If you don’t already know, his name probably rings a bell. A quick internet search will return phrases like “prolific explorer”, “legendary climber”, “pioneer” and “visionary”. Yeah, Conrad Anker is a pretty big deal. Ahead of his Australian visit with The North Face (which you can go to), our explorer Rachel Dimond digs into what puts the rad in Conrad.
From dirtbag to professional climber and now a mentor to a new generation of elite athletes, his climbing life has been both wildly successful and tragic. He has made first ascents on a variety of difficult and dangerous routes throughout Utah, Alaska, Antarctica, Patagonia, Mongolia and India. About as many first ascents as I have fingers. Oh, yeah and he has summited Everest three times, once without supplemental oxygen.
In 1999 Anker famously found the body of George Mallory who disappeared high on the north-east ridge of Everest in 1924 during one of the first recorded summit attempts. However as Jimmy Chin explained “The irony is he became world famous for finding Mallory’s body during an Everest climb instead of for his difficult first ascents around the world.”
From Darkness Came Light
Three months later Anker was on an expedition to ski from the summit of Tibet’s 26,289ft Shishapangma, with best friend and mentor Alex Lowe and cameraman David Bridges, who was a talented young climber in his own right, when tragedy struck.
The mountain released a massive avalanche with Bridges and Lowe running one way and Anker the other. Despite searching for two days Anker could not find any sign of his climbing partners. Struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt Anker went to Bozeman, Montana to support Jenni, Lowe’s widow, and help look after their three sons.
The two bonded in their grief and fell in love, they later married and Anker adopted the three Lowe children. If that isn’t a prime example of the human condition I don’t know what is. Together they started the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation and created the Khumbu Climbing Center in the village of Phortse, Nepal with a mission to increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high-altitude workers who often bear a disproportionate amount of risk.
Anker’s most notable climbing achievement though is his first ascent of Shark’s Fin, Meru Peak in 2011 with Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, around which the critically acclaimed movie ‘Meru’ centres.
According to Anker, “Meru is the culmination of all I’ve done and all I’ve wanted to do.” It was a dream of Anker’s first mentor, Terrence “Muggs” Stump, who tried and failed to climb the peak in 1988 and later died guiding clients up Denali in 1992.
To give you an idea of just how hard this ascent is, I quote Jon Krakauer:
“Some of the best climbers have tried and failed on this route. You can’t just be a good ice climber. You can’t just be good at altitude. You can’t just be a good rock climber. You’ve gotta be able to do ice climbing, mixed climbing, and you’ve gotta be able to do big-wall climbing at 20,000ft.”
It took 8 years and 3 attempts.
Pretty badass, eh?
But Wait, There’s More…
In November 2016 Anker suffered a heart attack at 20,000ft while attempting a first ascent on Lunag-Ri in the Khumbu Himalaya of Nepal. A clot had formed in his left anterior descending artery, also known as ‘the widow maker’ due to how dangerous a blockage of this vessel can be. He had to make his way down the mountain, hike to camp and then be airlifted to Kathmandu before receiving lifesaving surgery.
When Nat Geo asked whether Anker would continue to climb first ascents he replied, “This was a clarion call. Do I still need to be doing stuff like Meru? I don’t necessarily need to be out there pushing it.”
That’s not to say he isn’t still sending badass routes and keeping up with his numerous and varied environmental, health and safety projects. The guy is a machine and as he has said throughout his career, it is all about acceptable versus unacceptable risk.
After 30 years of climbing mountains, Anker is still chasing first ascents and is the captain of The North Face Global Athlete team.
Conrad Is Coming To Australia This Month!
As a part of The North Face Speaker Series Anker is coming Down Under to share with us his life of adventure and what inspired him to pursue a career in the mountains, along with tales and stunning footage of climbing the world’s most remote and challenging peaks. Yep, that will include Meru.
You can catch Conrad in Sydney on Tuesday the 10th of July at the Seymour Center and in Melbourne on Wednesday the 11th of July at the Hawthorne Arts Center.
Tickets can be purchased here and if you weren’t already convinced, $10 from each ticket will be donated to the Mountain Youth Services Team to support bush adventure therapy programs for youth.