Two central Alberta mountain climbers were killed after being swept away by an “unsurvivable” avalanche near Jasper last weekend.
Andrew Abel, 30, of Innisfail, and Nathaniel Johnson, 28, of Red Deer and Cochrane, died together while climbing Mount Andromeda in the Columbia Icefield on Sunday.
Abel and Johnson were ascending the Sky Ladder, considered a moderate snow and ice route, when tragedy struck.
Whether the two men were caught in the path of an avalanche, or somehow triggered it, “we will never know,” said Peter Tucker, executive-director of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides.
“People go into the mountains to have fun. Nobody expects anything like this…”
Tucker is sure both climbers had safety gear with them, but doesn’t believes any equipment could have saved them. This large avalanche “wasn’t survivable,” he added. “They were carried down a slope a very long way…”
Abel and Johnson were experienced rock climbers, but Tucker doesn’t know how familiar they were with ice climbing.
Their deaths are a big loss to Alberta’s mountain climbing and guiding community — and a huge loss to their friends and loved ones, including their life partners, said Tucker. “I just can’t imagine what it’s like to lose people that are so dear to them. Their (partners) are devastated.”
Johnson’s fiancée, Hannah Christiane, posted on Facebook that Nate always joked around “saying that ‘I’m here for a good time, not a long time.’ He loved the mountains and all the adventures they held. It feels so right that he was doing a mountaineering project with his closest and most trusted friend…
“I’m so lucky and blessed that I got to have Nate in my life for eight years, he was my best friend and absolutely perfect for me. My heart is buried under the snow,” Christiane wrote.
Abel’s wife, Brinnae Erb-Abel, said mountains held a special place in her husband’s heart throughout his life.
“He spent every free moment climbing and sharing that passion for wild spaces with those around him. While my heart is broken at the loss of my best friend, partner, and husband, I am taking solace in the knowledge that Andrew was pursuing what he loved, and doing so with someone he loved, so there is nothing more I could have asked for.”
Erb-Abel added on Facebook that she’s grateful for the outpouring of support, including from Jasper Search and Rescue, and first responders “who worked tirelessly to support recovery efforts.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay off the men’s student loans and help their partners “reorder” their lives. As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $32,000 was raised towards a goal of $100,000.
Besides being a passionate mountain climber, Johnson was a red-seal mechanic and accounting intern, who was also a fencing coach and a volunteer with the ski patrol.
Abel was an apprentice rock guide with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, who was planning to tie his life coaching skills with guiding to offer clients therapy-based outdoor adventures, said Tucker.
According to the GoFundMe page, set up by Tim Taylor, Abel and Johnson had the answer to why people climb mountains: “They knew together, we can do hard things. Together we are better,” wrote Taylor.
For more information find the Andrew and Nate Memorial fundraiser on GoFundMe.com.