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.

Just Posted

District of Elkford celebrates grand opening of new municipal office

The District of Elkford has officially begun serving the public from its… Continue reading

GALLERY: Fernie hosts mine rescue competition

Fording River, Line Creek mine rescue teams off to provincials after placing first and second

Fernie beer named Canada’s best pale ale

Fernie Brewing Company’s Campout West Coast Pale finishes first at the Canadian Brewing Awards

Cannabis yoga a budding trend in Fernie

Yoga studio, cannabis educator team up to offer Fernie’s first cannabis yoga classes from May 17

Sparwood’s Momma Di a mother to many

The Free Press competition winner revealed; plus Mother’s Day around the Valley

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Victoria Day

How much do you know about the monarch whose day we celebrate each May?

UPDATE: Aggressive coyote moves to Sparwood

Residents urged not to feed or approach the animal

City of Fernie to hold referendum for multi-purpose centre loan

Council opts for assent voting after petition calling for a referendum garners over 500 signatures

Facebook takes down anti-vaxxer page that used image of late Canadian girl

Facebook said that the social media company has disabled the anti-vaccination page

Search crews rescue kids, 6 and 7, stranded overnight on Coquitlam mountain

The father and two youngesters fell down a steep and treachorous cliff while hiking on Burke Mountain

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Most Read