On 29 May, 1953, two pioneering mountaineers became the first men to stand atop the highest peak in the world. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are now familiar names to anyone in the sport of climbing. However, a few less-recognized adventurers were also critical to helping these men reach the summit.
George Lowe, a New Zealand-born mountaineer, was among them. He helped set up the final camp just 300 meters (1,000 feet) beneath the summit and was the first person to greet the two men upon their descent.
"Well George, we knocked the bastard off,” Hillary told him.
Lowe, 89, was the last surviving member of the original Everest team. He passed away Wednesday at a nursing home in Derbyshire, England.
Although the story of Lowe’s life may be lesser-known, it is not because his years lacked adventure. Lowe was born in Hastings, New Zealand and worked as a schoolteacher, spending his holidays climbing the country’s Southern Alps where he met Hillary.
Lowe and Hillary were both members of the first New Zealand expedition to the Himalayas in 1951. After the Everest climb, Lowe took part in the trans-Antarctic expedition of 1957-58—the first successful overland crossing of the continent via the South Pole. He also took part in expeditions in Greenland, Greece and Ethiopia before retiring to England in 1984.
Lowe was also a talented documentarian. His film The Conquest of Everest was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature.
In the years before his death, Lowe worked with family friend and historian Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones to put together his memoirs, complete with photos from the climb. The book will be published in May.
"Lowe was a brilliant, kind fellow who never sought the limelight," Lewis-Jones told the guardian. "An unsung hero, if you like, and 60 years on from Everest his achievements deserve wider recognition.”
Lewis-Jones said that Lowe remained a "humble, happy man right to the end."