Max Lowe has a pedigree for adventure


National Geographic young explorer Max Lowe has an incredible pedigree for adventure. The son of late mountaineering icon Alex Lowe his adoptive father Conrad Anker is one of the leading alpinists in the world. His mother Jenny Lowe Anker is an accomplished painter, author and co-founder with Conrad of the Khumbu Climbing School, which provides the Sherpa people with the skills they need to be competent climbing guides for the many tourists who visit the Himalaya.

Following in the family business Max is creating a name for himself in his own right as a photographer, filmmaker and writer. In 2013 he presented a unique collection of images at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride. In a project funded in part by a National Geographic grant this series of panels depicts the dramatic cultural changes that have occurred in the Khumbu region over the past 50 years during the modern era of professionally guided expeditions and treks into the Nepal. Based on a collection of photographs originally shot by photographer and family friend Gordon Wiltsie in the 1960′s and 70′s these new original portraits and landscapes that Max created illustrate the impact of western civilization on this ancient culture. In this interview with the Clymb he shares a bit of the story behind his artistic passion that continues his family’s legacy.

The Joy Trip Project: Your step-dad Con­rad Anker has a pro­found rela­tion­ship with the Khumbu Region and the Sherpa peo­ple just as your father Alex Lowe did. But what moti­vates you do this kind of work in Nepal?

MAX LOWE: I’ve been going to the Khumbu since I was a child and Alex used to go there to climb. He used to send me post­cards and tell me all these sto­ries of places he went and the moun­tains he climbed, the peo­ple he met. So I’ve known about it all my life. But when Con­rad and Jenny went over there nine or ten years ago they came across this chorten that said “Alex Lowe: Friend” on it. It’s the clos­est thing my father had to a grave. When I heard about it and later saw it in per­son it was really  pow­er­ful and the fact that so many peo­ple knew Alex when he was there and had such a strong con­nec­tion with him that they would build this mon­u­ment to his life in this very beau­ti­ful very unique place it really struck me. It kind of gave me a more inti­mate feel­ing of con­nec­tion to this place. It made me want to go over there and spend a sub­stan­tial amount of time to learn more about the cul­ture and the people.

JTP: Wow, it sounds like that par­tic­u­lar moment in which you became aware of this mon­u­ment to your father was pretty inspi­ra­tional to work that you’re doing now. How does your father’s legacy inform what you do as a writer and photographer?

MAX LOWE:  The sor­row of his dying was a pretty trau­matic expe­ri­ence, one that def­i­nitely changed my life. But I think that was how I was able to see really how big his sphere of influ­ence was. There were just so many peo­ple writ­ing to our fam­ily. Peo­ple we didn’t know at all wrote to us to say how much they admired him, that he inspired them. It really showed me how one per­son could effect change in the world. I want to do the same in my own way. I know he was this big-shot climber but in that since he gave me some­thing to strive for and look for in my own life that I could take away from his.

JTP: So what’s your role going to be? How will you dis­tin­guish your­self in work that is your own?

MAX LOWE: That’s what I’m try­ing to fig­ure out now. I think there is more of a story to share beyond the Khumbu along the lines of how far flung devel­op­ing places get pulled into the mod­ern world. In a big­ger sense, I know that I won’t be the world’s great­est alpin­ist or the world’s best extreme skier or any­thing like that.  But I live in that world as a pho­tog­ra­pher and writer. It makes me feel con­nected to the realm that Alex lived in and Con­rad lives in now that is deeply intwined in my fam­ily his­tory. It gives me this sense of con­nec­tion to things I have felt all my life and I hope to con­tinue work­ing on that.

JTP: Your work now is cer­tainly part of your fam­ily her­itage but since you signed on with National Geo­graphic for this project what kind of prepa­ra­tion went into ded­i­cat­ing your­self to mak­ing it happen?

MAX LOWE: I went over there for the first time with the Khumbu Climb­ing School. That was pretty awe­some. I was younger then and went over with my fam­ily, so I had a sense of what it’s like. I knew I wanted to go back with my par­ents at some point to see the chorten and spend more time with the peo­ple there. I didn’t have the idea of going with this spe­cific project, but I had heard about this grant through a pro­gram that National Geo­graphic did at Mon­tana State Uni­ver­sity and I started think­ing about things I could do to inspire a story within myself and get over to Nepal. I wanted to tell a story that would build me up in my own sense and get away from the whole other story of the Khumbu. With my family’s inti­mate con­nec­tion with the peo­ple there that just came nat­u­rally. I wanted to do some­thing more from the social and cul­tural side.

I did a lot of trekking around. To pre­pare I made sure that I was well enough fit and able to nav­i­gate these high trails. It’s pretty high alti­tude up there and for the most part I was going from vil­lage to vil­lage. It would be as much as a day, a day and a half or a two day walk. And for most of it I was doing it all by myself, which is kind of unad­vis­able for a west­ern tourist. But I felt like I had a grasp on where I needed to be and where I shouldn’t be. It was a bit of phys­i­cal exer­tion. But I wasn’t climb­ing over peaks to the next val­ley. There were well estab­lished trails.

JTP: It sounds like you were trav­el­ing pretty light. What where some of your gear options and chal­lenges while you were there? What was your kit like?

MAX LOWE: I pretty much had every­thing in one back­pack. I did have a bag that I brought up with me to Nam­che by porter. That was my home base. I lived with a fam­ily there and left about half my stuff there when I went out on these for­ays to the smaller vil­lages. I had my cam­era, a Nikon D300s, and two or three lenses depend­ing on what I was doing. I had a lap­top but didn’t usu­ally take that with me on these excur­sions. It gets pretty cold up there so I had a pretty sub­stan­tial lay­er­ing sys­tem, a rain jacket, fleece, a cou­ple of pairs of long under­wear (all North Face brand) and a lit­tle video cam­era I used for doc­u­ment­ing some of my inter­views and some of my more inti­mate expe­ri­ences when I was out on my own.

JTP: Along the way you prob­a­bly had some pretty amaz­ing moments. Can you describe what might have been the most beau­ti­ful moment in your trip?

MAX LOWE: I had a lot of really beau­ti­ful moments by myself. You’re in this amaz­ing land­scape of these epic peaks. Even though there are a lot of tourists there that time of year you can get out on your own. A lot of times I would find myself walk­ing down these val­leys with these huge peaks ris­ing around me with the most beau­ti­ful alpen­glow. There’s such a serene feel­ing being alone in those envi­ron­ments. It’s really soul inspir­ing. That’s a cheesy way to put, but that’s really how it feels.


See Max’s work on his web­site, Max Lowe Media.

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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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