The marriage of Conrad Anker and Jenni Lowe grew from the aftermath of a 1999 avalanche that nearly killed Anker and did kill his best friend and Lowe's then husband legendary climber Alex Lowe. The couple, who wed in 2001, have, understandably, been protective of their private lives ever since. But when filmmaker Michael Brown approached them about a documentary on the Khumbu Climbing School a mountaineering clinic they founded to address a lack of training options for Nepal's climbing Sherpas they invited the cameras into their home. The result, The Endless Knot, will premiere at the Boulder International Film Festival in February. JOHN BRADLEY caught up with them recently to find out about their livesand careers.
OUTSIDE: Jenni, when we wrote about Conrad in 2001, you declined to speak with us. What's different now?
LOWE: When the tragedy first happened, I was very vulnerable. And I think there's a natural instinct to protect yourself and your children. But in the years since Alex died, my mother and sister have also died. I see the film as a way of showing that, even after hardships, you can appreciate what you do have and turn it into something good.
Is this school a natural progression of your careers, or is it more a response to your losses in the mountains?
ANKER: Probably a combination. I think, for Jenni, there's obviously the loss and privation. For me, I've been with these guys in the mountains. When they're on a fixed rope, they're incredibly strong. But as soon as they step off, it's a whole new thing.
Was there a defining moment when you started thinking, We have to fix this?
A: When Babu Chiri Sherpa died. He had speed-ascent records, had camped on the summit of Everest, and he died walking into a crevasse. We would never walk on a glacier unroped. It's these preventable deaths we want to stop.
There's a scene in the film in which you discuss the risks of Conrad's climbing. Jenni, you don't hold back.
L: We look at what he's climbing together, all the aspects. But I used to do that with Alex. I know that you can't foresee everything. People die climbing; let's face it. It's a sport where mistakes have a devastating outcome.