December 11, 1978
In August 48-year-old Jeff Lowe will attempt to go where no man has gone before. Starting at the base of Mount Meru, a three-summited peak in India, he'll dig his spiked heels into the 22,500-foot granite-and-ice mountain. No one has made it up Shark's Fin, the highest of the three peaks, but Lowe's r�sum� suggests he will.
Lowe, a Colorado native who was skiing at four, has been ascending the tallest mountains for more than 40 years. "A basketball player from 20 years ago," Lowe says, "is probably not still performing at the same level. I am climbing at a really high standard." Having stood atop the Himalayas and the Alps, it was his 1978 solo climb up frozen Bridalveil Falls in the rugged San Juan Mountains near Telluride, Colo., that etched Lowe into the history books. In '74 Lowe and friend Mike Weis had been the first climbers to make it up the 40-story column of ice. Four years later Lowe met the challenge alone.
Lowe has retained an almost mythic status among ice climbers. He has written or co-authored three books, made two instructional videos and is a consultant on climbing equipment design. In 1997 he was instrumental in bringing ice climbing to the Winter X Games. ESPN wanted to include the event in the inaugural games at Snow Summit in Big Bear Lake, Calif., but the 60� temperatures there made it difficult to create frozen waterfalls. After a few days of brainstorming, Lowe helped design a refrigerated ice tower, and ice climbing went X-treme.
In 1996 Lowe and his wife, Teri Ebel, started the Ouray ( Colo.) Ice Festival, an event that attracts nearly a thousand climbers each January to raise money to maintain and lease Ouray's no-fee ice-climbing park. The first festival raised around $5,000 in contributions. This year Lowe, who lives in Nederland, Colo., just 25 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, expects sponsorships from outdoor-gear companies to bring in $20,000. "It's probably the biggest gathering of its type," Lowe says. "We have climbers from around the world come here for this one weekend."
Soon Lowe plans to launch Cloud Walker, a company that will design equipment and clothing to meet the needs of experienced climbers. "I never did end up getting any skills that are marketable in a traditional sense," says Lowe, who finished just three years of college, "but I have used my knowledge of the mountains, and I have no regrets."