Last living member of Mount Everest expedition dies

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay are credited as being the first to climb Mount Everest, reaching the peak of 29,029 feet on May 29, 1953.

lowe mug

But little-known George Lowe played a big role in the successful first ascent of the world's tallest mountain.

Sadly, the last living member of that British expedition is now gone. George Wallace Lowe, born in New Zealand, died in England last week at age 89.

"It is cruel the way death finally brings people the attention they deserve—very much the case with George," Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones told GrindTV Outdoor in an email. "He was such a modest guy in life, but now it is nice that people are learning more about this remarkable man and his achievements, which had been largely forgotten over all these years.

"He was a legend indeed."

Lewis-Jones is a historian and was a friend of Lowe. Lewis-Jones collaborated with the storied climber on a book called The Conquest of Everest: Original Photographs from the Legendary First Ascent, to be released soon as a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the climb. They also collaborated on Letters from Everest, another book that will be released in May.

george lowe

Lewis-Jones wrote an obituary of Lowe for the Scotsman.com. In part, he wrote:

George Lowe, the mountaineer and photographer, played a crucial part in the first ascent of Everest in 1953. His skills on steep ice–as much as his positivity and sense of humor–were of huge benefit to the team and his efforts greatly helped his best friend, Ed Hillary, reach the summit.

The first ascent of Everest in the summer of 1953 was one of the 20th century's great triumphs of exploration. George was one of the lead climbers, forging the route up Everest's Lhotse Face without oxygen and later cutting steps for his partners up the summit ridge.

He "put up a performance," said the expedition leader John Hunt, "which will go down in the annals of mountaineering as an epic achievement of tenacity and skill." For his own part, George was just happy to be on the mountain sharing in the teamwork of something incredible, doing something he loved.

Lewis-Jones called Lowe an unsung hero who was a master of his craft on ice and snow, and who ensured Hillary and Norgay would step onto the summit.

Lowe observed the achievement from high on the South Col, and it was Lowe who first embraced them on their return, delivering a thermos full of warm tomato soup.

"Well, George," Hillary said to Lowe after sitting down on the ice to rest, "we knocked the bastard off!"

Above photo shows George Lowe on Mount Everest in 1953 at left, at his home in 2008. Photo courtesy of Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones. Mug shot is from Wikimedia Commons.