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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Heavy snowfall delays search for Spokane climber Jess Roskelley and partners, but weather shows signs of improvement

An event to support local climbing routes turned into an evening of remembrances Sunday, April 28, 2019, as attendees raised money to support the family of Spokane climber Jess Roskelley, who was killed in an avalanche near Banff, Alberta, on April 16, 2019. (Ben Herndon / Ben Herndon/courtesy photo)

CANMORE, Alberta – Friends, family and loved ones continued to wait Saturday for a Canadian rescue team to search for Spokane climber Jess Roskelley and his two climbing partners.

Roskelley, 36, and Austrian climbers David Lama, 28, and Hansjörg Auer, 35, are presumed dead after failing to check in Tuesday while climbing the 10,810-foot Howse Peak in Canada.

Bad weather delayed the rescue and recovery efforts Thursday and Friday. On Saturday the weather began to clear. However, John Roskelley, Jess’ father, said heavy snowfall in the area – possibly as much as 15 inches – meant avalanche danger remained considerable.

Rescuers may bomb the slopes to trigger other avalanches before heading in. Or, they may wait until the snowpack settles. Exactly when they are able to enter the area depends on the conditions.

“We’re all in a holding pattern and that’s the way it’s going to be,” John Roskelley said.

On Wednesday, a helicopter crew spotted avalanche debris and climbing equipment near the base of the climb after John Roskelley called Parks Canada and told them his son hadn’t checked in.

The route the three were attempting, called M-16, is on the east face of the mountain. From the trailhead it’s about a three-hour ski.

“It’s right at the base that’s going to avalanche at any time,” John Roskelley said.

Jordan Roskelley, Jess’ sister, added, “They did say it was an incredibly difficult area to get into.”

Because of heavy cloud cover the helicopter crew was unable to see the upper sections of the peak, she said. With better weather Saturday, that may have changed.

The trio of climbers, some of the best alpinists in the world, were on a monthlong North Face funded trip. They were climbing in the Canadian Rockies testing new North Face gear, according to John Roskelley.

“Rather than go to the Alps, where it gets pretty crowded, they decided to come here,” he said.

John, Jordan and Joyce Roskelley, Jess’ mother, arrived in Canmore on Thursday night, along with Allison Roskelley, Jess’ wife.

Lama’s girlfriend also came to Canmore to await news.

Initially, the Roskelleys and several other Spokane-area climbers and alpinists were determined to go into the area themselves and search for or retrieve Jess and the others.

However, Parks Canada told them they couldn’t do that. Instead, an elite rescue team will search. John Roskelley said he’s been impressed by Park Canada’s professionalism and kindness during the whole process.

The area remains closed to the public, including the road leading to the trailhead.

M-16, the route the three were attempting, was first climbed by Steve House, Barry Blanchard and Scott Backes. While M-16 is a technical and difficult climb it was well within all three climbers’ ability. All had climbed harder and more dangerous routes.