50 Years Of Lowe Alpine An Interview With Jeff Lowe
Image source: Jim Donini
Lowe Alpine was founded by Jeff, Greg & Mike Lowe in 1967. Experienced climbers and mountaineers with an eye for design, the brothers saw the need for a company that made outdoor gear that worked. Lowe Alpine was born.
The Early Years
What age did you start climbing and how were you introduced to it?
I started climbing at 6 years old with my Dad, Ralph Lowe and my older brothers Mike and Greg. My Dad had been climbing since he was a teenager in Idaho. He made regular forays to the Tetons to climb and was good friends with many of the Exum guides and Glenn Exum himself.
What is your earliest memory of climbing?
Bouldering at Pete’s Rock in Salt Lake City with dad, brothers and members of the Wasatch Mountain Club, led by Harold Goodro. Harold led the hardest free climb in the country in 1949 in mountain boots. Three decades later, Goodro’s Wall was listed as 5.10c in the guidebook. Harold was very encouraging to us young boys. Also, in 1957 on the School Room Cliffs, behind our house in Ogden, Utah with my Dad and my brothers. I was excited when I got to go with them for the first time.
Jeff Lowe first solo ascent Bridal Veil Falls 1978. Image source: Willis Wood
Your father introduced you to mountaineering/climbing - how did he influence your early approach to climbing?
My Dad was very safe, all about personal responsibility. He always said we better not get into anything we couldn't get out of ourselves, because no one was coming to rescue us. He helped us understand that ropes and gear don't make a climber safe, but proper use and respect of consequences does. It made us be very careful and really think about our choices. We learned to stretch our abilities as well as know our limits.
Jeff Lowe after 1st ascent of Metanoia, Eiger NF 1991 Image source: Jon Krakauer
What are your earliest memories of adventures in the outdoors as a child?
We went camping from my earliest memories. We rode horses on our ranch, we had campfires and cooked outdoors. We went canoeing and hunting. I loved it all. I did give up hunting when I was 20. I didn't like killing of those beautiful animals, though we did use every bit of meat and the skins too. My Dad was a very responsible and ethical hunter as well. He modeled Great respect and curiosity for all of the creatures and the complex wonders of the earth and heavens.
Equipment And Lowe Alpine
Can you describe your role within Lowe Alpine systems?
I was always a tester and technical advisor, working in-house for a while as sponsored climber liaison, advertising director and 10th Anniversary catalog director/writer/director. It was always Greg and Mike leading the company. I was happy when they allowed me to take the hardware division, add my own designs, and form Latok. We continued consulting with each other on design. A few years later I was happy again when they took over the debt I couldn't finance in return for 100% of Latok shares! Lowe Alpine had thusly acquired a strong legacy of Latok clothing design, which, together with Lowe Alpine’s own worldwide reputation as a leader in innovation and quality in packs, fueled company growth under new U.K. ownership.
Jeff Lowe on Bear Tooth 1984 Latok hat and clothing. Image source: Mark Wilford
What values were most important to you in establishing Lowe Alpine systems?
Creativity, innovation, quality, environmental preservation and lightweight Alpine style ethics on climbs of the future.
What piece of Lowe equipment was the once piece you would never go without?
LAS Tricam 1982. Image source: Jeff Lowe
Was there a backpack from Lowe Alpine that you knew was going to make a difference in your drive to go faster and lighter in the mountains?
Yes, The Specialist – I gave design criteria to Greg and Mike and worked closely with them throughout the development of the pack. I used it on every major alpine climb for more than a decade.
Was there a key route/expedition that you remember using Lowe Alpine packs on that stands out as a key moment in the genesis of the company?
Climbing the West Face of the Grand Teton in winter in 1972.
What are your memories of testing the first expedition pack?
Carrying huge loads into the Wind Rivers in 1969. It was the way they carried that made all the difference.
Thoughts On Life
- That life really is short. Make the most of it.
- Do it now. Tomorrow may never come.
- The end rarely justifies questionable means in climbing or the rest of life.
- The impossible is only that which has not yet been accomplished.
- Real difficulties are greatly eased by a positive attitude.
- Embracing reality sets one free, even if reality is difficult.
- Commitment works magic, conquering fear and despair.
- Boldness is central to creativity. Learning never stops. It's physically, psychically and spiritually dangerous when you think you know it all.
- And, finally, This planet is perfectly designed as a classroom for humans. The dimensions and living architecture of the mountains, polar ice caps, rivers, oceans, jungles, and forests are perfect for extracting every last ounce of effort and creativity from those who approach them with fair means, lightly equipped.
We must not continue to destroy our environment and its ecology. For not only is its well-being tied to its condition, as individuals we learn the most about ourselves by adapting ourselves to its challenges; by an intimate acquaintance with all of its natural laws and forces, both known and yet to be discovered; all of its colors, textures, sights and sounds, smells and tastes; all of its miraculous plants and creatures, and the fantastic pulsating, vibratory balance of the entire system.
Who inspires you?
Budhha, Jesus, Muhammad, great philosophers, mathematicians, explorers, physicists, original thinkers, deep ecologists, visionaries, engineers, artists, musicians, disabled people and their caregivers, breakers of barriers, my family, my friends, the worldwide climbing tribe and too many individual climbers to mention. Humor of all sorts, even humor I don’t get, excepting mean spirited, racist, bigoted, or any humor that seeks to denigrate another human or class of humans. Most of all I’m inspired by the transcendent power of love.
If you could impart one piece of advice to the future generation of mountaineers, what would it be?
Take care of your human relations, the plants and animals, the environment. All of it. Teach by example and proselytize others to care for the planet. Vote responsibly and/or protest peacefully in ways that support your love of the mountains, your family, your tribe and the world.