“Torn” is a heartbreaking look at Alex Lowe’s long shadow

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If you follow the escalation you are aware of the Alex Lowe tragedy. The mountain climber from Montana, 40, was a star of his generation, referred to as a mutant and “the secret weapon” by his climbing partners and those on his resume. And then, just like that, in October 1999, he died in an avalanche on the south face of the 26,335-foot Shishapangma, along with cameraman David Bridges. Lowe’s death rocked the climbing world and made national news. He left behind a wife, Jennifer, and three young boys – Max, 10, Sam, 7, and Isaac, 3 – in Bozeman.

The climber descends to earth

This Out Conrad Anker’s profile was published in 2001, a year and a half after the death of Alex Lowe. It’s an intimate look at the fortuitous, tumultuous and almost unbearable success of the legendary mountaineer.

Read the classic

Mountaineering is brutally effective in converting strong, united families into grieving widows and traumatized children, but what happened next raised the story to the level of a myth. In less than a year, Conrad Anker, Lowe’s wild and noisy climbing partner, who barely survived the deadly avalanche, moved in with Jennifer. They got married and Anker helped raise the three boys as if they were his own. It seemed like the tabloid business: Did Alex and Conrad have some kind of death pact? Were Conrad and Jennifer lovers before the accident? Could Conrad even be domesticated? In a way, however, it all worked.

Jennifer lowe anker (Photo: Courtesy of National Geographic / Max Lowe)

This story has been told countless times, in magazines, movies and books, including the memoir of Jennifer Lowe-Anker in 2009. Do not forget me– and now comes the documentary Torn, directed by Alex and Jennifer’s eldest son, Max. It hit select theaters earlier this month and begins airing on Disney + on February 4. In the film, the now 33-year-old Max trains his camera on the Lowe-Ankers, and we watch the key transformational event in the family history being treated in a way that suggests she was left behind. largely unresolved over the past two decades. “I really feel in conflict to bring it all to the surface for all of you,” Max told his brother Sam at the start of the film. There’s enough luggage here to tip a yak, and watching them unpack makes for a raw sight.

The film is beautifully put together, drawing on a vast treasure trove of uncovered footage, home movies, and expedition videos shot at the height of pro adventure, when really fit guys (most) could. to earn a living only by rising to the top of the most difficult world. climb. In vintage images, athletes wear fleece vests and Capilene headbands. Anker is not yet the shriveled dean of the North Face, but rather plays Lowe’s second violin.

In the first years after the tragedy, Anker admits, he was plagued by the survivor’s guilt and needed an outlet for his pain. “It was love,” he says. Alex would haunt both Conrad and Jennifer. “I dreamed that Alex would come back and say to me, ‘What is this, Conrad is right here? “She said. But if Anker had doubts about his decision to become a father, he doesn’t show it.

Anker, now 59, has never curtailed his climbing ambitions: he has since become a living mountain legend, largely simply by surviving when so many great climbers failed to return. The movie doesn’t mention his many close calls over the years, and it downplays how he continued to push the boundaries, including leading not one but two grueling expeditions to Meru’s shark fin, in northern India, in 2008 and 2011. In 2016, Anker suffered a heart attack 20,000 feet on the Lunag Ri in Nepal. (David Lama, the brilliant young Austrian mountaineer who was Anker’s partner, mentee and rescuer on this climb, died in the mountains three years later, along with two other talented North Face mountaineers: Jess Roskelley and Hansjörg Auer.)

More complicated is Anker’s relationship with Max, who at the time of Alex’s death was the only son old enough to have formed a lasting bond with him. In the months leading up to his death, Alex first took Max on the Grand Teton and asked him if he thought it was the right choice to attempt the ski descent of Shishapangma, the expedition that gave him ultimately took his life. “I told him I understood he had to,” recalls Max.

One of the revelations of the film is that Max wasn’t always so inclined to think of Anker as his father; he was the only family member who did not change his last name to Lowe-Anker. To the outside world, Anker’s devotion to the family seemed like an act of love rooted in a mixture of benevolence, grief and guilt. But for a young Max who was missed by his father, Anker’s time in the family home wasn’t necessarily a cause for celebration. Part of Max’s journey in the film is coming to terms with the gift Anker would become in his life.

At one point, Max said to his mother, “As a result of something so overwhelming, I can’t imagine coming out of it so quickly as you did.” In truth, young children don’t realize how intimidating it can be raising three boys as a single mom. Some of the film’s sweetest moments come when Jennifer lets Max talk about the things mothers tend to hide from their children. “I won’t let the painful end… be the end of my heart’s opening,” she told him.

With that in mind, the film answers a puzzling question I’ve always had about the Lowe-Anker saga: why would Jennifer have cast her lot for the second time with the alpha male type who’s got her? had given up so decisively before? The answer comes when the family is forced to confront Alex’s ghost directly. In 2016, the bodies of Lowe and Bridges finally emerged from the glacier in which they had been trapped. As they lay Lowe down, it becomes clear that Jennifer is the force that keeps the family together, with a rare blend of purpose and intuition. When men don’t know what to do, they turn to her for guidance. And in this way, Jennifer brought not just three boys into adulthood, but four.

About Ethel Partin

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