Conrad Anker-Another Groveland Presentation

Since he last gave a slide show in Tuolumne County, Conrad Anker has been to a few more places most of us will never see. Like the towering rock spine that divides South Georgia, a remote, storm battered island between Tierra Del Fuego and Antarctica. And the cover of May’s issue of Outside magazine.

Anker will show pictures of one (South Georgia) and, maybe answer questions about the other on Saturday. That’s when the Everest-conquering climber returns to Groveland for a slide show – “Exploration: Yesterday and Today” – at the Tenaya School Gym.

Proceeds, as usual, will benefit the Groveland Museum and Library.

Son of Wally and Helga Anker of Big Oak Flat, Conrad spent many a summer at the family’s Priest Station ranch while growing up. He began his climbing career scaling El Capitan, Half Dome and other Yosemite peaks.

By the early 1990’s, what was once a hobby had become a paid profession, with sponsorships and year-round climbing schedule. With great ability, good looks and an easygoing manner, Anker’s star rose quickly. He starred in TV specials and National Geographic feature stories. But as the decade ended, two events make him perhaps the nation’s most famous mountaineer:

  • His discovery of the frozen body of legendary climber George Mallory on the slopes of Everest in the spring of 1999.
  • His survival, six months later, of an avalanche that killed his close friend, Alex Lowe, and another climber on the slopes of Shishapangma, a 26,291 foot mountain in Tibet.

Anker came to Groveland for a show on the Everest expedition in January of 2000, and then returned to his passion with a vengeance.

That spring Anker duplicated the South Georgia Island climb made by Ernest Shackleton and two other members of his ill-fated Antarctic expedition in 1914.

“It’s an amazing story,” said Anker of Shackleton’s months-long ordeal, which saw his ship trapped and crushed by polar ice before he and his crew engineered a miraculous, harrowing escape. “Kind of puts commercialized, packaged things like ‘Survivor’ in their place.”

“Exploration: Yesterday and Today,” Anker continued, focuses on two early expeditions – Shackleton’s voyage and Mallory’s 1924 attempt to conquer Everest with partner Sandy Irvine – and on his own present-day re-creation of those exploits. “The slide show will have archival photos of both early expeditions and shots of our own trips,” said Anker. “The show looks at how exploration has changed over the decades and how it has stayed the same.” A question and answer session will follow, and someone may ask about that Outside cover. Or its provocative tease: “His friends are gone. His life is a soap opera. His career is in overdrive: The High Cost of Being Conrad Anker.”

Anker sighed at its mention. “It was a little much,” he said of the story. “But I am a public figure. I guess it comes with the turf.” As Outside reported, Anker has lost three climbing friends to mountain accidents. And he did marry Lowe’s widow, Jennifer, and is stepfather to her three boys, ages 5, 8 and 12.

“Sure it’s changed my life,” acknowledged Anker, who has moved to Lowe’s Bozeman, Montana home to raise his new family. “I’m a father and husband now. I want to be around to help my boys with their homework, play with them, celebrate birthdays with them.” So he has trimmed his climbing schedule and is picking his spots more carefully.

“You won’t find me in that moving snow and ice, in that dead zone above 24,000 feet, as much,” promises Anker, an inherently careful man who knows only too well the risks of his sport. But he’s not about to retire: Anker climbed in Mongolia and Antarctica last year and will leave for Pakistan just days after the Groveland show. Tibet will come this fall.

“There are rewards as well as risks,” Anker said. “Maybe those rewards aren’t concrete, but the challenge, the inspiration, the sense of accomplishment still make it worthwhile.” It is an appreciation for some of those rewards that Anker hopes to bring to his slide show audience Saturday night. By Chris Bateman, Union Democrat