Austrian climber missing after Banff avalanche 'dedicated his life to the mountains,' say parents

The parents of celebrated Austrian climber David Lama said Friday that he had "lived his dream," as hopes he and two other top climbers survived an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies faded.

Presumed dead, weather conditions hamper efforts to recover bodies of 3 top climbers

From left, climbers Hansjörg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelley who are missing in Alberta following an avalanche are presumed dead. (Facebook)

The parents of celebrated Austrian climber David Lama said Friday that he had "lived his dream" as hopes he and two other top climbers survived an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies fade.

Lama, fellow Austrian Hansjörg Auer and American climber Jess Roskelley have been missing in Alberta's Rocky Mountains since Wednesday. Their sponsor, outdoor apparel company The North Face, said the three members of its Global Athlete Team are presumed dead following an avalanche.

Parks Canada won't be able to get to their bodies on Howse Peak in Banff National Park until the weather improves.

"David dedicated his life to the mountains and his passion for climbing and alpinism shaped and accompanied our family," Claudia and Rinzi Lama said in a statement posted on their son's website. "He always followed his own path and lived his dream. We will accept what now happened as a part of that."

Howse Peak is located in Banff National Park, near the border between Alberta and British Columbia. (Tim Banfield Photography)

The family expressed gratitude for the support it received "from near and far" and asked that their son be remembered "for his zest for life, his enthusiasm."

'Shaped' international climbing, says chancellor

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

Lama, 28, was feted for achieving 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.

Outdoor apparel company The North Face confirmed Thursday that American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjörg Auer disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway. (The North Face/Canadian Press handout)

The son of a Nepalese mountain guide and an Austrian nurse, Lama had also won numerous climbing competitions in his younger years before devoting himself full-time to mountaineering in 2011.

Auer, 35, became the first person to free solo climb Italy's Marmolada peak via the south face in 2007.

Parks Canada said the three men were attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway on Wednesday. They were said to be taking a particularly difficult route known as M16 — something that had only been done once before.

Officials said safety specialists immediately responded by air and observed signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment. The area is currently closed.

Other achievements

Roskelley climbed Mount Everest in 2003 at age 20. At the time, he was the youngest American to climb the world's highest peak.

In this 2003 file photo, Jess Roskelley, then 20, answers questions during a news conference in Seattle. That year he successfully climbed Mount Everest with his father, John Roskelley, becoming the youngest American to reach the top of the world's tallest peak. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

"Jess could make a pun out of anything and he was loyal beyond belief and, man, he was funny. He was the funniest kid," said his sister Jordan Roskelly.

His father, John Roskelley, told The Spokesman-Review that the route his son and the other climbers were attempting was first done in 2000.

In the 2013 documentary, Lama addressed the constant peril extreme climbers are exposed to, insisting that the risks were carefully calculated — more like a game of poker than Russian roulette. 

"I think it's important to be aware of the risks, but in the end there will always be things that are out of our hands," he said.

Brandon Pullan, an experienced climber, was with the trio last week. He has climbed Howse Peak, but took a safer path.

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

"It is probably one of the most dangerous routes in the Canadian Rockies that you could attempt," he said.

"I absolutely wouldn't do this climb and don't know many people who would."

Pullan says heavy snowfall this year may have made a dangerous climb even more treacherous this year.

But the tragedy isn't likely to deter the elite climbers who make a living, travelling the world — climbing to its highest peaks.

"When you are up there climbing these mountains it feels right. It feels like you should be doing it," said Pullan. "But when I talk to my parents about why I do it I can't give them a good answer because it is a dangerous thing."

Brandon Pullan, editor-in-chief at Gripped Magazine, is an experienced climber and was with the trio last week. (Dave Rae/CBC)

With files from CBC's Erin Collins


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