George Lowe, part the final leg of the first Mount Everest climb in 1953, dies at age 89


George Lowe, Sir Edmund Hillary’s New Zealand companion on the Everst ascent, as he arrived at the South Pole to meet Hillary. Lowe, the last surviving climber from the team that made the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, died March 20 at a nursing home in Ripley, England. He was 89. (Associated Press)
March 21, 2013

George Lowe, the last surviving climber from the team that made the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, died March 20 at a nursing home in Ripley, England. He was 89.

His wife, Mary Lowe, confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.

Mr. Lowe and his friend Edmund Hillary were the only two New Zealanders on the 1953 British-led attempt to climb the world’s highest peak.

Mr. Lowe was part of a small group that established the final camp 1,000 feet below the mountain’s summit on May 28, 1953. The next day, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal reached the 29,035 foot peak.

“He and Hillary climbed together through life, really,” said travel writer Jan Morris, who was part of the Everest expedition as a journalist for The Times newspaper.

“And when it came to the point near the summit, George had to play a subsidiary role. He climbed very high, he climbed to top camp and said goodbye to Hillary then helped him come down. He played a very important role.”

Morris said she was now the expedition’s only survivor.

She said Mr. Lowe was “a gentleman in the old sense — very kind, very forceful, thoughtful and also a true adventurer, an unusual combination.”

Hillary, who died in 2008, inevitably got much of the media attention — and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. Mary Lowe said her husband “didn’t mind a bit.”

“He had a wonderful life,” she said. “He did a lot of things, but he was a very modest man, and he kept quiet about it. He never sought the limelight. Ed Hillary didn’t seek the limelight either — but he had it thrust upon him.”

Born in Hastings, New Zealand, in 1924, Mr. Lowe began climbing in the country’s Southern Alps and met Hillary, another ambitious young climber with whom he forged a lifelong bond.

In 1951, he was part of a New Zealand expedition to the Himalayas, and in 1953, he and Hillary joined the British Everest expedition led by John Hunt.

Kari Herbert of Polarworld, which is due to publish Mr. Lowe’s book “Letters From Everest” later this year, said Mr. Lowe’s efforts had been crucial to the expedition’s success.

“He was one of the lead climbers, forging the route up Everest’s Lhotse Face without oxygen and later cutting steps for his partners up the summit ridge,” she said.

Mr. Lowe directed a film of the expedition, “The Conquest of Everest.” He also made “Antarctic Crossing” after participating in the 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the first successful overland crossing of the continent. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in the documentary category.

Mr. Lowe later made expeditions to Greenland, Greece and Ethiopia, taught school in Britain and Chile, lectured on his expeditions and became Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools for England.

He was a founder of the Sir Edmund Hillary Himalayan Trust U.K., a charity set up to support the mountain residents of Nepal.

Mr. Lowe is survived by Mary and by three sons from his first marriage to John Hunt’s daughter Susan.

— Associated Press