The Climb

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The familiar sound of the Skype ringtone fills the stillness of the room; a far cry from the sounds of the outdoors that permeates my memory. I click the green answer icon at the bottom of the screen. The screen flickers and eventually lights up. On the other side of the screen are two smiling faces: Connie Self and Jeff Lowe. They introduce themselves, but they don’t need to; I know them as leaders of the outdoor industry, climbers, and pioneers of the field. I gather my notebook – nervous – and let my eyes fall to the first question: What is your earliest memory of the outdoors?

    Most people can remember little moments that changed them. Experiences that left them changed, and different from before. It’s easy to look back at these moments and recognize them as defining points of our lives, the moment that helps realize who we are. For Connie and Jeff, these moments both took place in the outdoors.

    The pair, who now reside in Lafayette, Colorado, are a wonderful team. They balance each other effortlessly and it is impossible not to catch the spirit of adventure that they embody within their stories. Limited now by a rare illness which debilitates his ability to talk and confines him to a wheelchair, Jeff demonstrates his love for the outdoors by the beautiful stories he shares with Connie’s assistance.

    The power duo does not let the day-to-day struggles and Jeff’s physical restrictions rain on their parade, and have made time to produce a movie recounting the trials and triumphs of Jeff’s climbing days and the current challenges of his life. The award winning documentary film, Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia, is narrated by New York Times best selling author Jon Krakauer. Krakauer recounts Jeff’s solo winter climb up the Eiger’s north face and Jeff’s grace filled dance of life in a wheelchair. The film has been widely successful within the outdoor community and far beyond, winning 17 major awards at Film Festivals around the world. Connie displays her attitude best with a mantra she revisits daily, “Do the best you can, with what you’ve got, from where you are, right now.”

    Early Beginnings

    Connie explains early memories of weekend camping trips, followed by afternoons spent outside traversing the woods near her house. She is a gifted storyteller and captures the attention of all around. With genuine enthusiasm, she tells me stories of her earliest memories: Her father building a homemade canoe transporter made out of a wagon and her mother facing a bear head-on in a Minnesota campground. The independence and bravery that the outdoors helped instill at a young age helped cultivate values and a lifestyle that continued on as Connie grew from a child to a young adult.

    For Jeff, it was those early memories of hiking up into the mountains near his house in Ogden, Utah, and learning climbing techniques from his father, Ralph Lowe, a seasoned climber himself and one of Jeff’s most influential mentors. The Lowe family also had a soft spot for animals and some of Jeff’s childhood pets included a bear named Bruno and a pair of wolves.

    At just seven years old, Jeff was the youngest person to reach the top of Grand Teton with his Dad and brother Greg. On the descent, Jeff fell and bumped his head on a rock. His father helped him right away, but by the time the group made it back to the trailhead, Jeff had lost interest in climbing. He spent the next two years making excuses and finding ways to avoid climbing trips. “It wasn’t until his desire to go climbing overcame his fear of the challenge,” said Connie. After two years out of the sport Jeff was ready to jump back in.

    Both Connie and Jeff agree that a climber or athlete should never put themselves at risk for fame. “If I could tell a young climber or outdoor enthusiast one thing, it would be to simply enjoy the sport. Don’t do it for money, don’t do it for sponsorships, do it for you.”

    It’s a few days after talking with Jeff and Connie that I am at a climbing wall with my sister. My hands have been chalk and blister free for a few years now, but I’m excited to be back. I’m not here for the sport. I’m not here for to prove anything to anyone. I’m here to get back to the place that I love.

    A rhythm of words voiced by Connie are stuck in my head and I look up at the pattern of rocks on the wall.

    “Do the best you can, with what you’ve got, from where you are, right now.” My left hand reaches for the next groove on the wall, and onward and upward I go.

Watch the trailer for Jeff and Connie's film below: