Charlie Fowler's Last Words

Posted on: June 1, 2007

Mt. Genyen (6204m), Sichuan Province, China, the mountain upon which Charlie Fowler and presumably Christine Boskoff perished in late 2006. [Photo] Tamotsu Nakamura

Editor's Note: In June, 2006, Charlie Fowler submitted to Alpinist a 9,000-word first draft of an article about his life as a climber. In October, he departed on a climbing trip to Asia. In December, his body was found below Mt. Genyen in China. That of his partner, Christine Boskoff, remains missing. We were unable to work on revisions with Mr. Fowler before his departure. Below are the final words of his story.

K2 was a harsh lesson.* We were fit, acclimated and climbing in good style on a fine route but got shut down by bureaucratic, arbitrary rules. I've always felt mountains belong to everyone and government management should be limited to protecting important cultures and resources. Mountains are not a commodity to be bought and sold. "Freedom of the Hills" is not a cliche. It's my credo.

I've always looked to the future and been skeptical of tradition, while trying to learn from the past. I long to return to the wild country of Tibet and Patagonia, those vast lands that feel like home. I want to share my knowledge, following the example of modern-day explorers like Tamotsu Nakamura.

Lately I've been looking homeward for inspiration and challenges. Surrounded by a mythic history and ancient culture, the American southwest remains wild and remote, free from excessive rules and regulations and prime for exploration and adventure. A small group of friends and I have been establishing dozens of new climbs from the desert to the mountains in remote southwest Colorado.

Throughout my life, climbing has been a progression. I've slowly built on past experiences, learned from friends and mentors, trained hard and done my homework. As a guide I progressed down the same path, but ultimately guiding is about helping others fulfill their dreams. To fulfill my own dreams, I chose to follow in the footsteps of the great French guide Gaston Rebuffat, who made the transition to writing and films and reached more people in the process. Now I spend my days reading and writing and filming and climbing as much as I can.

I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Long ago I realized mountaineering is the best education for me. I need to travel around the world, passing through the exciting, dirty and dangerous cities with a friend or two by my side. Somehow we find our way to the towns and then to the small villages and trek through the pristine meadows to the glaciers and on to the summit. Thanks to my education as an alpinist, there is not much I can't see or experience of this small, lonely, fragile planet.

*In 2002, Fowler and Boskoff reached 7000 meters on K2, only to be forced to give up their attempt by the Liaison Officer of an expedition whose permit they shared.

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