Lifetime Achievement Piolet d’Or Awarded to George Lowe

For their annual awards, the Piolet d’Or organizers drew attention to 53 expeditions from 2022. They also select a lifetime achievement award, and this year American climber George Lowe will take home the prize.

George Lowe is a cousin of Greg and Jeff Lowe, though perhaps not so well known. He accomplished some historic and strikingly beautiful new routes, from Alaska to Everest.

Lowe roamed the great ranges looking for big walls and massive iced-up faces during the 60s and 70s when the Himalaya and Karakoram were wild and lonely.

A titan of climbing

Michael Kennedy, who teamed up with Lowe for multiple climbs, described him as a “titan” who excelled at every aspect of climbing.

“From bold winter ascents during the late 1960s in the Tetons of Wyoming and ground-breaking new routes in the early 1970s on Mount Alberta and North Twin in the Canadian Rockies, through a new route on Everest [and the first ascent of the eastern, Kangsung face] in 1983, and a solo ascent of Dhaulagiri in 1990, George has always exhibited a commitment to technical difficulty, small teams, and excellent style, as well as a fine-tuned sense of the great risks – and immense rewards – fundamental to operating in the alpine environment,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy joined Lowe for perhaps his most acclaimed route, the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker. It was a “climb that forever transformed my understanding of what is possible for a team of two in the great mountains of the world,” Kennedy said. Right before, the two had grabbed the first ascent to the north face of Mount Hunter.

In addition, the Piolet d’Or jury chose to focus on Lowe’s 1974 climb of the north face of North Twin in the Canadian Rockies. Together with Chris Jones in alpine style, Lowe spent seven days on the face.

“Canadian Barry Blanchard, no mean alpinist himself, described this face as a sheer black wall of north-facing limestone, steeper than the Eiger, one and half times the height of El Capitan, and the hardest in the Rockies,” the Piolet d’Or organizers wrote.

Latok I from Base Camp.

Latok I from Base Camp. Photo: Josh Wharton


One of Lowe’s most celebrated climbs didn’t end in summit success, his attempt on the spectacular north face of Latok I.

“Jim Donini, Michael Kennedy, George, and his cousin Jeff Lowe spent 21 days climbing over 100 pitches above the Choktoi Glacier to reach a point around 150m below the unclimbed summit,” the Piolet d’Or press release says. The team was then forced down by bad weather and Jeff Lowe’s AMS.

Lowe’s team didn’t reach the summit, but despite quite a few attempts by some of the world’s best climbers, no one else has managed it via their route either. Tom Livingstone made an amazing climb in 2019, but his route was not a direct line up the north ridge.

Climbing career

George Henry Lowe III was born on August 16, 1944 in Chicago.

Here is a summary of George Lowe’s climbing resume, compiled by the Piolet d’Or team.

1965: First American ascent of the Bonatti Pillar on the Aiguille du Dru (roped to the British climber, Chris Jones, with whom he would later make significant first ascents). In the same year, he would also make the first winter ascent of Mount Owen (3,942m) in the Tetons.

1966: First winter ascent of Mount Moran in the Tetons.

1968: First winter ascent of the north face of Grand Teton.

1969: Climbed the Salathe Wall on El Capitan with his 18-year-old cousin Jeff Lowe. The same year he made the first ascent of the north face of Enclosure, at the time the most difficult route on the Grand Teton.

1971: First ascent of the north face of Huandoy Norte, Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

1972: First winter ascent of the west face of Grand Teton, and the first ascent of the north face of Mount Alberta in the Canadian Rockies.

1973: First ascent of the south face of Devil’s Thumb in the coast mountains of Alaska.

1974: First one-day winter ascent of the Grand Teton and the first ascent of the north face of North Twin.

1975: An expedition to the Baltoro, Karakoram, shortly after it re-opened to mountaineers.

1976: A new route on the north face of Free Korea Peak, Ala Archa, in what is now Kyrgyzstan.

1977: First ascent of the north face of Mount Hunter, Alaska Range, with Michael Kennedy, after an initial attempt with cousin Jeff Lowe resulted in a difficult retreat from two-thirds height when the latter broke his ankle in a fall. Kennedy and Lowe then moved to Foraker for the first ascent of the Infinite Spur.

1978: Attempt on the north ridge of Latok I, Karakoram.

1980: First ascent of the north face of Mount Geikie, Canadian Rockies. In the same year, he also created something of a record by climbing the Grand Teton as a rope of three with his father and his son (both also named George).

1983: First ascent of the Kangshung Face of Everest.

1986: Reached 7,950m on the north ridge of K2.

1990: Northeast Ridge (normal route) of Dhaulagiri I, Nepal. From a tent at 6,400m, and with other team members incapacitated at the time, Lowe climbed alone up the Normal Route, bivouacking at 7,280m on his way to the summit. He bivouacked again at 7,280m on the descent.

1991: One-day ascent of the Nose on El Captain with Alex Lowe (no relation).

Lowe continues to climb, including summiting Mount Huntington via the West Face Couloir aged 70.

Lowe climbing the famous V Pitch on the Upper Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in August 2019 for his 75th birthday.

Lowe climbing the famous V Pitch on the Upper Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in August 2019 for his 75th birthday. Photo: Wikipedia

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.