Earlier this week, American Jess Roskelley and Austrians Hansjörg Auer and David Lama were attempting M16, a difficult climb up the 10,810-foot Howse Peak in the Canadian Rockies, about 70 miles from Banff, when a large avalanche swept down the mountain.
Canadian authorities searched the area via helicopter on Wednesday and found “signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment,” according to a news release. The three alpinists are presumed dead.
“The pain that is felt is indescribable,” wrote the Basque pro climbers and brothers Eneko and Iker Pou in a tweet.
Auer, 35, grew up in a small village in Austria. He was one of the world’s top solo climbers, having free soloed the 37-pitch Fish Route on the south face of Marmolada in the Italian Dolomites (to name just one of his many ropeless climbs).
Roskelley, 36, from Spokane, Washington, was the son of famed American alpinist John Roskelley. The two climbed Everest together when Jess was 20. At the time, Jess was the youngest person from North America to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak. “Jess didn’t like the long expeditions. He wanted to put his skills and focus on lower objectives but much harder,” John told me after the climb. One of those objectives was the 8,500-foot Mount Huntington South Ridge Traverse, which Jess completed with his friend Clint Helander in 2017.
David Lama, 28, a former teenage prodigy, was an accomplished all-around climber. He freed the infamous Compressor Route on Cerro Torre and soloed the first ascent of the 22,621-foot peak Lunag Ri in Nepal. Lunag Ri took Lama several attempts, including once when he had to retreat after his partner, Conrad Anker, suffered a heart attack. Anker recovered but decided not to return to the mountain. He gave his blessing to Lama, who returned alone.
The three men were some of the best alpinists in the world and had already climbed many hard routes together this spring, including Andromeda Strain on Mount Andromeda. “This route they were trying to do was first done in 2000,” John Roskelley told the Spokesman-Review, referring to M16. “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.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that Jess was the youngest person to summit Everest, but he was the youngest from North America to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak.