Aspenite Dave Bridges, Alex Lowe die in slide
Aspenite Dave Bridges and fellow climber Alex Lowe are presumed dead today after they were buried in an enormous avalanche on 26,291-foot Shishapangma in Chinese Tibet at 9:30 a.m. (Tibet time) yesterday.
Bridges, 29, co-owner of Aspen Paragliding and an accomplished climber who summited Makalu (Earth’s fifth tallest mountain) last spring, and Lowe, 40, of Bozeman, Mont., were part of the nine-man “Shishapangma 1999 American Ski Expedition,” according to MountainZone.com. The web site has been broadcasting expedition dispatches on the Internet. The men were searching out a summit ascent route on the peak when the slide occurred.
Lowe, who was a longtime member of The North Face’s elite climbing team, was one of America’s most accomplished climbers, having just this summer completed a first-ever accent of the northwest face of the 20,618-foot Great Trango Tower in Pakistan, a vertical slab of granite. Lowe also summited Mount Everest twice, among other notable climbs.
The expedition team hoped to climb Shishapangma, Earth’s 14th tallest mountain, and then upon reaching the summit, attempt a skiing descent. It would have been a first for American mountaineers. Bridges was part of a three-man film crew that was documenting the climb for the Aspen-based American Adventure Productions, and later for an NBC series titled “The North Face.”
Tuesday morning, the expedition had divided into two teams at their 18,000-foot advance base camp in order to search for a challenging route up the mountain’s south face, according to reports attributed to expedition members on MountainZone.com. At about 19,000 feet, with the two teams located on separate sides of a glacier, climbers spotted the beginnings of the avalanche. Immediately, they dispersed to get clear of its path as it traveled 6,000 feet down toward them, according to MountainZone.com.
The three-man team of Lowe, Bridges, and famed mountaineer Conrad Anker, who was a member of this spring’s Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition on Mount Everest, were caught in the path of the massive slide, according to Aspenite John Wilcox, president and senior producer of American Adventure Productions. He spoke with expedition members via satellite phone yesterday.
“They looked up and saw it coming, and basically David and Alex were consumed by it,” Wilcox said. Anker was thrown 100 feet and partially buried by the slide, but he was not seriously injured, according to MountainZone.com.
“They all ran like hell once they saw it coming, and Conrad just got to the fringe of it and got blasted,” Wilcox said. “The two other guys didn’t make it clear.”
Other expedition members on the mountain managed to avoid the slide, though several were slightly injured by the wind blast, according to MountainZone.com.
Expedition members, as well as several Sherpas there to support the expedition, searched extensively for the two missing men but were unable to locate them, Wilcox said.
“They searched all day and into the evening, when it turned to solid ice,” he said. “Almost immediately after the slide, you couldn’t make tracks on it, it was so solid.”
“Those three were probably the strongest climbers on the expedition,” said Wilcox. “They were probably looking at a route that was more difficult, hence their position when the avalanche struck.”
Wilcox said the climbers did not trigger the avalanche. “It was totally unexpected,” he said, “though there was some snow the night before and some wind loading … they were being cautious. There are some things that are beyond your control and I think this is one of them.”
Wilcox said the expedition has been called off as a result of the accident. “They’re not going to continue on,” he said. “They will probably do a puja ceremony – a Buddhist ceremony that’s done to bless the gods of the mountain – and we believe they’re going to do one in the morning for these two guys.”
Wilcox said conditions on the mountain would likely prohibit the recovery of the two men’s bodies.
“The expedition certainly isn’t going to try and recover the bodies,” he said. “We know Alex had expressed the desire to be left, if this were ever to happen to him on a mountain. Also, they don’t feel that recovery is possible, between the altitude, the time and the wishes of everybody. It would just be too dangerous.
“David was a well-accomplished mountaineer, and recently on the Makalu expedition, he summited and also provided all the [film] coverage, so he was really developing his career as a filmmaker as well as his career as a climber,” Wilcox said.
Bridges was a two-time national paragliding champion, and at 29, he was already a veteran of eight expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram and had summited Annapurna IV, Ama Dablam, Baruntse and Makalu. In 1994, he was the leader of the successful American K-2 South Spur Expedition.
Bridges is survived by his parents and a brother. Lowe is survived by his wife Jennifer and their three boys.
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