Allison Roskelley exuded strength, grief and humor while speaking to a roomful of climbers Sunday evening about her husband, Jess Roskelley, who was killed April 16 in an avalanche near Banff, Alberta.
“I’m going to try really hard to do this,” she said as she took the stage at the Washington Cracker Building in downtown Spokane.
The event was an annual fundraiser hosted by the Bower Climbing Coalition to support local outdoor climbing routes, but it became something more poignant as people shared stories and recollections of Jess Roskelley. All of the money raised Sunday night went to Roskelley’s family, said Scott Coldiron, a friend of Jess Roskelley’s and former BCC board member.
Roskelley, 36, was climbing with Austrians David Lama, 28, and Hansjörg Auer, 35, on Howse Peak in the Canadian Rockies when an avalanche struck. A search was launched for the climbers after Roskelley failed to contact his family. On April 21, the climbers’ bodies were found in the avalanche debris field below the peak, and a photo recovered from Jess Roskelley’s phone shows what appears to be a summit shot.
“Jess was honest with me before he left on every single climb. We knew the risks. We equally knew the risks,” Allison Roskelley told the 100 or so people assembled. “I believe I have equal responsibility in accepting that risk. And now I’m moving forward knowing that he would have done anything he could have to be home right now.”
John Roskelley, Jess’ father and one of the best alpinists of his generation, thanked the crowd for its support and kindness through a “trying time.”
“We love our son. But we also understand the alpine environment,” John Roskelley said. “I’ve been at it 25 years and a lot of the people I started with are right here in this room today. But a lot of them aren’t. Alpine climbing is a risky sport, and it’s an extreme sport. These guys were extreme athletes. They were pushing the limits. They liked it, they felt good about it.”
Roskelley added that he was proud of his son and saw, in the photo recovered from his phone, that Jess was at the “top of his game.”
“That made me so, so proud of him,” he said.
The coalition’s annual fundraising party almost didn’t happen, said BCC president Tony Crownhart. The BCC is a nonprofit started to honor the legacy of Andrew Bower, a Spokane climber who died while climbing in 2015. On Sunday, before the fundraiser, volunteers hauled trash out of local climbing areas.
“We were very close to canceling because no one wanted to party,” Crownhart said. “That’s not what tonight is about anymore.”
Jess Roskelley’s death has rocked Spokane’s tight-knit climbing community.
“People who had barely met Jess considered him a friend,” Coldiron said.
While the evening had a distinct undertone of grief and sobriety, there was still plenty of humor.
While addressing the crowd, Coldiron mentioned that this summer, the BCC will install a toilet at Deep Creek, a popular climbing area in Riverside State Park. While speaking to the crowd, John Roskelley joked that perhaps they should spread Jess’ ashes in front of the toilet because “he would love that. That was Jess.”
Allison picked up the joke when she took the stage, saying that Jess relieved himself “out in the woods by Deep Creek more than anyone I know.”
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