By The Canadian Press
BANFF, Alta. — Three renowned mountain climbers are presumed dead after an avalanche in Alberta’s Banff National Park.
Outdoor apparel company The North Face confirmed Thursday that American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjorg Auer disappeared while attempting to climb the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway. They were reported overdue on Wednesday.
The North Face said the three professional climbers are members of its Global Athlete Team.
“They are missing, and local search and rescue has assumed the worst,” The North Face said in a statement.
“We are doing everything we can to support their families, friends and the climbing community during this difficult time.”
Parks Canada said recovery efforts are on hold because of a continued risk of avalanches in the area. Rain and strong winds in the forecast are expected to make conditions worse.
“Parks Canada visitor safety specialists immediately responded by air and observed signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment,” the agency said in a statement Thursday.
“Parks Canada extends its sincerest condolences to the families, friends and loved ones of the mountaineers.”
The east face of Howse Peak is remote and Parks Canada says its mixed rock and ice routes make it an exceptionally difficult climb.
An online biography of Roskelley on The North Face website says he grew up in Washington and spent his childhood adventuring with his family throughout the Pacific Northwest.
In 2003, at the age of 20, he summitted Mount Everest with his father, John Roskelley, who is considered one of the best American mountaineers of his era.
The American Alpine Journal said there is at least one route named after the younger Roskelley in Alaska called the Erdmann-Roskelley Northeast Face.
Lama, 28, who is the son of a Nepali mountain guide and a nurse from Austria, was only five-years old when Everest mountaineer Peter Habeler discovered his talents, The North Face website reads.
The Austrian climber also became the youngest person to win an International Federation of Sport Climbing World Cup in both lead climbing and bouldering. He shifted his focus to free climbing in 2011.
Auer, 35, who grew up near the Dolomites in Austria, guided sheep from the family farm into the mountains every summer as a boy.
“The thrill which accompanied those special moments of independence still follows him on his mountain adventures today,” said his North Face profile.
A daily avalanche bulletin by Parks Canada’s mountain safety team shows the danger level in Banff National Park is variable, ranging from low to high.
“Travelling early in the day is recommended, as conditions can change rapidly in short periods of time due to daytime warming,” says the bulletin.
It notes that a significant storm blew into the area late Wednesday. The storm is expected to drop 30 centimetres of new snow and rain, along with extreme winds.
“Winter is back and will stick around into the weekend, so adjust your plans accordingly,” said the forecast. “The avalanche danger is rising in alpine areas.”
— By Daniela Germano in Edmonton