Home > Climbing > Mountaineering

Body of US Climber Recovered After 22 Years on Mountain

As climate change melts mountains around the world, the bodies of climbers lost for decades are appearing more frequently.
huascaran peru climber body stampflRescuers retrieve the remains of Bill Stampfl from Peru's Huascaran; (photo/Peruvian National Police)
Support us! GearJunkie may earn a small commission from affiliate links in this article. Learn More

The remains of an American climber missing since 2002 will finally return home to his loved ones.

In June 2002, Bill Stampfl was climbing Huascaran with friends Steve Erskine and Matthew Richardson. At 22,205 feet, it’s the highest mountain in Peru and a popular objective for alpinists. But their 19-day trip turned deadly when an avalanche struck the team, killing all three. Only the body of Erskine was recovered — until now.

Another team of American climbers was attempting to summit the mountain last month when they stumbled upon a body lying on top of the snow. They quickly realized the remains had been there for “a really long time,” according to The New York Times. An ID card and passport found on the body allowed them to track down and notify Stampfl’s family.

The family then hired an alpine rescue team, which retrieved Stampfl’s remains from the mountain this week with the help of Peruvian authorities. After a planned cremation of the body in Lima, Peru, Stampfl’s ashes will return to his family, CNN reported.

“There is no preparation for having your husband killed instantaneously,” Stampfl’s widow, Janet, told CNN. “It’s an answer to so many prayers by so many people.”

Thawing Mountains Reveal Lost Climbers

A rapidly warming climate has melted deeper layers of snow and ice on the world’s highest mountains worldwide. At higher altitudes, mountains are extra sensitive to global warming, with a thinner layer of ozone protecting them from the sun’s rays.

As a result, the bodies of fallen climbers — many of them frozen for decades — have begun appearing more frequently in recent years.

That’s most apparent on Mount Everest, where more than 100 bodies likely remain on the mountain’s slopes. Each season, more and more climbers encounter skulls and other bones while making their way up and down from the summit, The New York Times reported in 2019.

huascaran peru climber body stampfl 2
Rescuers on Huascaran during the retrieval of Stampfl’s remains last week; (photo/Peruvian National Police)

“Snow is melting, and bodies are surfacing,” Kami Rita Sherpa told the paper. “Finding bones has become the new normal for us.”

But that isn’t only happening on the world’s highest and most popular mountain. In June 2023, the remains of a German mountaineer were discovered on the Matterhorn in the Alps — a whopping 37 years after he went missing. The Matterhorn also revealed long-lost bodies in 2015, when Swiss officials found the remains of two Japanese climbers missing since 1970.

And, in October 2022, Teton Gravity Research found the cameras and film from Bradford Washburn’s 1937 Yukon expedition.

Capitol Peak, where wisconsin climber died

A Climber Died on a Colorado Mountain, His Body Will Stay There

A Wisconsin climber died during a steep scramble on Colorado’s Capitol Peak in early August. After a month of analyzing options to recover his body, officials have elected to leave it where it rests. Read more…

Subscribe Now

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!

Join Our GearJunkie Newsletter

Get adventure news and gear reviews in your inbox!