Bodies of 3 world-renowned climbers recovered from Banff avalanche

Parks Canada says the bodies of three climbers have been recovered from an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains. 

Hansjörg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelley were attempting challenging route up Howse Peak

From left, Hansjörg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelley. Their bodies have been recovered. (Facebook)

Parks Canada says the bodies of three climbers have been recovered from an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains. 

Austrian climbers Hansjörg Auer, 35, and David Lama, 28, and American Jess Roskelley, 36, were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak in Banff National Park on Tuesday.

They were reported overdue on Wednesday, and Parks Canada officials "responded by air and observed signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment."

The climbers were presumed deceased, but recovery efforts were not possible at the time due to dangerous conditions.

On Sunday, the bodies of the climbers were recovered.

"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. Our thoughts are with families, friends and all those who have been affected by this tragic incident," the agency said in an emailed statement.

The agency also thanked the first responders and agencies who assisted in the recovery.

The three experienced mountaineers were attempting the east face of Howse Peak in Banff National Park along the Icefields Parkway. (CBC)

All three athletes were professional mountaineers.

Roskelley was, in 2003, the youngest American to climb Mount Everest. He was 20 at the time. 

Auer recently completed the first solo ascent of Lupghar Sar West, a remote 7,157-metre summit in Pakistan.

And Lama was part of a duo that made the first free ascent of the famous Compressor route on Cerro Torre in Patagonia, along the border between Argentina and Chile.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said last week that Lama and Auer had "shaped the international climbing and alpinist scene in recent years with many achievements."

They were attempting a challenging route up Howse Peak, also known as M16, that has only been climbed once before.

Fellow mountaineers have shared condolences for the climbers' loved ones on social media.

Fellow climber 'shattered' by news

"I just feel so sad for Jess' family," said Jeff Rasley, who accompanied Jess and his father, renowned climber John Roskelley, on Jess' first trip to the Himalayas when the climber was just 15-years-old.

Rasley is an author who has written about his expeditions to the region, and was working on a chapter for an upcoming book about his trip with the Roskelleys when he heard the climbers were missing and presumed dead.

"The coincidence is, it's really jarring … the warm, wonderful feeling of reliving those memories and then to have it sort of shattered with that news."

He described the Roskelleys as "delightful companions" who sparked his love of mountaineering.

"[Jess] had just a delightful sense of humour and curiosity," Rasley said.

He described one instance where the then-teen cautiously approached a baby yak on the trail and then the animal "became his little buddy."

A 15-year-old Jess Roskelley approaches a baby yak on a trail during his first trip to the Himalayas with his father, renowned mountaineer John Roskelley. Jess died in an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains this week. (Jeff Rasley)

Rasley said he's reached out to Jess' father, who had headed to Alberta from Washington to join the search. 

"I'm just feeling for them," he said.

Parks Canada said earlier in the week that the avalanche on Howse Peak was believed to be large enough to bury a car, break trees or destroy a small, wood-framed building. 

Avalanche danger in the area was forecasted to be variable at the time, with conditions that could change rapidly.

A second deadly avalanche happened in the Rockies on Saturday. A man was critically injured in an avalanche near Lake Louise, Alta. He died in hospital on Sunday.

With files from The Canadian Press


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