American alpinist and climber Jeff Lowe was suffering from an extremely rare progressive neurodegenerative disease for the last 18 years. He has just passed at a health centre in Colorado, surrounded by friends and family.
A climbing legend, Jeff Lowe made more than 1000 first ascents all around the world. An American alpinist from Utah, Jeff was the co-founder of outdoor equipment company, Lowe Alpine. He brought modern ice climbing from Europe to the United States and was a huge proponent of the alpine style. In 2017, he won the Piolets D’or Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he famously climbed Metanoia, the hardest route on the Eiger.
Suffering from a rare Muscle Neuron Degeneration (MND) similar to ALS, it had left him in a wheelchair, breathing bottled oxygen, coughing through a tracheotomy and eating liquid food through a tube. He required 24/7 nursing supervision.
“Place your confidence in your dreams, not in your nightmares.”
His daughter Sonja Jane posted on his behalf on Facebook: “My father, Jeff Lowe, to put it in his words, “moved on from this material plane to the next” this evening in a peaceful transition.
The last few days were a beautiful whirlwind of laughter, tears, sadness and new friendships. We lived outside the entire time, where my dad always wanted to be, and created our own “base camp” as the wonderful nurses at Lemay Ave Health & Rehabilitation Center lovingly referred to it. We laughed, cried, and honored his life and the many climbs and many lessons he experienced.… and had a 3 day celebratory party, with him as the guest of honor and the one bringing us all together. We all felt this was exactly what Jeff would have wanted, without a question.
The other thing my dad, Jeff, wanted, was to leave behind a legacy for his granddaughter, Valentina, as well as the rest of the world, by sharing his experience on Metanoia not for a profit, but for a purpose-to enlighten others as to what he experienced. To honor his life, achievements, and contributions to both the climbing world and the universe as a whole, and so his beloved granddaughter always remembers him with as much pride as she does today. Love always and forever, The luckiest daughter in the world.”
In an article for The Outdoor Journal, “Khumbu Possibilities”, Jeff shared an excerpt of his upcoming book, detailing remarkable mountain experiences from his life, contemplating the unknowable possibilities that the unknown holds, in the mountains and elsewhere. His ultimate goal was securing access to the wilderness for current and future generations, while protecting and preserving all wild places. Interviewed by journalist Michael Levy, he told him that even with his disease, he is simply doing another “first ascent”. Michael said of his visit, “On that second day at Jeff’s house, he ruminated on the importance of living in the present, being open to all the outcomes, twists and turns that are unforeseeable until they happen”.
The Outdoor Journal Founder and Editor-in-Chief Apoorva Prasad also met Jeff Lowe just weeks prior to his passing, to give him a copy of the magazine with his article. He reflected on the news saying, “before us came giants, and in this age of internet celebrities, I try to remember my true heroes, legends like Jeff who achieved feats amongst the mountains, that mere mortals like myself can only dream of”.
“When Michael and I met Jeff a few weeks ago, he seemed happy to finally get a copy of the magazine, and was thanking me – I told him that it was I who needed to thank him, that I was truly honored to have been able to publish his story, and was really looking forward to reading the rest of the memoirs.” The Outdoor Journal team had been working to release a special online version of the article, to help raise funding for Jeff’s ongoing treatment and medical costs.
“Everyday I’m still in the present, still trying to figure it all out … If you can be in the present moment of your life, you can deal with anything that comes your way,” Jeff said.
After completing the entire length of Uttarakhand in 17 passes, I entered the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh. I had been doing 600-700 km ultra runs through this beautiful state in previous years on lesser-traveled roads in remote valleys. This time I was targetting several passes across the high mountains in three major sections: the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) a wildlife sanctuary and protected biosphere, the Dhauladhar range separating the Kangra plains and Chamba valley, and the Pir Panjal range separating Chamba from Lahaul. As of mid-July, I completed 45 high altitude passes touching 4,600 meters and heavy snow due to unprecedented snowfall this winter.
Climbing above 4,000 meters in early summer meant cutting through steep, frozen snow gullies with my ice axe, opening several passes not yet traversed by anyone or following the fresh trail of the shepherds who had just migrated across some passes. With the Northeast monsoon setting in soon, I’ll be moving next to the high altitude deserts of Lahaul and Zanskar to complete several 5,000-meter plus passes and come back down to Garhwal in Uttarakhand in September once the rains in the lower Himalayas subside.
GHNP is cornered between the high ranges of the Parvati National Park and Kinnaur. Three major rivers flow through this national reserve: the Tirthan, Sainj and Jiwa Nala separated by sharp, steep rising ridges. With no accurate trail info available on the Internet (no blog references meant few people or none have hiked here) I explored all three valleys using a very rough PDF sketch map made available by the tourism office and crossed over through three steep passes. The park has some of the steepest and most inaccessible rock cliffs I have encountered. Losing the trail here meant getting stuck inside near-vertical cliffs.
Once the snow melts on the higher ranges, many young men in Uttarakhand and Himachal go out in search for the “Jungli Nalla”, a high altitude medicinal root which is smuggled across the border from Tibet into China. One kilogram fetches 20 thousand rupees ($300 USD). Spending one and a half months in the mountains provides sufficient income for the rest of the year. While hiking deep inside the GHNP, I came across several villagers digging for both roots as well as large, beautiful rock quartz crystals.
Dhauladhar is a 4,000-meter plus mountain range which rises up steeply from the Kangra plains between Dharamsala and Palampur. Several passes cross over to the beautiful Chamba valley fed by the Ravi river which flows down from the high ranges separating Kullu-Chamba-Lahaul districts. There are several high altitude glacial lakes in the Dhauladhar which are considered holy and visited during an annual late summer pilgrimage by the local people. Most of the lakes were still covered under a thick sheet of frozen snow when I passed by.
I crossed five passes in the Dhauladhar: Baleni, Minkiani, Indrahar, Waru and Gaj pass between 3,800 to 4,300 meters coming across heavy snow at the North facing (less exposure to the sun) Chamba side. The most adventurous was Waru at 3,870 meters, a lesser-known pass used only by shepherds (which means undocumented) where I lost the trail several times. Trying to get back on track, I had to scramble through dense forest and climb down through several side gullies which had cut deeply into the valley slope resulting in several “free solo” moments while climbing down 100-meter plus vertical drops. I survived several breathless and adrenaline rushing moments here until I set a foothold on firm ground again.
The Pir Panjal is a high range of 5,000meter peaks separating the Chenab river valley (geopolitically split across Pangi and Lahaul districts) and Chamba valley. Shepherds from Chamba annually migrate with large herds of 300 to 1,000 sheep and goats across several very steep 4,500 meter passes to graze the high altitude meadows of Pangi and Lahaul which produces better quality milk and meat. They return home only five months later at the end of the summer before the passes close again.
I crossed the Marhu, Darati and Chaurasi passes touching 4,200 to 4,600 meters, all undocumented, following the footsteps of the Gaddis or shepherds who had just crossed over. The most adventurous and scary one is Darati, which is a sheer vertical 1,000-meter rockface that seems impossible to climb at first sight. From steep snow-covered ridges on top of the pass to a labyrinth of narrow passages through steep rock faces, one can only imagine how shepherds traverse these with 500 sheep. About 5% of the sheep do not make it alive to the other side.
I experienced one of the most spellbinding moments in my entire journey so far while I was about to climb up the Chaurasi pass. At exactly the same moment, a massive herd of more than a thousand sheep and goats descended down the snow-covered pass displaying their natural skill to traverse these very steep slopes. They were guided by ten shepherds from Barmour district in Chamba on their way to the fairytale Chaurasi ki dal glacial lake surrounded by lush green meadows dotted with alpine flowers of all colors of the rainbow.
The most memorable moments in these remote valleys of the Himalayas have been my encounters and night stays with the Gujjars, or mountain tribes. Small, remote hamlets far beyond the last villages deep inside the forest, completely disconnected from civilization. These tribals live with their cattle in large beautiful rock and mud shelters built with huge pine tree trunks. They graze their buffaloes, horses, and sheep in the meadows which stay together with them under the same roof. Each and every encounter along my way with these native people has been one of heartwarming hospitality. After a full energy-draining pass crossing, ending up around a warm fire in a mud home eating freshly cooked food with these families who consider you as one of their own is beyond words.
Peter will continue to share his field notes with the hope of inspiring others to explore these beautiful locations. You can read more about Peter’s experiences and motivations in his interview here – Alpine-Style, Ultra-Challenge in the Himalayan High Passes. Stay tuned on The Outdoor Journal for Peter’s next update along his 2,500 km journey.
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