Growing up as the son of two of the world’s most renowned alpine and high-altitude mountaineers has been no ordinary childhood. My father, Alex Lowe, was off in the mountains more of than he was around me. On October 4, 1990, seven days before my second birthday, he became the fortieth American to reach the summit of Mount Everest successfully. I flew to Thailand with my mother to meet him, making my first intercontinental travel as a two year old.
I’ve gotten used to meeting people and them asking, “Lowe, like Alex Lowe, the climber?” As I move through life, I’m continually amazed by the people who knew my father and looked up to him, not only for his prowess as a climber, but for his integrity, compassion and life-loving nature as a person. I was first exposed to the magnetic effect he had on people after he died in 1999 in an avalanche on Shishapangma, a peak high in the Tibetan Himalaya. Over the next few months, my family received hundreds of consoling letters from friends, coworkers and even people who had never met Alex, sharing how he had influenced or impacted their life.
To me, he had always just been my dad. Of course he was my hero, but I didn’t know him through his accomplishments as a professional athlete. Early mornings, ski days, practicing violin together and post cards and trinkets I received from far reaches of the globe. I’m always building on who my father was as I meet people he befriended all over the world. Because of this, as well as simply being my dad, he’ll remain an inspiration throughout my life.
In April 2001, my mother, Jennifer Lowe, married Conrad Anker, one of Alex’s best friends and climbing partners. Interestingly enough, Conrad holds a similar position in the climbing community: He’s an esteemed alpinist, owning a large number of first accents and difficult successful summit bids. It was Conrad who secured Alex a position with The North Face all those years back. Having Conrad fill the father position in my life over the last 11 years has been spectacular. We’ve continued traveling the globe as a family, following Conrad to places his adventures have led him. He’s played an integral part in the development of the young man I’ve become. From encouraging me through school and college graduation to helping me develop myself as a photographer, he’s become another hero and mentor.
I also have to give credit to my wonderful mother who, through all the expeditions and months of travel my father’s and stepfather’s jobs demanded, raised me and my two brothers. She is the backbone of our family structure through the chaos of living in a family of professional mountaineers.
Growing up in the shadows of Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker has been a trip and a blessing — definitely not your average American upbringing — but I would have it no other way. My two fathers and my mother have shown me the door to my passion for the outdoors and provided the opportunity to explore the world more deeply than what meets the eye. For that, I thank them.
Max Lowe is a photographer, writer and National Geographic Young Explorer who has been exploring the far reaches of the planet since before he could walk. He has been published in Backpacker magazine, Powder and on Nationalgeographic.com. After completing his Young Explorers Grant project, he served as a photo assistant for National Geographic’s Everest expedition.