National Geographic Young Explorer Max Lowe has a Pedigree for Adventure

max-lowe-featuredNation­al Geo­graph­ic Young Explor­er Max Lowe has a pedi­gree for adven­ture. He is 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 of adven­ture, Max is cre­at­ing a name for him­self 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 in Nepal. Based on a col­lec­tion of pho­tographs orig­i­nal­ly shot by pho­tog­ra­ph­er and fam­i­ly friend Gor­don Wilt­sie in the 1960s and 70s, these new orig­i­nal por­traits and land­scapes that Max cre­at­ed illus­trate the impact of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion on an ancient cul­ture. In this inter­view with The Clymb, Max shares the sto­ry behind his artis­tic pas­sion that con­tin­ues his fam­i­ly’s legacy.

James Edward Mills: 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.

James Edward Mills: 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.

James Edward Mills: 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.

James Edward Mills: 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. 

James Edward Mills: 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.

James Edward Mills: 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.