Jeff Lowe — a pioneering alpinist, outdoor gear inventor and innovative ice climber who hailed from Ogden — died late Friday, Aug. 24 in Colorado.
Lowe was born in Ogden on Sept. 13, 1950 to Ralph and Elgene Lowe, the fourth of eight children (the siblings later discovered a half-sister in 2014). Adventure ran through his blood. Lowe first ascended Wyoming's Grand Teton at seven years old with his father and brothers, Mike and Greg. At 14, he climbed and camped out on Mount Ogden alone and made the alleged first ascent of its east face.
He co-founded outdoor company Lowe Alpine with his brothers, where he helped design lightweight jackets, packs and climbing gear.
As an adult, he racked up hundreds of first ascents all around the world, including the first solo ascent of Switzerland's Eiger. He said the climb changed his life.
“I had a vision of death on the Eiger, and it looked like living to me,” he told the Standard-Examiner in 2014.
Lowe named the route "Metanoia."
In 2002, he returned to Ogden to care for his aging mother and helped drive the city's transformation from a run-down rail town to a thriving outdoor destination. Soon, however, he became beleaguered by a mysterious disease that slowly stripped him of his mobility.
Lowe didn't let it get him down.
"He said he had a transformative experience up on the Eiger and I think he lived it," said Jock Glidden, Lowe's longtime friend. "He was able to transform his stricken condition into a harmony with others and the universe."
Glidden and Lowe traveled to the Soviet Union in 1974 on the first American Expedition to the Pamir Mountains. Around a decade ago, Glidden took Lowe on one of his final climbs — up the Needles at Snowbasin.
"We took the lift up on a Sunday, had breakfast, then we had about a 20-minute hike to the beginning of an easy rock climb," Glidden recalled.
By then, Lowe's disease had taken a toll. He moved slowly. Glidden had to carry most of the gear.
"All the way along there were wildflowers. It was beautiful," he said. "Jeff turned around and said, 'Jock, we’d make faster progress if it weren’t for these darn flowers.'"
Many friends remember Lowe for his bravery, his sense of adventure, but also his wit.
"He was an optimist to the core," said Amy Wicks. "Even when it was getting harder for him to communicate ... and he typed on an iPad, you could tell when he was typing something he was going to say something funny. The corners of his mouth would turn up, you knew he was going to tell a joke."
Wicks met Lowe when she was serving on the Ogden City Council. Lowe approached them with an idea to bring a year-round ice climbing tower to help establish its rebranding as an outdoor destination.
The two formed a friendship. Lowe didn't get his ice tower, but he did make significant contributions to the local climbing community. He cleaned up crags. He established the Ogden Climbing Festival. He developed the Via Ferrata, which helped open the sport to novices.
"I think if not for Jeff and Jeff’s family being here and planting those seeds, we may not have many of those things," Wicks said, who continued visiting Lowe after he moved back to Colorado in 2013.
Lowe also inspired a new generation of climbers.
"To this day, there are things he did that continue to hold a lot of respect in climbing circles," said Ogden climber Shad Burnham. "It’s easy to look back on people from 50 years ago and say 'Wow, they did something incredible.' Jeff did incredible things, even by today’s standards."
Notable among Lowe's many climbs was his first ascent of Colorado's "Octopussy," where he's credited for introducing the concept of "mixed" ice climbing. Lowe used ice tools to climb rock, then transition onto a massive tentacle of hanging ice.
Lowe continued to defy expectations by adapting and surviving his debilitating disease.
"He’s been known so famously for all his climbs, as this amazing guy, yet his family ... we just think of him as our funny, fun-loving brother, Jeff," said Lowe's sister Lil Contos. "He’s inspired us more so through his illness than through his climbing. We’ve been able to see what a strong individual he is."
Many friends attribute his longevity in part to the care of his former partner, Connie Self. The two were together for nearly a decade, only separating in the last year.
"As Jeff lost his abilities, often times people looked at him and thought 'Oh, if I get to that point it’s just not worth living,'" Self said. "Jeff used to say 'It’s more worth living now.' He understood more what real love is, how important the planet is. His inner life got bigger as his outer life got smaller. I saw that a lot."
Self produced a film about Lowe's life in 2015, called "Metanoia" after his transformative ascent of the Eiger.
Lowe's life had plenty of lows along with the highs. He at times floundered when it came to professional and personal relationships. When he returned to Ogden in 2002, he was also leaving behind a marriage, a failed business and alienated friends.
“I overdid it in some ways,” Lowe told the Standard-Examiner in a 2014 interview. “I could have maintained better balance. If I had done that, I might have had an easier life but still enjoyed climbing.”
Lowe's illness, which has been compared to ALS, seemed to spur a change in his personal life. He reconnected with his estranged daughter and granddaughter. He started a relationship with Self. He became involved with his local communities.
"Jeff was very generous with himself. Not all famous climbers are that way," Self said. "I think that’s one of the things that coming from Ogden gave him. It gave him a certain humility that he really kept. He could be as arrogant as anyone in certain arenas or certain times, but it wasn’t his personality."
While Self regrets the falling out she had with Lowe over the past year, they were able to reconnect shortly before his death.
"He’s still the love of my life, even if I didn’t get to live with him for his last year," she said. "I’m glad he’s free of his physical limitations."
Lowe passed away peacefully in the outdoors — his dying wish — on a patio at a long-term care facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. He was surrounded by family and friends.
"I'm very relieved he’s no longer in pain and he doesn’t have any restrictions on him now, he’s free,” said Lowe's sister Gretchen Fluhart. “He can go climb wherever he wants.”