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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK


Cyber reports of mountain tragedy

Alex Lowe, who died on 5 October

Days after a massive avalanche in Tibet claimed the lives of world reknowned alpinist Alex Lowe and cameraman Dave Bridges, surviving team members are posting reports on the Internet from the mountainside.

The seven remaining members of the 1999 American Shishapangma Ski Expedition have posted reports that their dead team mates "are locked in the ice within eyesight of us and there is nothing we can do about it".

The bulletins on poignantly bring together the two worlds in which one of the dead men, Alex Lowe, pioneered.

Worldwide following

The 40-year-old American alpinist, from Bozeman, Montana, made numerous first ascents, and was well known for his use of the Internet to broadcast his adventures and achievements.

It also gained him sponsorship and a worldwide cyber following.

Dave Bridges, 29, of Aspen, Colorado, was one of three cameramen documenting the expedition to the world's 14th highest mountain, which would have involved the team skiing back down again.

[ image: Mount Shishapangma, from where the remaining alpinists are filing Internet bulletins]
Mount Shishapangma, from where the remaining alpinists are filing Internet bulletins
He was also a USA national paragliding champion and an experienced mountaineer.

Team leader Andrew McLean described as a "massive avalanche" struck the upper slopes above the base camp on 5 October. It engulfed and killed the two men.

He filed on 7 October: "Hello Mountain Zone, this is Andrew McLean calling from ABC on Shishapangma.

'We've given up on Alex and Dave'

"We've had a rough couple of days. Roughly 30 hours ago on October 5, 1999, at about 9.20am Nepal time, tragedy struck our expedition.

"Alex Lowe, David Bridges and Conrad Anker got caught in the middle of an exposed slope by a massive avalanche that started about 6000 feet above them.

"Conrad survived with head and torso injuries, but after 20 hours of searching through one to 20 feet of debris we've given up on Alex and Dave as dead."

His report for 11 October, at 5.44pm Nepal time, reads: "It's been snowing on and off, so the tent floor is covered with mud, sand and bits of water-soaked paper.

"There are three days worth spilled coffee grounds, empty water bottles, dead batteries, plates of half-eaten food, wet socks, spent Gaz canisters, barf-stained sleeping bags and overlapping sleeping pads.

"Most of the talk is revolving around what to do next, what has happened, and where we are going to do in the next week or so.

'Locked in the ice'

"The unreal part of it is that two of our friends are locked in the ice within eyesight of us and there is nothing we can do about it. It's a very sad and frustrating experience."

[ image: Reports from base camp] Reports from base camp
Team member Hans Saari adds: "Today we are heading back to Base Camp. The avalanche which hit 48 hours ago seems like a dream, but there are only seven of us now and that is the cruel reminder.

"Last night was somewhat therapeutic. We all stayed in the two-metre dome tent and told stories of our two friends until the wee hours of the morning.

"We can all feel the pressure from the media and it is making life tough. I can only hope that people are kind and respectful."

The world's best

Lowe was regarded by some as the world's best climber. Many people's admiration for him was inspired by his willingness to talk to other climbers about his feats.

Typical of him, it has been said, was a ring binder he left at a Montana mountaineering shop, inviting any ice climbers to add comments about their experiences.

Joel Lee, manager of the shop, said that Lowe would be as prepared to swap stories about climbs 25 miles from home as he was to tell the media about his experiences on the world's great peaks.

"Basketball fans don't get to play basketball Michael Jordan," he said. "With Alex, it was different."

Strength and stamina

The climbing community was stunned by news of the death of Lowe - whom it called the "Lungs with legs" in recognition of his strength and stamina.

In 1995, a year when six climbers died on Mount McKinley, he was involved in several rescues, said J.D. Swed, chief mountaineering ranger for the National Park Service in Talkeetna, Alaska.

"He literally, single-handedly saved several people. He picked one guy up who had frozen hands and feet and couldn't move and was literally inches from death."

Lowe played down the event, though. "It was one of those things you do because you have to do it, one of those Herculean things where you get a lot of adrenaline going and you just do it," he said.

Excited and happy

National Geographic photographer Gordon Wiltsie, who climbed with Lowe in Antarctica and on Baffin Island, said the Tibetan mountainside was probably an appropriate place for Lowe.

"I think that moments before this happened, he was probably immensely excited and happy," he said.

Lowe is survived by his wife, artist and fellow climber Jennifer Leigh Lowe. They had three children - Max, 10; Sam, 6; and Isaac, 3.

An Internet appeal for a memorial fund has been set up to support them.

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