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 well-known climbers presumed dead in Banff avalanche

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

Town of Qualicum Beach council will charge the St. Andrews Lodge Historical and Cultural Society for power and heat for the historic lodge. (PQB News file photo)
Society to pay electric bills for historic St. Andrews Lodge in Qualicum Beach

Group will not have access to building until lease is formally signed

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits Nanoose Bay property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury

The section of Highway 19A between Laburnum Road and Goodyear Road was closed to traffic due to a single vehicular accident. (DriveBC illustration)
Section of highway closed after vehicle hits pole near Qualicum Beach

Traffic disrupted for hours; two people taken to hospital

Joan LeMoine. (Peter McCully photo)
OPINION: Joan LeMoine represented the very best in all of us

Beloved Parksville area volunteer left an indelible mark on the community

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Randy Brown, owner of Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has five trailers and a motorhome at the back of his property that he is renting to people who had been previously homeless. He wants to put 15 trailers on his property, hooked up to city sewer and water and BC Hydro. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni building owner digs in, refuses to remove illegal trailers

Port Alberni council gives owner two-week reprieve on remediation orders

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Most Read