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Father setting out in search of son lost amid avalanche on notoriously remote Canadian peak

By Monica Bielanko, AccuWeather senior producer
April 19, 2019, 4:12:57 PM EDT

John and Jess Roskelley

John Roskelley (left) and his son, Jess Roskelley, seen here in 2003 after they climbed Mount Everest together. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A man from Spokane, Washington, is headed to do the unthinkable: Bring home his son, Jess Roskelley, who is presumed dead after an avalanche at Canada's Banff National Park.

Jess Roskelley, 36, is one of three renowned mountain climbers who were attempting to traverse an exceptionally difficult route on the east face of Howse Peak on the Icefields Parkway when the avalanche struck. Brandon Pullman, editor-in-chief of Gripped, a climbing magazine, said the route the men were attempting, known as M16, has only been climbed successfully once, 20 years ago. Howse Peak is a notoriously remote mountain situated in the Canadian Rockies. A look at the social media pages of all three climbers shows they were enjoying their adventure. They had already climbed the iconic Andromeda Strain, according to several photos and videos each posted.

Jess Roskelley is best known for climbing Mount Everest in 2003 at age 20. At the time, he was the youngest American to summit the world's highest peak. His father, John Roskelley, one of the best climbers of his generation, had joined his son on that first Everest climb and also made several notable ascents to the top of the fabled peak. The father-son team experienced many extraordinary climbs together. In 2009, the duo was forced to endure a minus-10-degree F night in a tiny snow cave on a steep ice cliff without sleeping bags when they were climbing a difficult snow, ice and waterfall route in Jasper National Park.

"We just got caught out,” John, 60 at the time, remarked in a 2009 interview with The Spokesman Review. “These things happen occasionally when you climb challenging routes.”


From left: David Lama, 28, Jess Roskelley, 36, and Hansjörg Auer, 35. (Facebook)

The elder Roskelley says his son was supposed to check in with him Tuesday night but never called. John Roskelley called Parks Canada the next morning to report his son missing. Safety specialists were immediately sent up in a helicopter. The crew "observed signs of multiple avalanches and debris containing climbing equipment," Parks Canada said in a statement. "Based on the assessment of the scene, all three members of the party are presumed to be deceased."

Stephen Holeczi, a safety specialist for Parks Canada said at a news conference that Howse Peak is very remote and is outside the park's regular avalanche monitoring zone. Weather conditions at the time are unknown, but he said that the warming April sun increases the risk of avalanche.

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John Roskelley had also climbed a different route on the 10,810-foot Howse Peak in the 1970s and is said to know the area well. "It's in an area above a basin," he told The Spokesman-Review. "There must have been a lot of snow that came down and got them off the face," he said. "This route they were trying to do was first done in 2000. 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.”

The parks staff said it doesn't know when the avalanche happened, but based on the size of the debris field, they think it was a size 3 avalanche on a 5-point scale. According to Avalanche Canada, size 3 avalanches can "bury a car, destroy a small building or break a few trees."

John and Jess Roskelley

Jess Roskelley pictured with his father, John Roskelley, during one of their climbs. (Instragram / JessRosskelley)

Recovery efforts are on hold because of a continued risk of avalanches and the area around the mountain is closed. According to The Spokesman-Review, John Roskelley was making plans to go to Canada with his wife, daughter and Jess' wife, Allison Roskelley, to gather his son's belongings and see if he could get into the area.

The three men were all sponsored by outdoor apparel company The North Face and were members of its Global Athlete Team. The company posted a statement on its website, reading in part, "David, Jess, and Hansjörg are valued and loved members of The North Face family and we are doing everything we can to support their families, friends and community during this difficult time."

As a climber, John Roskelley said he understands what drove Jess to take such risks.

“It’s how he lived, really. He took life by the horns. When you’re climbing mountains, danger is not too far away. It’s terrible for my wife and I. But it’s even worse for his wife. I think it’s really important to say that he was just totally in love with his wife."

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