“The best climber is the one having the most fun.”
This is a new column for The Climbing Zine, and a space we’ll use each issue to review a climbing related book, new or old, for our readers. For this issue the book is Forget Me Not, written by Jennifer Lowe-Anker, and published in 2008 by Mountaineers Books.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book review, generally I find the process unsatisfying, like writing a term paper in college. So I guess this is more of a contemplation on Forget Me Not, a book I enjoyed immensely, and one that truly moved me.
The book begins like a small campfire, inviting but not overwhelming. Then eventually it grows into something blazing, which fixated me, and I was unable to step away from it. It is her story of love with the late, great climber Alex Lowe, their journeys in climbing and raising a family, and his tragic death in an avalanche in the Himalaya. Following this is a great mourning, and the tale of the new love that was borne with her current husband, and world class climber himself, Conrad Anker, who was with Alex Lowe when he died. Conrad and Alex were also best friends.
Alex and Jennifer’s first days of love were probably somewhat similar to many climbing couples, yet vastly different than most young lovers. They travelled the world together, visiting various climbing locales in the United States and abroad. They climbed together, and suffered the woes of travelling as well. One of Jennifer’s greatest skills as a writer is her brutal honestly, while she graces Forget Me Not with beautiful prose, her honest words sink deep into the reader’s psyche.
She writes of Alex’s legendary drive for climbing, boundless energy, and pure enthusiasm, while also reflecting on his moodiness and gloom when he could not expend that energy. She writes of the joys of life, and the sorrow of death; both which Jennifer has fully experienced in her own existence. Interesting in its own right, is Jennifer’s path towards becoming an artist; she is a talented painter, and her work graces the cover of the book.
In these pages are the journeys we all experience as humans, but especially climbers who want to have it all, the freedom of travel and climbing, as well as the foundation of a home and a family. There are lessons to be learned in Forget Me Not that climbers and non-climbers alike won’t easily forget.
Eventually Jennifer’s own climbing is halted with Motherhood, and she no longer has the drive to take risks on major climbs. Alex, however, continued to explore the world as a guide and professional climber, to Yosemite, Denali, K2, Everest, Antarctica, the Himalaya, Baffin Island, the Great Trango Tower, Kyrgyzstan and beyond, all while Jennifer took care of their three sons, Max, Sam and Isaac.
One part of this book that made it especially enjoyable is Jennifer’s use of Alex’s various letters he would write her, words of love when they were close and afar. If Alex would have lived long enough to getting around to writing a book it would have been beautiful and intriguing; he was someone who had a way with words. Reading his words reminds me of the importance of telling someone you love them in print. Thank you for that Alex Lowe.
There are many other elements of Forget Me Not that make this book worth reading: Jennifer’s trust in her intuitive sense, her ability to put the frailty of life in words, reflection on the first days where the internet and climbing came together, and a Mother’s thoughts on risk and climbing.
Eventually the book goes to a very sad place, we as a reader know it’s coming, and the way Jennifer writes made my entire psyche fixated in the pages of Forget Me Not. I absolutely could not put it down, surely the measure of a great book. I was relieved to read about the love she found with her current husband, Conrad Anker, and the love they share as a family with Max, Sam and Isaac. She writes beautifully near the end of the book, “it is love that seems to soothe the anguish wrought by love lost.”
It’s been two days since I was engulfed in the final pages of Forget Me Not. That night left me feeling sad. The next morning though, I awoke, to the sun, another beginning, and a more enhanced realization of the preciousness of life. Forget Me Not is truly unforgettable.
This piece was originally published in The Climbing Zine, Volume 4. Check it out on Kindle.