway into a handicapped spot. Conrad, who carried keys to the vehicle, said, “So I drove it to the lowest lot and parked it there.” Sam arrived to the shock of a missing truck, and was in the lodge reporting its theft when the realization dawned on him … “Dad!” —Conrad. That was the last time Sam made that mistake.

    Max just turned 25, Sam is 21 and Isaac is 17. Max graduated from Westminster College, in Salt Lake, three years ago and is working as a freelance writer, photographer and video editor, living in Bozeman with his brother Sam. He and Conrad climbed Denali together last spring. Sam is a sophomore at Montana State, studying filmmaking. Isaac is a senior at Bozeman High, running cross-country.

    Isaac was only 3 when Alex died, and the only father he knows is Conrad. Yet in an almost compensatory way, Isaac always looked like Alex, with his square face and the lanky build of both parents; and I noticed something else once at a trade show, when I belayed as he took a spin on a climbing wall. Isaac, then about 9, climbed around easily on the overhung surface, without effort stopping in the middle to watch the shenanigans of participants in a pull-up contest. A sweet passage in Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s memoir Forget Me Not, a deeply unusual story of a climber but also a whole life and relationship, talks about how she watched Isaac sleeping on his back with his hands behind his head and elbows in the air, just the way Alex had.

    Family photo, L to R: Max, Isaac, Sam, Jenni, Conrad. Photo: Lowe-Anker Collection.Jenni and Conrad together started the Khumbu Climbing School, to promote Sherpa education and safety, in Alex’s memory. Just this morning as I sat in my office, Dick Jackson, past president of the American Mountain Guides Association, walked in and mentioned having recently seen the school, now a partially completed facility with dormitory and library. “It’s an amazing thing they’ve done,” he said.

    The school has been embraced by the climbing community, with instructors stepping up to teach technical climbing and belaying, anchor building, avalanche safety and medical and rescue training.

    In writing this essay, I e-mailed Jenni to check that I was remembering correctly that she had called Isaac “my last gift from Alex.”

    She e-mailed back right away to say, “Yes, he was the bonus baby. My last gift from Alex.”

    One minute later came another e-mail: “Although in retrospect, I think that Conrad was really my last gift from Alex.”

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