THEY are best friends – two stars of the extreme sports world who have done bungee jumping – jumping off mountains and clinging to dizzying cliffs with one hand.
Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker thought they would never be separated – until an avalanche engulfed them and only one of them survived.
But while Conrad escapes with his life, he also continues to step into a dead man’s shoes – marrying Alex’s widow and becoming the “father” of his three children, to his horror. people in the climbing community.
Alex’s eldest son, Max, 33, has now made a touching documentary about the trauma his family has endured – and the extraordinary way one man slowly takes over his life. his dead best friend.
Max now calls Conrad “Dad” and calls his biological father Alex.
In an exclusive interview with The Sun ahead of the release of Torn on Friday, he said: “How my mother and Conrad came together after Alex’s death and their choices and the controversies surrounding it. their marriage in the climbing community – those are tough for her to talk about. “
In 1999, Alex, then 40, and Conrad, then 36, were trying to slide down Tibet’s 26,000ft-high Mount Shishapangma – the first Americans to do so – when disaster struck.
As well as taking Alex’s life, the avalanche killed their cameraman.
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Beaten and bloody, Conrad – the sole survivor – had to phone Alex’s wife Jenni to tell her her husband wasn’t coming home.
What made that call all the more difficult was knowing that Alex wished he’d taken his three young sons to Disneyland rather than completing the expedition to advertise an outdoor clothing label.
Suffering from the guilt of the survivor, Conrad wondered what he could do for Alex.
The climber, now 59, not only takes the grieving boys to the amusement park, but also becomes a shoulder for Jenni, Alex’s wife.
After three months, the couple found their passion growing – and within two years, they were married.
Conrad was engaged to a climber at the time of Alex’s death.
His decision to step into his dead friend’s residence led to so much bitterness for the climbers – so much so that the pair received hate letters.
And while Jenni’s two youngest sons, Isaac and Sam, want Conrad to be their father, her eldest finds it difficult to accept.
Max, then 10 years old, said: “When Alex was killed, my trust was broken. I always trusted that he would come home and when he died that day I understood death and I was still a child too.
“In my child’s mind, I trust that everything will be okay in the end. That father will return home from his adventure, where I look to him to live.
‘WHEN ALEX IS KILLED, MY TRUST IS LOST’
“When he passed away, I didn’t know how to extend that trust in all my relationships.”
When he first met Alex, the artist Jenni thought he was a “wild man” so hungry for adventure that he would wake up before dawn to explore a mountain.
She doesn’t expect the relationship to last, but immediately says yes when he asks her to get married.
Alex was nicknamed The Lungs With Legs and The Mutant due to his incredible stamina – and he put it to work to save lives when he carried an injured climber off a mountain in Alaska in 1995.
His daring reputation earned him a contract with outdoor clothing brand North Face, making him one of the first people to make a living as an adrenaline athlete.
Conrad, who joined him on the team, said: “I was in Alex’s shadow.” Videos of the couple defying death at high altitude were shared on the internet and their fame skyrocketed.
Max explains: “Conrad and Alex were some of the first professional athletes to enter the climbing game.
“They get paid because these brands have realized that they can associate their products with names that are doing things that have never been done before.
“The extreme sports world is a goal-driven space – you want to keep pushing your game.”
But going on expeditions as far away as Antarctica and the Himalayas means Alex has very little time to spend with his family in Bozeman, Montana.
He always carries a photo of his three sons and Jenni with him and misses them on his travels. Alex, though, is like a “cage animal” when he’s at home for too long.
“He’s angry and frustrated when he doesn’t get to this next thing,” Max said.
Mount Shishapangma has claimed the lives of 31 climbers – and Conrad described the idea of skiing down it in October 1999 as “crazy”.
It was during a reconnaissance trip up the 26,335ft rock with cameraman David Bridges, 29, that disaster struck.
“We looked up and there was an avalanche,” Conrad said.
“David and Alex went in one direction and I went in the other. Snow picked me up and I thought, ‘I’m going to die today.’ ”
Despite a head injury, two broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder, Conrad managed to pull himself out of the snow and return to camp to sound the alarm.
He led a 20-hour search to find his friends, but without a beacon it proved futile.
For the first few days, Jenni had raised hopes that her husband would come back to life because “he’s Superman.”
The loss of his best friend made Conrad feel suicidal and wish he was the one who died on the harsh mountainside.
Vowing to take care of Alex’s family, he drives to their home for Christmas and tries to comfort the boys.
Sam, four years younger than Max, was quick to ask Conrad, “Will you be my dad?” – but the eldest was not very interested in his constant presence.
Max was saddened to see his mother and Conrad kissing in their family home just three months after his father passed away.
He tells his mother in the film, “I can’t imagine how you can get out of it so quickly as you did.”
Jenni said of her relationship with Conrad, she said: “Being close to him, it felt like being close to Alex. It feels like an old shoe.”
Critics say their wedding ceremony in Italy just two years after Alex’s death is premature – and Max says it took him a few years to accept Conrad as his father, too.
He said he wondered, “Perhaps he’s stuck with us because of survivor’s guilt?”
‘THIS WEDDING WEDDING LABEL HAS BEEN OFF HIS INSTANTLY’
Max explains: “My life overlaps with Alex’s more and Sam has accepted this life with Conrad as his life.
“More than me, he left Alex behind and held a grudge against Alex.”
The bitterness towards their deceased father came from a feeling that he should never have left them to go on a dangerous adventure.
Max said: ‘It’s disheartening because the choices he’s made have put us in a position where he exists as a story for our entire lives, something we largely don’t have a hand in. .
“Everybody knew we were this man’s son that we barely even knew.”
Isaac, who was three when his father died, doesn’t remember him at all.
Even after Max recognized Conrad as his father, the old wounds resurfaced in 2016 when a climber spotted two colored dots on Mount Shishapangma.
The melting snow revealed Alex and David’s final resting place.
The family flew to Tibet to stay there when the body was taken off a stretcher.
Due to the freezing temperature, their remains have not decomposed for 17 years.
Jenni decided that she needed to look back at her dead husband, who had pressed the wedding ring to her heart.
She said: “I pulled it off his finger. That is the most difficult thing. I put it on my arm and put mine in his. ”
Just a few months later, Conrad suffered a heart attack at 20,000ft while clinging to an ice wall in the Himalayas. With the help of his climbing teammates, he survived and was taken to the hospital.
Even that didn’t stop Conrad from giving up expeditions in cold climates. “It’s similar to Alex in that I know he wouldn’t be himself to us if he stopped doing it,” Max said.
Although he enjoys skiing, mountain climbing and mountain biking, the filmmaker is not as adventurous as his father and stepmother.
“Growing up in the mountains, there’s nothing like knowing you’re close to death and then surviving,” says Max.
“I certainly didn’t push as hard as Alex and Conrad did.
“I know the end is clear – when you lose that deal and the consequences for what you leave behind.”
- Torn (12A) hits theaters tomorrow
Brave… or just crazy?
- In 1992, with fellow mountaineer Jay Smith, he became the first person to climb Mount Craddock, the third highest mountain in Antarctica.
- Anker has reached the summit of Everest three times. The third time he did it without extra oxygen and the second time he donned a tweed jacket and hoofed boots in a re-enactment of his 1924 climb to the world’s tallest mountain. George Mallory.
- In 2016 he extended the 1,500ft high Shark’s Fin granite wall on India’s 21,000ft Meru Peak – never before done
- Climb for the first time the northwest face of the 20,623ft Great Trango Tower in Pakistan – a treacherous vertical slab of granite
- He’s been to Mount Everest twice – in 1990 and 1993
- In 1993, Alex beat Conrad to summit Khan-Tengri Peak 22,972ft in Kyrgyzstan in record time. The old record for going up was 14 hours 30 minutes, but Alex did it after ten hours and eight minutes, ahead of Conrad 12 hours 13 minutes.
https://www.thesun.ie/news/8233964/alex-lowe-death-conrad-anker/ My dad’s best friend saw him die in the mountains