Three well-known climbers presumed dead in Banff avalanche

One American and two Austrians disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak

Three renowned mountain climbers are presumed dead after a large avalanche in Alberta’s Banff National Park.

Outdoor apparel company The North Face confirmed Thursday that American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway. They were reported overdue on Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Avalanche victim identified as Alberta man in his 20s

The North Face said the three professional climbers are members of its Global Athlete Team.

“They are missing, and local search and rescue has assumed the worst,” The North Face said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to support their families, friends and the climbing community during this difficult time.”

Parks Canada’s mountain safety team responded by helicopter early Wednesday.

“We did see signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment along with strong evidence that the climbing party was deceased,” Stephen Holeczi, a visitor safety specialist, said Thursday.

He said the team suspects it was a Size 3 avalanche, which typically run up to 1,000 metres. That’s big enough to bury a car or destroy a small building. Recovery efforts are on hold because of a continued risk of avalanches in the area.

The east face of Howse Peak is remote and Parks Canada said its mixed rock and ice routes make it an exceptionally difficult climb.

Barry Blanchard, a mountain guide in nearby Canmore, said he talked to Roskelley when the three climbers arrived in the area about a week ago. He gave them some suggestions on routes, including some in the Howse Peak area.

Blanchard called the area a breathtaking mountainscape with a steep alpine wall — including many hazards — that’s popular only with expert climbers.

“There’s definitely avalanche-prone slopes and cornices and snow mushrooms that are a form of avalanche that can be deadly,” he said.

He said the three men are considered among the top one per cent of alpinists in the world.

“If you want to equate it to racing, they are Formula 1 drivers,” Blanchard said.

Ash Routen, an outdoor adventure writer based in England, said their deaths would be a heavy loss for the sport.

“It’s always a shock when any climber dies, particularly those that are very well publicized, but perhaps people might be a little more shocked that it wasn’t an 8,000-metre peak with a high death rate in the Himalayas,” said Routen, who has been closely following the careers of Lama and Auer.

“Inherently all mountains carry risk. … You can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Routen said the 28-year-old Lama, who is the son of a Nepali mountain guide and a nurse from Austria, was only five when Everest mountaineer Peter Habeler discovered his talents and took him under his wing.

Lama became the youngest person to win an International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup in both lead climbing and bouldering. He shifted his focus to free climbing in 2011.

A standout climb by Lama, Routen said, was on the Compressor Route in Patagonia’s Cerro Torre. He became the first to scale the mountain without the assistance of bolts.

“That made people sit up and talk, for sure,” Routen said.

Auer, 35, who grew up near the Dolomites in Austria, guided sheep from the family farm into the mountains every summer as a boy, said his North Face profile.

Routen called him a brave and a technically skilled alpinist who often climbed difficult routes on his own.

“He is a relatively reserved guy who wasn’t somebody looking to play his achievements out to the media,” Routen said.

“Sure, he was sponsored by North Face and a few other companies, but very much he wanted to do his own thing … and climbed purely for the enjoyment of being in the mountains.”

An online biography of Roskelley on The North Face website says he grew up in Washington and spent his childhood adventuring with his family throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In 2003, at age 20, he summitted Mount Everest with his father, John Roskelley, who is considered one of the best American mountaineers of his era.

The American Alpine Journal said there is at least one route named after the younger Roskelley in Alaska called the Erdmann-Roskelley Northeast Face.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cell phone porting scam making its rounds through the Comox Valley: RCMP

The Comox Valley RCMP is reminding residents to be vigilant when handing… Continue reading

Woman airlifted from Cumberland after crash

A 73-year-old woman had to be airlifted out to hospital Tuesday following… Continue reading

Tax requisition same, tip fees up for solid waste in Comox, Strathcona regions

CSWM board will have to finalize its latest financial plan by the end of March

Valley man warning others through video following cyber attack

Julian White had his online portfolio hacked less than two weeks ago.

Life on street inspires Comox man to help others without homes

For Sam Franey, it all starts with making connections between people

VIDEO: Wet’suwet’en supporters vow to keep protesting at B.C. legislature

Supporters say they will continue ongoing action to hold government accountable

Comox Valley RCMP issue warrant for the arrest of alleged thief

The Comox Valley RCMP have issued an arrest warrant for 44-year-old Richard… Continue reading

Comox Valley RCMP officer assaulted during traffic stop

On Feb. 21, a member of the Comox Valley RCMP was assaulted… Continue reading

VIDEO: Province promotes ‘lifting each other up’ on 13th annual Pink Shirt Day

Students, MLAs, community members gathered at B.C. Parliament Buildings Wednesday

Prepare for new coronavirus like an emergency, health minister advises

About 81,000 people around the world have now become ill with COVID-19

B.C. residents in Wet’suwet’en territory have right to police presence: Public Safety Minister

Nevertheless, Bill Blair said officials remain ‘very anxious’ for the barricades to come down

Winnipeg police investigating graffiti on RCMP and other buildings

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen denounced the vandalism

Nanaimo woman to compete in new season of ‘Big Brother Canada’

Carol Rosher, a cancer survivor, is one of 16 houseguests appearing on reality TV show

B.C. seniors’ watchdog calls for better oversight after recent problems at Retirement Concepts care homes

‘There is no financial incentive right now to be a good operator’ - Isobel Mackenzie

Most Read