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Auer, Lama and Roskelley killed in avalanche on Canada's Howse Peak

Posted on: April 18, 2019


[UPDATE, April 22—the latest report can be found here.]

[UPDATE, April 21—Parks Canada confirmed that they recovered the bodies earlier today. In a press release, the agency stated: "Parks Canada extends our sincere condolences to [the climbers'] 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. Parks Canada thanks our first responders and all assisting agencies for their invaluable support and professionalism including our Visitor Safety Specialist and the entire Incident Command team, Lake Louise RCMP, Lake Louise Fire Department, Bow Valley Victim Services and the skilled pilots from Alpine Helicopters.";]

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Hansjorg Auer, David Lama and Jess Roskelley are presumed to have been killed in an avalanche while attempting M-16 (VI WI7+ A2) on Howse Peak, located on the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada.

Parks Canada officials confirmed in a press conference today, April 18, that a helicopter search was conducted after the climbers were reported overdue on Wednesday morning, April 17. According to Parks Canada Visitor Safety Specialist Stephen Holeczi, the search crews observed signs of multiple avalanches in the area. In one particular "Size 3" avalanche "there was strong evidence that the climbing party was involved and that the victims were deceased," Holeczi said.

David Lama during acclimatizing on Fox Peak, October 2018. [Photo] David Lama/Red Bull Content PoolDavid Lama during acclimatizing on Fox Peak, October 2018. [Photo] David Lama/Red Bull Content Pool

Hansjorg Auer during an attempt of Annapurna III's Southeast Ridge, Nepal, April 2016 [Photo] Alexander Bluumel/Red Bull Content PoolHansjorg Auer during an attempt of Annapurna III's Southeast Ridge, Nepal, April 2016. [Photo] Alexander Bluumel/Red Bull Content Pool

Jess Roskelley during the first ascent of Canmore Wedding Party (AI5 M7, 2,625') in Montana’s Cabinet Mountains, November 2018. [Photo] Scott ColdironJess Roskelley during the first ascent of Canmore Wedding Party (AI5 M7, 2,625') in Montana's Cabinet Mountains, November 2018. [Photo] Scott Coldiron

Canada uses a different rating system for avalanches. On the Canadian scale, a Size 3 is powerful enough to ";bury a car, destroy a small building, or break trees"; and is around 1,000 tons and about 1,000 meters long.

Holeczi said that there is currently a rising avalanche danger in the area and attempts to recover the bodies will have to wait until conditions stabilize.

All three men were highly accomplished, well-rounded alpinists.

Auer, 35, of Austria, was especially known for his solo climbing. He completed one of the boldest free solos ever done in 2007 when he climbed Via Attraverso il Pesce (The Fish Route: 7b+/5.12c, 37 pitches, 850m) on the south face of the Marmolada, Dolomites, Italy. In 2017 he soloed three huge climbs in the Dolomites, enchaining them together by paragliding. He also completed first ascents on several 7000-meter peaks.

Lama, 28, of Austria, started his career as a competitive sport climber and branched out into expedition climbing around 2009. That was when he started his bid to free climb the Compressor Route, a notorious bolt-ladder up a sheer headwall on Cerro Torre in Patagonia. He was met with skepticism and criticism over his tactics but he ultimately achieved that goal in 2012 even though Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk had removed many of the bolts that he would have used for protection on what ended up being runout pitches of 5.13 climbing. Last October he completed the first ascent of Lunag Ri (6895m) in Nepal as a solo.

Roskelley, 36, of Spokane, Washington, grew up under the tutelage of his father John Roskelley, who himself was a legendary climber. The pair climbed Chomolungma (Everest) together in 2003 when Jess was 20. At the time, Jess was the youngest person to summit the world's highest mountain, but he was more interested in pursuing alpine-style climbs that were more technical. In 2016, with Clint Helander in Alaska, he achieved the first complete ascent of Mt. Huntington's South Ridge, which they dubbed Gauntlet Ridge (Alaska Grade 6 M6 A0 95-degrees, ca. 8,500') because of the hazards they faced knowing that retreat was next to impossible past a certain point. Last summer Roskelley completed first ascents on two 6000-meter peaks in Pakistan with Kurt Ross and Nelson Neirinck.

Roskelley wrote a story in December for Alpinist.com titled ";No bull: Too tired to see right after a first ascent in Montana's Cabinet Range,"; which began:

Some of the better things I've climbed have been on the fly. Someone calls, and I shuffle commitments around and make it work. Maybe it's better that way. When the opportunity presents itself, I simply drop whatever I'm doing to head into the mountains.

Prior to the avalanche on Howse Peak, Auer, Lama and Roskelley had been steadily ticking off several of Canada's classic testpiece climbs together, including a fast ascent of Andromeda Strain (V M5 WI5) on Mt. Andromeda and Nemesis (WI6) on the Stanley Headwall.

M-16 was first climbed by Scott Backes, Barry Blanchard and Steve House in March 2000. Blanchard's knee was injured on the descent when he was caught in a deluge of spindrift and he was ultimately evacuated by helicopter. In the 2000 American Alpine Journal, House wrote:

[The line] follows the exciting-looking ice formations on the east face of Howse Peak in Alberta, Canada. The route consisted of about 15 pitches and we ended at the top of a striking couloir, some distance below and to the south of the summit....

We named the route M-16 in reference to its difficulty and seriousness and in allusion to Barry's experience of being "under the gun," and also partially in objection to the "new" sport of mixed climbing on bolted crag routes, which alpinists have been doing for centuries, just not at the crags and without the bolts.

";It's just one of those routes where you have to have the right conditions or it turns into a nightmare. This is one of those trips where it turned into a nightmare,"; John Roskelley recently told The Spokesman-Review.

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