The international mountaineering scene is shocked. The top climbers David Lama and Hansjörg Auer from Austria and Jess Roskelley from the USA most probably died in an avalanche accident on the 3,295-meter-high Howse Peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. “Based on the assessment of the scene, all three members of the party are presumed to be deceased,” Parks Canada, the national park authority of the Canadian government, announced. Equipment had been discovered in a huge avalanche cone during a reconnaissance flight, it said: “Further investigation is underway but recovery efforts are not currently possible due to additional avalanches and dangerous conditions at the scene.”
Torn out of the wall
Jess’ father John Roskelley – one of the best climbers in the world in the 1970s and 80s – alerted the rescue teams on Wednesday after hearing nothing from his son and companions. According to the 70-year-old, Roskelley, Lama and Auer had tackled the difficult “M16” route opened by Steve House, Barry Blanchard and Scott Backes in 1999 on the East Face of Howse Peak, which had never been repeated since. “There must have been a lot of snow that came down and got them off the face,” John Roskelley said in an interview with the US newspaper “The Spokesman – Review”, adding that he had no hope that his son and the two Austrians might have survived the avalanche.
First ascent of Lunag Ri
With the 28-year-old David Lama, the 35-year-old Hansjörg Auer and the 36-year-old Jess Roskelley the climbing scene loses three of their best. One of Lama’s greatest successes was the first free ascent of the so-called “Compressor Route” on Cerro Torre in Patagonia in 2012, together with his compatriot Peter Ortner. Last fall David, son of a Nepalese father and an Austrian mother, set another highlight in the border region between Nepal and Tibet soloing the first ascent of the technically demanding 6895-metre-high Lunag Ri.
Free solo specialist
Hansjörg Auer first caused a sensation with spectacular free solo climbs in the Alps (for example on the “Fish” route via the Marmolata South Face), then also with first ascents in the Himalayas and Karakoram. In 2013, together with his brother Matthias Auer and the Swiss Simon Anthamatten, he succeeded the first ascent of the 7,400-meter-high Kunyang Chhish East in Pakistan. In 2015 he climbed with his compatriots Alexander Blümel and Gerry Fiegl for the first time through the South Face of the 6,839-metre-high Nilgiri South in western Nepal – on the descent, the altitude-sick Fiegl fell to his death. In summer 2018, Hansjörg soloed the first ascent of the West Face of the rarely attempted 7,157-meter-high Lupghar Sar West in the Karakoram.
With his father on top of Everest
Jess Roskelley scaled Mount Everest with his father John in 2003. Aged 20, he was at that time the youngest American ever to climb the highest mountain on earth. Later Jess opened numerous ambitious climbing routes in Alaska – like in 2017, when he and Clint Helander climbed for the first time the complete South Ridge of the 3,731-meter-high Mount Huntington.
The devil never sleeps
“When you’re climbing mountains, danger is not too far away,” said John Roskelley on the death of his son. David Lama and Hansjörg Auer also knew about the dangers. “The risk is always present,” Lama wrote on his homepage. And Hansjörg Auer told me after his success on Lupghar Sar West: “I think, the devil never sleeps”.
Update, 19 April, 5.30 pm: David Lama’s parents have published a statement on their son’s accident: “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.”