Alumni Spotlight: George H. Lowe III

Dr. Lowe leading Tom Cat at Indian Creek Utah, 2008

With an abundance of first ascents under his belt, in a career spanning more than 50 years, Utah native George Henry Lowe III is a legend in the climbing community. He is also a highly skilled scientist and engineer, working for such firms as Argo Systems & Electromagnetic Systems Laboratory. With a background in physics, he developed strong problem solving skills that translated well to climbing, and learned skills in climbing that he applied to his scientific work. By navigating these diverse routes, George Lowe has made it his mission to take on and overcome obstacles both outdoors and in the lab.

The Lowe Down

Raised in Ogden, Utah, George spent a lot of time outdoors, especially skiing the slopes of Snow Basin with his family. After two years at Harvey Mudd college in California, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Physics at the University of Utah in 1966. In 1973, George received his PhD in physics at the University of Utah under the direction of Professor Jack W. Keuffel, a pioneer in Cosmic Ray research. Jack Keuffel was the director of the Cosmic Ray’s neutrino research project. On working with Dr. Keuffel, Dr. Lowe remarks, “Jack could do rough estimates on the back of an envelope that would take us days to repeat, and reach the same conclusion”. Dr. Lowe’s research was focused at the Utah Muon Detector, a large detector originally built to detect upward moving neutrinos that interacted with matter in the earth and produced muons in the process. The detector was built about 500 meters underground in an old Park City mine in order to reduce background radiation. His research culminated in his thesis, “Underground Muon Showers and Models of the Hadronic Interaction at Very High Energies”.

After graduation, Dr. Lowe continued to work with the Cosmic Ray research group as a postdoctoral scholar until 1975 when he took a job in California at Electromagnetic Systems Laboratory (ESL) Inc., a defense-based firm, as a systems engineer and programmer. In 1982, he moved to Colorado to begin working at Argo Systems, where he stayed until 1999 when Lowe took an early retirement to become a consultant to the United States government, where he works to this day. He has won many awards over his career. He was one of two contractors who was awarded the 1999 intelligence community‘s seal medallion “in recognition of sustained superlative performance as a senior scientific consultant”.

Scaling the Gap

Dr. Lowe on Everest’s East Face

Physics and science in general, are focused on developing dexterous, analytical problem-solving skills. The tools for solving various types of problems come from, not just the acquisition of knowledge, but the acquisition and subsequent application of knowledge to problem solve in any situation. This is a lesson Dr. Lowe has taken to heart. His climbing and technical careers have both centered on difficult problem solving. “You just have to keep plugging. You have to keep working with the problem until you solve it” Dr. Lowe said in a 1992 interview with Climbing magazine. He developed judicious skills as a climber that transposed well into engineering and other areas of his life, “One learns to think carefully about consequences, and not make mistakes“, he remarks. Recognizing that many of the limitations he faced existed solely in his own mind made them easier to overcome. He was able to apply his skills as a physicist to his climbing career, “Climbing is mostly applied first semester mechanics with many creative twists“. This logical approach to life has helped Dr. Lowe achieve success and become one of the most influential alpinists today.

strong>“I always enjoyed science, and in my mind, physics is the fundamental science”

Life in the Mountains

Dr. Lowe: 2013 Haute Route 057 with the Matterhorn in backgound

Dr. Lowe enjoys rock climbing, alpine climbing and Himalayan climbing disciplines. His climbing accomplishments include a series of first ascents, such as Dorsal Fin, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, first winter ascents of many routes such as the North and West Faces of the Grand Teton in Wyoming, the North Face of North Twin in the Canadian Rockies, and the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker in the Canadian Rockies. His most famous first ascent was the still unrepeated east face of Mt. Everest in 1983, via the now-named “Lowe Buttress”. He, along with Alex Lowe (unrelated) climbed the Nose of El Capitan in a single day in 1993.

“My finest climb was probably an attempt on the North Ridge of Latok I in the Pakistan Karakorum range. Latok I (7,300 meters) was unclimbed at the time (1978). Our team of four (Jeff Lowe, Jim Donini and Michael Kennedy) spent a total of 28 days on the previously un-attempted ridge climbing capsule style (no fixed ropes from the bottom of the route), and managed to get over the technical difficulties before being stopped about 150 meters from the top on a 2,500 meter route by my cousin Jeff becoming ill, plus a major storm. The route has been attempted more than 20 times since and no one else has reached our high point.”

Dr. Lowe is part of a family of famous alpine-style climbers, his cousin, Jeff Lowe has made over one thousand first ascents, and Greg Lowe, another climbing cousin, founded the outdoor equipment manufacturer Lowe Alpine.

Currently, Dr. Lowe lives in the foothills above Golden, Colorado where elk and deer are often found grazing in his yard. He is an avid outdoorsman whom actively goes climbing, ski touring, backpacking, kayaking, canyoneering, and uses his Cessna T210 airplane to extend his weekend range to most of the Western states. He has two generations of children who are as creative and dedicated to the outdoors, as Dr. Lowe. He works full time as a consultant to the U.S. government. He still is a very active climber, having climbed the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite moving continuously for about 30 hours at age 68 last spring with 69 year old Jim Donini.

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