The bodies of three renowned mountain climbers believed to have been caught in a large avalanche last week were recovered in Alberta’s Banff National Park over the weekend, according to Parks Canada.
American climber Jess Roskelley and Austrian climbers David Lama and Hansjörg Auer went missing last week while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in the Icefields Parkway. They were reported overdue on Wednesday, April 18.
Howse Peak, located in the northernmost corner of Banff, is remote and can only be accessed by skiing in. Parks Canada said its mixed rock and ice routes make it an exceptionally difficult climb.
According to Brian Webster, visitor safety manager at the park, the climbers summited the 2,300-metre mountain by noon April 16, and the avalanche hit while the climbers were making their 1,000-metre descent during the afternoon.
“Anybody involved in an avalanche of that magnitude—it’s going to be a bad outcome,” Webster told reporters. “There is no amount of skill set that is going to increase your ability to survive an avalanche like that.”
When the men did not return from their trip, Parks Canada’s mountain safety team responded by helicopter and saw signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment, but a further search was put on hold for three days until the poor weather and dangerous conditions improved.
The bodies were ultimately found after an avalanche dog and its handler were sent to the area by helicopter, according to incident commander Shelley Humphries.
“Parks Canada extends our sincere condolences to their families, friends, and loved ones. We would also like to acknowledge the impact that this has had on the tight-knit, local and international climbing communities,” the agency said in a statement Sunday afternoon.
“Our thoughts are with families, friends and all those who have been affected by this tragic incident.”
A Parks Canada visitor safety specialist said last week that the slide was believed to be a Size 3 avalanche, which is big enough to bury a car or destroy a small building.
Lama, 28, achieved the first free ascent in 2012 of the Compressor Route of the Cerro Torre, one of the most striking peaks in the Andes. The feat was captured in the 2013 documentary “Cerro Torre—A Snowball’s Chance in Hell.” Lama devoted himself full-time to mountaineering in 2011.
Auer, 35, became the first person to free solo climb Italy’s Marmolada peak via its south face in 2007.
Roskelley, 36, climbed Mount Everest in 2003 at age 20, making him the youngest American to do so at the time.
The men’s sponsor, outdoor apparel company The North Face, had said the three members of its Global Athlete Team were presumed dead; the company posted a short statement on its website honouring the men.
“David, Jess, and Hansjörg are valued and loved members of The North Face family and we are doing everything we can to support their families, friend and community during this difficult time,” the statement says.
“We ask that you keep our athletes and their loved ones in your hearts and thoughts.”
Each of the climbers’ families posted to their respective Instagram pages to bid farewell to the climbers.
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“Mountains help me navigate what is most important to me. They balance the chaos that is regular life. Balance is what I strive to accomplish in climbing – a balance of life, love and mountains. Alpine climbing is a life-long commitment. I live and breathe it.” – Jess Roskelley.
“The response we’ve received from the climbing community and the myriad of family, friends, acquaintances and The North Face team has been unbelievable. Our deepest condolences go out to the families of David Lama and Hansjörg Auer. Jess looked up to the two of them and was so excited to climb with them.
“By endurance, we conquer.
“Love Alli, John, Joyce, Jordan and Dawn Roskelley”
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“David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family. He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that.⠀
“We appreciate the numerous positive words and thoughts from near and far. Please understand that there will be no further comments from our side. We ask you to remember David for his zest for life, his enthusiasm and with a view towards his beloved mountains. ⠀
“Our thoughts are with Hansjörg’s and Jess‘ family⠀
“Claudia & Rinzi Lama”
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“‘Climbing and mountaineering on the borderline of possible is a game – a risky game… but one that I cannot live without. The game is simple, the rules always the same. The present moment counts for everything. I want to do things that push me. With all my heart or not at all. The more intense it is, the more enriching it is, and the stronger the feeling that I am heading in the right direction.
“I do however begin to ponder. Especially when I am injured or after a close call. I think about my friends. I think about what it would be like if one day I didn’t return, if I had to pay the price for the mountains.
“And yet I cannot resist to take on the challenge time after time. I will never stop searching because what I find fascinates me every time I head out.” – Hansjörg Auer, 2015.
“Thank you to all for your kind words. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of David and Jess.
“Family and Friends of Hansjörg.”
With files from the Canadian Press.