In Memoriam: Marty & Denali Schmidt
Positive energy…those two descriptors, in tandem and alone, are what come to mind immediately when I think of Marty Schmidt.
I knew Marty by legend for years, hearing stories of his climbs worldwide from the high peaks of the Himalaya to his backyard mountains in New Zealand. A true mountain man, Marty lived and breathed the high peaks and the climbing life, embracing it all with an infectious enthusiasm unrivaled in my experience.
I finally got to meet Marty in person in Spring, 2012, on Everest. We had exchanged quick hellos and niceties in the Khumbu and in the urban chaos of Basecamp, but finally really talked at Camp 2 through my teammate, Charley Mace, who climbed with Marty on K2 and elsewhere. It was that evening, as we sat huddled in our cook/dining tent on the lateral moraine of the upper Khumbu Glacier that I got to know Marty and his boisterous, excited, engaging, and utterly sincere personality.
It began simply enough: over a cup of chiyaa, or Nepali tea, and a bowl of popcorn, Charley asked Marty if he was from California originally. That simple question led to – no exaggeration – a four hour conversation, nearly non-stop with Marty doing most of the talking, ranging from his early work as a USAF para-rescueman to his climbs and adventures worldwide, alone, with clients, and with his son, Denali. By the end of the evening, I felt like I had known Marty for years, and he was already plotting and planning at trip to K2’s North Ridge with David Morton and me.
Two things struck me about Marty that evening: One was that amidst his boisterousness and bubbling enthusiasm for everyone and everything there was a genuineness and authenticity not often seen in the world. Marty truly loved life, and loved the life he created for himself – a semi-nomadic existence, moving from climbing trip to trip, expedition to expedition, caring for and loving all those he encountered along the way. Strong and confident in the mountains, he also looked out for those around him, helping with rescues and never hesitating to lend a hand to someone in need. The other thing was the deep, profound love, pride, and respect he had for his son, Denali. The previous year, in 2001, Marty and Denali had a climbing tour-de-force in Alaska, guiding clients to the North and South summits of Mount McKinley (Denali), then climbing the Sultana Ridge on Mt. Foraker before sending a new route on the Southwest Face of Denali in a 29-pitch, 29-hour blitz. The route was pretty burly, and aptly named “Dad and Son” (5.10 A2 WI5).
I last saw Marty in Namche Bazaar at the Namche Festival. Brent Bishop, Charley Mace, David Morton, and I all sat with Marty, sharing fiery potato pancakes, drinking chiyaa and beer. Marty was celebrating his success on Everest’s Southeast Ridge days before, and the four of us were licking our wounds from being thoroughly trounced on the West Ridge. Marty’s zest lifted our spirits, and his relentless talk of new plans and next mountains gave us all inspiration. We laughed and talked about the next climb and general plans for K2.
This spring, Marty was back on Everest, guiding clients again to the summit – and helping defuse the fist fights and tensions on the mountain. Post-Everest, Marty met up with Denali in Islamabad and together they climbed Broad Peak (8051 meters), reaching the summit on July 15. From there they headed off to the Abruzzi Ridge on K2. They went missing at Camp 3 on Friday, and reports this morning indicate the camp was hit by a massive avalanche, likely taking both their lives.
Marty wrote that “the mountains bring balance to the hearts and souls that venture into them.” Many of us got some balance, and some laughs and hugs and inspiration, from our time with Marty. He will be greatly missed.
RIP, Marty and Denali.