Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Metanoia (Jeff Lowe)

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Jeff Lowe’s projection of Metanoia in Montreal.

Metanoia is the story of a climber ahead of his time, a man who changed visions of what was possible. He contributed to thousands of new routes be they ice, mixed or rock climbs, be they aid climbs or burly free solo ascents. It’s also a story of a man’s ability to face his own mortality through a disease. From achieving the most insane climbs to the struggle of getting in and out of his wheelchair Jeff Lowe teaches us a lesson of humility.

One of the most moving climbing films I’ve seen in a while! Apparently they’d been working on it since 2007. No wonder it was such a masterpiece. I felt like we saw a fair amount of good clear footage for an old school climber. I was impressed with all the material that they’d dug up for Metanoia. Jeff Lowe’s last project was to make this movie and to share it with as many people as possible. I believe they have done an amazing job.

The film kicks off with an overview of Jeff’s childhood and his passion for Skiing and Climbing. Very soon he starts climbing things that most people thought impossible. As the movie describes Jeff’s first wedding and the arrival of his daughter we also explore one of Jeff’s most remarkable ascents, Ama Dablam. Jeff was invited to climb Ama Dablam in Nepal, for a film by ABC. He was in charge of a team including his father and brother. Together the team reached the summit. But Jeff wasn’t satisfied. The next day he went back without the crew for the first ascent, solo, of the south face of Ama Dablam.

We later learn about Jeff’s expedition to reach the summit of Latok 1 in Pakistan. This, for him, was a more memorable route since it was an ascent he made with three of his good friends. As the team recounts the story we can feel the nostalgia. At this point we get more insight into Jeff’s life as a person. His life wasn’t as glorious as one might think. His attempt at running a business was a complete failure. His daughter feeling abandoned by her father and his affair with a famous French climber that destroyed his marriage pushed Jeff beyond his ability to cope. Jeff was on the edge.

Not knowing what to do in this situation. Jeff turned to what he always did. He chose to climb the North face of Eiger. He was to attempt something that had never been done before. He did this by himself on a 13 day fight to the top. Jeff did things few climbers would do on this ascent. He ended up leaving his rope and pack on the face. Jeff had to free solo the last part of the climb, but he reached the summit. The route was named Metanoia which is a transliteration of the Greek. It means, having a sudden change of mind. Metanoia has never been repeated until today.

Jeff Lowe started seeing signs of weakness in 2000.  Years later he was diagnosed with ALS. Most people die around 1 to 3 years after diagnosis, but as his wife Connie says: ‘’he’s always defied the odds and he’ll keep on doing it’’! It is heartbreaking to see the evolution of Jeff as his disease settles in. He accepts it and respects the difficulties of living with ALS. He appreciates all he was capable of doing in his life and sees this as just another step in life. Jeff is not only an inspiration to climbers but to all human beings.

Jeff Lowe today /
Right after the screening of Metanoia, we were lucky enough to get a hold of Jeff and his wife Connie through Skype.

Here are a few questions we got to ask him:

Q: In your movie, we notice that you give a lot of importance to names that are given to routes. What are some of your favourite titles?

Jeff: The first thing that comes up to my mind is seamstress corner. This route reminds me of my ex-wife. It’s a really stressful climb (laughs)

Connie: I really like, Get a job asshole! This route is located in the Adirondacks. The story about this route is pretty funny. When Jeff was walking alongside the road to the cliff, a trucker drove by screaming ‘’Get a job Asshole’’! Jeff yelled back ‘’I have a job you Asshole’’!

Q: How did you come up with the name Metanoia?

Jeff: Well, I read a lot. I remember reading this word and it’s meaning for the Greeks. I liked it. Then, as I was lying there in that snow cave on Eiger it came to me!

Q: As a seasoned alpinist you’ve spent many days of your life sitting in a tent, waiting. What did you do to pass the time?

Jeff: We told lots of jokes. Oh and we had these little screens that were called bivy TV’s. It was a plastic red box no larger than a deck of cards that shuffled through photographs.
Connie: Mostly pictures of young women wearing bathing suits I think? (Laughs)

Q: In the name of injured climbers, how do go back to climbing after an injury? What are the tricks to stay positive?

Connie: To be honest, Jeff rarely got injured. He was always adjusting to the present moment and making quick decisions, like when he decided to jump and take a forty foot plunge on Eiger. I think he was pretty lucky in his career.
Jeff getting ready to solo Ama Dablam /

Jeff: I did get hurt once while rappelling with a friend and I dislocated my hip but it’s true, I didn’t get hurt often. What keeps you going though is the love. The love of climbing!

Q: As we know you were the first climber to come up with the figure-4 move. It is now used by various other ice climbers around the world. When and where did you first come up with this funky move?

Jeff: I was climbing Octopussy (mixed climb named in honour of the James Bond movie) in Vail, Colorado. The first time I tried the route, I fell. When I went back I decided to try something new. That is when the move naturally happened. I hadn’t thought about it previously. It just happened.

Jeff Lowe and Connie Self live together in Colorado. Connie helped translate Jeff’s answers as he spoke through a machine. He still released a warm and positive energy. His sense of humour hasn’t changed and he’s got an amazing wife.

For more info about Jeff Lowe, visit his website:

Article: Vincent Kneeshaw

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