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Climbers' Remains Found On Himalayan Glacier After 1999 Avalanche

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In 1999, an avalanche struck a group of nine Americans climbing a 26,000-foot peak in Tibet called Shishapangma. Within seconds, a wall of snow buried mountaineer Alex Lowe and the expedition cameraman David Bridges. Their climbing partners desperately searched for them but found no sign. Last week, 16 years after the climbers disappearance, two bodies were found in a thawing glacier on the same peak where those climbers died.

We're joined now by Conrad Anker. He was one of the climbers with Lowe and Bridges that day. And he was a close friend of Alex Lowe's. Mr. Anker, thanks so much for being with us.

CONRAD ANKER: Thank you, Rachel. Good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. As we understand it, the bodies have not yet been officially identified, but you're certain they are the remains of your two friends?

ANKER: Given location and the two gentlemen that are - that reported it to us and the timestamp of the clothing and equipment that they had on, we're pretty sure. So - and there is no other fatalities on that side of the mountain.

MARTIN: Would you mind taking us back to that day in 1999? What do you remember about the moment the avalanche struck? Where were you on the mountain?

ANKER: David, Alex and I were acclimatizing. It was the 5 of October, 1999. And we were on the lower part of the glacier below the south face of Shishapangma, which is a massive wall of rock and snow that goes up to the summit of Shishapangma, the world's 14th-highest peak.

And about 8 a.m. local time, an ice avalanche was triggered high up. And it came down, and we were struck by this avalanche. David and Alex ran one direction. I ran the other direction, and I was able to survive it. And that was a very intense moment in my life.

MARTIN: You ended up - you ended up marrying Alex's widow. Her name's Jenny. And you adopted the three kids that she had with Alex Lowe. I can't imagine, but can you try to explain what this news about finding Alex's remains - what does this mean for your family all these years later?

ANKER: Yeah, Jennifer and I were in Nepal. We had just spent the month there helping out with a project in the Khumbu Climbing Center, which is created in honor of Alex. So it was hours before we got on the flight to return home. So it was a fitting place and time to get the news. We immediately shared it with our boys once we got home and then the family of David Bridges.

And there was - part of it is sad. It brings up the memories of what we went through in 1999. And the other end of it is there's a sense of closure now to this that when you have a body, then we know that there's a confirmed death. And so our goal is to treat the bodies of David and Alex with the - with respect and put it to rest.

We knew this would happen at some point. We just didn't know when. And we thought it might be 50 years. It might be tomorrow. And it ended up being today. So it will be a healing thing for our family.

MARTIN: Conrad Anker is a mountaineer and the author of the book "The Call Of Everest." He spoke to us from his home in Bozeman, Mont. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

ANKER: Thanks Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.