MONTREAL: Three world-renowned professional mountaineers killed by an avalanche in the Canadian Rocky Mountains had reached the summit of difficult Howse Peak and lost their lives on the descent, Parks Canada said on Monday.
The mountaineers, Jess Roskelley, 36, of the United States, and Austrians Hansjorg Auer, 35, and David Lama, 28, disappeared last week on a climbing expedition at the east face of Howse Peak, a particularly tough summit in Alberta’s Banff National Park.
The federal agency, Parks Canada, announced Sunday that their bodies had been found.
“While details are limited, the Roskelley family confirmed the three climbers were successful at summiting Howse Peak,” Parks Canada said in a statement read during a telephone press conference.
The agency described the east face of the Peak as “remote and an exceptionally difficult objective, with mixed rock and ice routes requiring advanced alpine mountaineering skills.”
Brian Webster, a Parks Canada official, added the trio had “summited at noon and were descending when the accident happened.”
He said he did not know at what height the avalanche hit the men, saying their remains had been found at the bottom of the mountain’s east face.
Webster said the men were apparently rappelling down when the avalanche struck.
They had begun their assault on Howse Peak the morning of April 16. The accident occurred the same day.
Their remains were found five days later, on Sunday, with the help of a specially-trained “avalanche dog,” Parks Canada said.
The men did not carry beacons that would have located them in an avalanche, Webster said, adding the devices would not have made any difference to their fate. They would, however, have accelerated the search, which was delayed by very bad weather and the risk of further avalanches.
Among the best
On April 17, when the climbers were reported overdue after failing to check in, Parks Canada “visitor safety specialists” responded immediately, the agency said.
The specialists saw signs of multiple avalanches “and debris containing climbing equipment,” leading to a conclusion that the men had been killed, Parks Canada said.
The specialists installed an avalanche transceiver to aid in search and recovery but conditions – including the risk of further avalanches – restricted the ability to search over subsequent days.
Finally, on Sunday the dog and her handler, dropped in by helicopter and long-line, located the remains.
The dead climbers were part of a team of experienced athletes sponsored by American outdoor equipment firm The North Face.
Roskelley was the son of John Roskelley, who was also considered one of the best mountaineers of his own generation.
Father and son climbed Mount Everest together in 2003, when the younger Roskelley was only 20 years old and became the youngest mountaineer to climb the planet’s highest mountain above sea level.
Auer and Lama, from Tyrol in Austria, were also considered among the best mountaineers of the times.
Webster said their deaths brought to six the number of avalanche fatalities in the Banff region this year.