Everest pioneer George Lowe dies aged 89

 

The last surviving member of the team which first conquered Everest in 1953 has died at the age of 89.

George Lowe died at a nursing home in Ripley, Derbyshire, on Wednesday night after a long-term illness, with his wife Mary by his side.

Mr Lowe, who was born in New Zealand, was part of the team that helped Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgary to become the first to reach the top of the world's highest peak on May 29 1953.

As Sir Edmund, a close friend and fellow New Zealander, descended Mount Everest the next day, he greeted Mr Lowe with: "Well, George, we knocked the bastard off."

Following his Everest climb, Mr Lowe went on to take part in the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58, which made the first successful overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

He later made expeditions to Greenland, Greece and Ethiopia, before settling in England and becoming an Inspector of Schools with the Department of Education and Sciences before retiring in 1984.

Family friend and historian Dr Huw Lewis-Jones has paid tribute to a "gentle soul and fine climber" who shunned the limelight.

Dr Lewis-Jones, a former curator at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge who first met Mr Lowe in 2005, said: "George is a hero of mine. I don't often use that word but then it is not very often that you get to meet one."

Born in Hastings, New Zealand, Mr Lowe became a school teacher and spent his holidays climbing in the Southern Alps, where he met Sir Edmund.

The pair became friends and in 1951 were members of the first New Zealand expedition to the Himalayas. They went on to join the British Everest expedition led by British Army Colonel John Hunt and to conquer the 29,028 feet mountain in 1953, days before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Mr Lowe, a keen photographer, made a documentary about the climb called The Conquest Of Everest. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

He also made a film called Antarctic Crossing after taking part in the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1957-58, which made the first successful overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

Mr Lowe is survived by wife Mary and three sons from his first marriage to Lord Hunt's daughter Susan.

Over the last few years, Dr Lewis-Jones, who runs a publishing company with his wife Kari, has been working with Mr Lowe and his family to put together his memoirs and photographs from the climb so that they can be published for the first time.

The Conquest Of Everest: Original Photographs From The Legendary First Ascent will be published in May along with Letters From Everest.

Paying tribute to Mr Lowe last night, Dr Lewis-Jones said: "Lowe was a brilliant, kind fellow who never sought the limelight.

"An unsung hero, if you like, and sixty years on from Everest his achievements deserve wider recognition.

"It has been an honour to have spent the last few years working with George's family on his memoirs and photographs.

"He was a gentle soul, a gentleman, generous with his time and modest despite all his success.

"He was involved in two of the most important explorations of the twentieth century - Everest, and the first crossing of Antarctica - yet remained a humble, happy man right to the end. That's an inspirational lesson to us all. "

PA

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