Shisha Pangma: Ueli Steck and David Gottler Ready for Summit Push; Remains of Alex Lowe and David Bridges Emerge From the Glacier

“In a matter of seconds, the whole mountainside was in motion with Alex, David and Conrad directly below it.”

Shisha Pangma Southside climbers Ueli Steck and David Gottler are ready for summit push. They intend to open a new direct line to summit in alpine style and perhaps complete the traverse to Northside. The duo recently climbed to 6900m between Pungpa Ri and Nyanang Ri, on far right side of mountain. They spent a night there for acclimatization. In a separate instance, they came across remains of two climbers, still frozen in blue ice, but emerging out of melting glacier near the base of South Face. The two corpses have been identified as Alex Lowe and David Bridges – American climbers buried under a massive avalanche in autumn 1999.

Summit Push

Ueli Steck and David Gottler arrived at Shisha Pangma BC on April 24th, after acclimatization in Khumbu Valley. They underwent strenuous training in Khumbu Valley, which involved running long distances over high altitude passes. In second phase of acclimatization, they did a reconnaissance to the bottom of mountain face to check route conditions and then spent a night at 6900m Col between Pungpa Ri and Nyanang Ri.

While the duo intends to be quick, they aren’t in hurry. “We’ll see how fast we are, this depends on the technical difficulties. We will belay normally, with rope and pitons. It doesn’t matter whether we need two days or one or three. But we are not very motivated to spend as many nights as possible on the mountain.” Ueli Steck told Stefan Nestler in a recent interview.

Frozen in Time

Ueli Steck and David Gottler came across two bodies emerging out of a frozen glacier, near the base of Shisha Pangma South Face. Given the location of corpses and their proximity to each other, Ueli Steck and David Gottler, knew whom to contact.

Historically, there have been five casualties on this side of mountain.

1. In autumn 1995, Czech climber Zdendek Slachta died in an avalanche while descending from 7200m on Western end of the Southwest Face.

2. American climbers Alex Lowe and David Bridges were buried under a huge avalanche at around 5800m in October 1999.

3. Slovak Marek Hudak disappeared from C2 near 7000m after a failed summit push on British Route.

4. Italian Roberto Piantoni died after suffering a fall on British route.

Ueli Steck and David Gottler called Conrad Anker, who was together with Alex Lowe and David Bridges, at the time of accident in autumn 1999. David Gottler described the details of two frozen climbers and Conrad didn’t have difficulty in identifying his lost fellows.

“They were close to each other. Blue and red North Face backpacks. Yellow Koflach boots. It was all that gear from that time period. They were pretty much the only two climbers who were there,” He said.

The whole Mountainside in Motion

On September 14, 1999, nine American climbers reached Kathmandu to climb Shisha Pangma from Southside and make a ski-descent. After acclimatization and few one-day hikes near BC, the team moved to ABC on October 4th. The climbers split in two groups, next day. Andrew McLean, Mark Holbrook, Kris Erickson and Hans Saari headed straight up to look at their planned route. Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker and David Bridges were around 700m towards their right, separated by multiple crevasses.

At that moment, an ice block collapsed two kilometers above them, triggering a small avalanche. Andrew McLean thought, it wasn’t an imminent threat as there were three terraces above them to stop the snow. However, things turned ugly when instead of dying down, the ice break initiated a chain reaction.

“In a matter of seconds, the whole mountainside was in motion with Alex, David and Conrad directly below it.” Andrew McLean wrote in post-expedition report.

To avoid the fury of the snow mass, Conrad ran to the left while Alex and David ran downhill, trying to hide in a crevasse. The avalanche caught them in no time. Even climbers on other side were flattened by windblast. Conrad, somehow, survived but Alex and David were never seen again; well, until a few days ago, to be precise.

“Alex’s parents are thankful to know that their son’s body has been found and that Conrad, the boys and I will make our pilgrimage to Shisha Pangma. It is time to put Alex to rest.” Says Jennifer, the window of Alex Lowe, who married Conrad Anker a few years after accident.