It was recently announced that Jeff Lowe will be receiving the 2017 Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual ceremony in France this April.
Lowe was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1950, and started climbing with his father at 6 years old, according to the biography on his website, jeffloweclimber.com. He was one of the early climbers to realize the potential of Zion National Park’s sandstone big walls, where he established an untold number of first ascents, and went on to pioneer groundbreaking routes around the world that were ahead of their time, such as the near success and subsequent epic on the North Ridge of Latok I (7145m) in 1978 with Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy and George Lowe (the North Ridge remains unclimbed and no one has yet reached the 1978 high point a mere three pitches from the summit); and Lowe’s solo first ascent of Metanoia (VII 5.10 M6 A4, 1800m) on the Eiger North Face in 1991, which waited 25 years for a second ascent this last December. Lowe was also an innovator of equipment and techniques. He is credited for sparking the age of modern mixed climbing with his first ascent of Octopussy (M8) in Vail, Colorado, in 1994. Lowe’s vision continued with the first ascent of Deep Throat (WI6 M7, 600′) in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, in 1997 with Will Gadd–another testpiece that has only seen a few ascents in the last 20 years.
In addition to his multitude of world-class ascents and gear design, Lowe produced a series of instructional and/or motivational books and films, and created quite a few special events, such as climbing competitions and art/film festivals.
In the early 2000s Lowe started having issues with balance and coordination. Doctors eventually diagnosed him as having an “unknown neurodegenerative process.” He has been confined to a wheelchair and in hospice care since 2012. His website reads: “Leave it to Jeff Lowe to do a first ascent in the disease department! His symptoms are progressive and similar to that of MS and ALS.”
Lowe has remained positive in spite of his condition, expressing gratitude for his life. He is quoted on his website: “These days I am often asked if it doesn’t feel especially unfair to be stricken in this way when my life was so centered on the exact physical and mental abilities that are now so diminished, or completely gone. Although I do miss those things, instead of feeling bitter over the loss, I can’t help but be forever grateful for the gift of fifty fantastic years. Whatever time I get from here on is gravy. I’ll continue to ‘Have fun, work hard, and get smart’ to the best of my abilities.”
The Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement award was first bestowed on Walter Bonatti in 2009 and is also known as the Walter Bonatti Award. Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Robert Paragot, Kurt Diemberger, John Roskelley, Chris Bonnington, Wojciech Kurtyka are the other recipients in chronological order.