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Auer, Lama, Roskelley summited Howse Peak before avalanche killed them on the descent

Posted on: April 22, 2019


The east face of Howse Peak, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks CanadaThe east face of Howse Peak, Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada

Parks Canada reported in a press conference today, April 22, that Jess Roskelley, David Lama and Hansjorg Auer started climbing M-16 (VI WI7+ A2) on Howse Peak early Tuesday morning, April 16, summited around 12:30 p.m. and were likely killed in an avalanche while descending the east face of the mountain that day.

The bodies were found in a field of avalanche debris on Sunday, April 21. Roskelley's phone was also recovered and contained a photo of the three climbers on top of the peak. They were reported overdue on Wednesday, April 17, but weather and increasing avalanche danger slowed search efforts.

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Parks Canada Visitor Safety Manager Brian Webster said that when the men started the climb, the avalanche safety bulletin rated the potential hazards as "spring conditions," which means "the danger is variable and can range from low to high." By Wednesday, when the search began, the avalanche danger had increased dramatically. Helicopters flown by Alpine Helicopters found evidence of the climbers' location and dropped a beacon to mark the spot. On Saturday, April 20, a searcher was deposited on the ground with a long-line and he remained attached to the helicopter the entire time to enable a fast evacuation if another avalanche were to occur. A search dog and handler were deposited via long-line the next day and found the bodies.

A press release from the Roskelley family reads:

All three men were considered to be some of the best alpinists in the world. Jess felt incredibly honored to be an athlete on The North Face global team.... We would like to send our utmost gratitude to the first responders and assisting agencies of Parks Canada including their Visitor Safety Specialist and the entire Incident Command Team, Lake Louise RCMP, Lake Louise Fire Department, Bow Valley Victim Services, the skilled pilots of Alpine Helicopters, and Brooke, the avalanche dog who located the climbers, and her handler. Additionally, we would like share our appreciation for the climbing community and the myriad of friends, family and acquaintances who have offered their sincere love and assistance to our family during this time. We would also like to send our deepest condolences to the families of David Lama and Hansjorg Auer of Austria. Jess was ecstatic to climb with these two men, who he looked up to and highly respected.

Search team. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks CanadaSearch team. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada

The search dog with handlers. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks CanadaThe search dog with handlers. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada

Steve House, who first climbed M-16 with Scott Backes and Barry Blanchard in 2000, posted on Instagram:

This mountain, Howse Peak is among the most powerful mountains I've ever known. She changed many lives this week; in tragic ways. I lost three friends, three brothers. That is the least of it, I'm sure. I knew all three, but I knew [Auer] best of all. He was a both a friend and a God to me.

The greatest confusion for me personally in this moment is the role of the route M-16. A route I climbed over five days, now so vividly remembered, over 20 years ago. That climb took myself and Scott Backes and Barry Blanchard to the limits of skill, power, judgment, and yes—luck. It challenged our very life force and we nearly lost. I climbed one of the most difficult and dangerous pitches of my life. Barry was very nearly killed by collapsing snow. Scott held us together as a team far more powerful than it's parts, then, and forever after. And now that power we knew, has killed.

I wish I had words to help the mournful understand who this mountain is. What climbing Howse Peak's precipitous East Face means. It is simply this: The truest testing place of the most powerful men on their very best days.... These were great men. The true .01 percent. This is something each of them proved with actions over and over again. These men were immeasurable....

David Lama's parents, Claudia and Rinzi Lama, posted on his Instagram page:

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 Hansjorg's and Jess' family.

A post from Auer's "family and friends" on his Instagram page begins with a quote from his website:

"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."

Thank you to all for your kind words. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of David and Jess.—Family and Friends of Hansjorg

An earlier report with more details about the climbers and the route they were climbing can be found here.

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