Ken Wallator, who was once one of the top climbers in the Canadian Rockies, was found dead at age 52 on Dec. 21 near Jasper, Alberta. The death is not deemed to be suspicious in nature.

Wallator was last seen on Dec. 9 in Jasper but made contact via social media from the Hinton area on Dec. 14. Police appealed for information from the public about Wallator’s whereabouts shortly after he posted a dire message on social media warning that it might be his last post.

Hinton RCMP said they would like to thank the public for their assistance in a press release. Countless friends and family rushed to look for Wallator in the days after the search began.

Wallator was a leading climber in the Banff and Jasper during his youth. In 1988, Wallator and Tom Thomas made the first ascent of a serious grade-six mixed/aid route up the north face of Storm Mountain in the Rockies. The route has never been repeated. A few years ago, Wallator said that anyone who could repeat the difficult climb would get a free rope.

In spring of 1988, Wallator joined Tim Friesen and Charles Scott for the first ascent of an alpine route on the south face of McArthur Peak in Alaska. Shortly after that, Wallator and Friesen climbed the East Ridge of Mount Logan in only six days, a fast time during the late 1980s.

Wallator made bold repeats of difficult routes around the Columbia Icefield, such as the Ramp Route on Mount Kitchener. He established a number of big rock routes, such as two difficult ones on Roche Miette: one with Harvey Struss called Task Masker V 5.8 A3; and one with Rick Costea in 1988 up the West Face 5.9 A2.

In early December of 1988, 24-year-old Heidi Schaefer and Wallator, 21 at the time, were climbing Mount Belanger, a peak south of Jasper. After finishing the technical part of the climb, they reached a ridge 130 metres below the summit. They stopped to take a photograph when the cornice gave way. Wallator was able to jump and grab onto the rock, but Schaefer fell 480 metres down the side of the mountain.

After the fall, Schaefer stood up for a moment to put on her jacket, but then collapsed. It took Wallator 90 minutes to climb down to where she was. He carried her through a snowstorm toward a climbers’ hut more than 300 metres below. However, she died of her injuries in Wallator’s arms before they could reach the hut.

The following year, Wallator was joined by Thomas and G. McCormick for a 16-day expedition of a new route up the north face of Mount Clemenceau. And in April, 1989, Wallator and Costea climbed Slipstream VI WI4+ on Snowdome, a serious alpine ice climb. On the climb with them was a team from the U.S.A. consisting of Chris Dube and William Holland. Once on top of the mountain, Holland accidentally fell through a cornice, unroped, and to his death. Wallator and Dube skied out from basecamp to call a helicopter. Holland’s body wasn’t found until 2010.

Wallator continued to climb over the years and in 2016, he made the first ascent of Lucky Star WI4 with Sean Elliott down the valley from Shades of Beauty. It was around that time that Wallator started posting videos of his ice climbing here.

Over the last few years, Wallator had been active on social media, posting images of his solo ice and rock climbs from Jasper to the Bow Valley.

His life was full of adventures, epics, tragedy, and over the past few months, difficult times. This is a heartbreaking end to a frantic search to bring Wallator home. Our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

Ken Wallator on Mount Columbia Photo courtesy of Margo Talbot

Historical information from Pushing the Limits by Chic Scott, the American Alpine Journal and Canadian Alpine Journal