Tragedy struck last weekend with the news that world-class climber and guide, Marty Schmidt, along with son Denali Schmidt, were killed when an avalanche struck their camp on the Pakistani mountain K2.
Tributes to the father and son have been coming in from all corners of the globe. The Sydney Morning-Herald, Climbing Magazine, and Rock and Ice magazine all are remembering Marty and Denali. 3 News out of New Zealand, Marty’s adopted home, has been collecting memories from the many professional guides world-wide who knew the Schmidts well.
Marty Schmidt was born and raised in California, and grew up climbing the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. He enlisted in the Air Force in the early 1980s, already an accomplished climber, and earned the maroon beret of an USAF Pararescueman. He was stationed with the Alaskan PJ team, then known as the 71st ARS.
Marty’s sister, Barbara, found an old interview with Marty where he spoke of his military service, and passed it along:
At age 21, I packed up all my stuff and went to see a recruiter. In threedays, I was in the Lackland Air Force base. I went into the service for pararescue, which is land, sea, and air rescue. It is a hugely elite program. Thousands of Airmen start in basic training, and 1500 got to take the pararescue test. And basically only 200 passed it.
And then they work you. It’s an eight-week program. They work you beyond your blood and bones. The first week is called hell week. Those 200 people, in the first week, dropped down to 20. In the second week, the 250 went down to ten. We lost two more along the other six weeks. We graduated eight pararescuemen.
I heard in the very beginning that the honor graduate got the choice of where he wanted to be stationed. I graduated, and I chose Alaska. Whenever they needed us, we went. And this was a calling for me, even though it was service. In this time, I rescued 18 lives and had 25 assists.
Alaska was to be Marty’s sole duty station, as he left the Air Force after 4 years to continue his guiding career, taking his son, Denali, along with him. Together, this father and son team became world-renowned as climbers and guides, tackling the world’s biggest mountaineering challenges.
Here are just a few of Marty’s amazing climbing accomplishments:
- The Seven Summits: highest peak on each of the seven continents, including Everest.
- Aconcagua, Argentina: 34 ascents via 6 different routes.
- Denali, Alaska: 28 ascents via 6 different routes.
- Cho Oyu, Tibet: 6 ascents, World speed record.
Former PJ Dave Cruz had this to say about his friend:
I met Marty back in 2004, when I was visiting Alaska. He was a PJ there from 1983 – 1987. Marty was an amazing spirit. I remember walking into his room in Alaska and seeing kayaks, climbing gear, back packs, etc… He had more gear than an entire PJ team, which is saying something. I quickly learned about his outdoor exploits and was instantly intrigued. That was the beginning of one of the most amazing friendships I have ever experienced.
Marty grew up in California and spent his teenage years climbing in Yosemite. He traveled around California climbing and guiding at an early age. After spending four years as a PJ, Marty decided to get out and pursue his guiding career. He formed his own professional guiding company and called it MSIG (Marty Schmidt International Guiding). He love guiding and did so as naturally as possible.
Marty had an amazing free spirit about him and loved everyone. When ever he visited his family in California, he would always come out and visit me. We would stay up talking for hours. It was just incredible to hear about his journeys around the world and the climbs he was making. I was always into climbing as a PJ, so each story was an inspiration to me.
When New Zealand had their big earth quake a few years ago, it hit very close to where Marty was living. I remember talking to him shortly after the quake struck. He told me that he immediately went home and started helping those affected by the quake. That’s what kind of individual he was. He really cared deeply about all human beings.
Marty recently climbed Mt Everest. After his summit he sent an audio out to all of us following his climb. It was so amazing to hear the joy in his voice as he talked about the spectacular view while on top of the world. I was blown away when he sent me a personal message to my Facebook page while up on his Everest climb. I am honored to have been his friend all these years. He helped me in so many ways and I will never forget him.
Marty held dual American and New Zealand citizenships, as did Denali. He was a business partner of the New Zealand gear company Macpac, who released a statement:
We are deeply saddened to confirm that we have received news that Marty Schmidt aged 53, and Denali Schmidt aged 25 have been killed by an avalanche on K2 in Pakistan. The father and son team were reported missing on the afternoon of July 27th when fellow climber Chris Warner lost contact with the duo, having successfully reached Camp III on K2. A Sherpa went up to Camp III and found no sign of Marty and Denali.
Macpac have worked with Marty for many years and his smiling face around the office will be truly missed. Marty was a true inspiration; a leader and one of the kindest, most warm-spirited people one would ever have the pleasure of meeting.
He was thrilled to be sharing his absolute love of the mountains with his son on this journey. Marty described the mountains as a way to “connect to the natural rhythm of the earth, and climbing as a way to balance the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of life.” Of his most recent expedition, he said “There is no easy way around it. You have to love that hard work. It’s an inner calling; you have to feel at peace with what you’re working towards.”
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Marty and Denali and the climbing community across the world. Boys, you will be truly missed. May you rest in peace in a place that you loved so much.
The Climber, a New Zealand climbing magazine, did a profile of Marty back in 2011:
When he first moved to New Zealand, Marty quickly considered it as his home. ‘Everyone has a calling inside,’ Marty says. ‘For me it was to live here in this beautiful land.’ And, while based in New Zealand, Marty developed his mountain guiding career, slowly but surely growing a loyal client base. ‘I guess my first high altitude experience was on Denali,’ Marty explains. ‘I was working as a pararescueman with the United States Air Force at the time, and got it into my head to climb Denali to help with my skill set for rescue.’
In 2011, 28 years after establishing a new route on Mt. Mckinley, Marty and his son returned to summit the peak together. Denali Schmidt made a video of their adventures, complete with skiing down the mountain. It is absolutely amazing footage, and makes a fitting tribute to the former PJ and his son. They will be missed. RIP.