February will mark three years since 44-year-old Mark Salesse‘s tragic death.
The search-and-rescue technician from 17 Wing in Winnipeg was swept off a narrow ledge by an avalanche while on a military exercise on Alberta’s Cirrus Mountain in February 2015. He was buried under metres of snow and it took a week to recover his body.
“It’s the mountains — they’re a harsh mistress,” said Salesse’s longtime friend Doug Summers. “I got the text right away and I knew he was done.”
Summers said the Polar Circus ice climbing route had always been a challenge for Salesse — one he was determined to overcome.
“It was a religious thing for him, especially that one climb. Every time we drove by it, literally, we would have to pull over on the side of the road.”
With winter just weeks away, his close friends knew they had to find a special way to honour Salesse.
“We were in the army a long time together, all of us. It’s like a friend who’s been away for a long time; he’s still in our hearts,” said Salesse’s friend Denis Byrne.
So on Saturday, Sept. 9, with a special plaque in hand, the trio set off for Cirrus Mountain.
But close friend Jason Budd said it was what the group took away with them that day that meant the most.
“It was just disbelief and awe.”
Budd said after what felt like mere seconds following a group huddle and prayer, the sun broke through the clouds.
“I wanted to go down the creek bed and there was this ice tool looking at me. It was one of the tools Mark climbed with — and they were never recovered.”
For the three men, the discovery was nothing short of emotional.
“To find a climber’s tool, especially one that Mark was using to climb there, is very significant,” Byrne said.
The friends plan to return to the mountain next year and hope others can learn from Salesse’s story and the search and rescue motto: “That Others May Live.”