Well known New Zealand guide and his son disappear on K2

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 30/07/2013
Marty (left) and Denali Schmidt during their new route on Denali in 2011. Marty Schmidt collection.

Aiming to become the first father and son team to climb K2, the highly experienced New Zealand guide Marty Schmidt, and his son Denali, are missing presumed dead after a large avalanche struck a camp where they were spending the night.

On 24 July, in a good weather window, around 20 foreign mountaineers, together with Sherpas and Pakistan high altitude helpers, left base camp for a final attempt on K2's Normal Route. Their plan was to make a summit attempt from Camp 4 on the 28th.

These included Marty and Denali Schmidt and climbing partner Chris Warner. Prior to this the Schmidts had summited Broad Peak, so were well acclimatized.

They reached Camp 2 at ca 6,700m on the 25th, but a group of Sherpas was unable to reach Camp 3 (7,200m) the same day due to the huge depth of new snow on the route.

One of the group, reporting that evening, said an avalanche missed the Sherpas by 20m, while another large avalanche had been spotted hitting the area of Camp 4.

Deciding conditions were too unstable, all went back to base - except for the Schmidts, who decided to push on to Camp 3.

Warner made radio contact with the pair that night but failed to get a response the following morning. This brought some concern to base camp and the next day, when two Sherpas were going back up the mountain to retrieve equipment, Warner asked if they could push higher and look at Camp 3.

One Sherpa reached the vicinity of the camp and found it destroyed, and an avalanche trail about 400m wide. He found the ice axes and crampons belonging to the Schmidts and surmised the pair were not climbing when the avalanche struck, but were most likely buried in their sleep.

In view of the dangerous conditions on the mountain, all activity has been suspended, there will be no further search parties, and the climbers have accepted that the Schmidts will not be coming back.

53 years old Marty Schmidt was born in California, and in his youth completed plenty of hard routes in Yosemite with some of the big names in American climbing at the time. However, his biggest influence during that era was British climber Ed Hart, with whom he did a number of significant ascents, beginning when Schmidt was just 15.

After marrying, Schmidt moved to New Zealand (in 1988), where he developed his guiding career, and became well known for his huge strength, will power and energy.

Denali was 25 and had just graduated from art college in San Francisco. In 2011 the pair climbed a new route on the mountain Denali was named after; the last remaining unclimbed ridge from the northeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier (Dad and Son, 5.10 A2 WI5).

Marty Schmidt had tried K2 twice before, on both occasions reaching ca 8,300m.

He also attempted Everest twice, before climbing the mountain in both 2012 and 2013, becoming the oldest New Zealander to do so. During the latter expedition he was involved in the altercation between Griffith, Moro, Steck and the Sherpas, jumping in to prevent a Sherpa hit Moro with a rock, and receiving a rock to his head instead.

In 2001 he summited Kangchenjunga and Cho Oyu, repeating the latter twice; in 2004 and 2009. His 2001 ascent of Cho Oyu in less than 11 hours broke the record for previous fastest ascent.

He had also climbed Gasherbrum I and II, and was on a quest to complete all 14 8,000ers.

Just one example of his legendary strength comes from 2010, when he attempted Makalu with Chris Warner.

The pair tried the long southeast ridge until Warner became ill. Schmidt then went to the Normal Route and eventually camped at 7,700m before setting out alone for a summit push.

Part way up he met an exhausted Ukrainian, descending after completing a partial new route on the opposite side of the mountain. Schmidt gave him water and took him back to his tent.

Setting out again he found a second and got him back to the tent.

Then on his third sortie, on reaching 8,200m, he found another Ukrainian in very bad shape. Schmidt got him to his feet, and short-roped him down.

When he returned to the tent the first two Ukrainian climbers had recovered enough to descend under their own steam. Judging the third to be out of danger, Schmidt established him in the tent, then set out for a fourth time. He reached the summit alone, returned to camp, nursed the Ukrainian through the night, and escorted him down next day.

Thanks to Damien Gildea for help with this report
 


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1) Anonymous User
31/07/2013
Tragic, we all know the dangers and prepare for almost any eventuality. RIP
2) Anonymous User
21/04/2014
Thank you for your article on my son and his father. As Marty's first wife and first business partner in the early days, I will just add that Marty was hired in 1994, by Russell Brice to work as a guide on Mt. Everest going in on a new route from the Tibetan side. Unfortunately there were a number of rescues needed and Marty responded saving NZ climber Mark Whetu and aiding in other rescue and recovery work on that route. He did not summit Everest until 2012.
Marty and I met in California in 1986 and were married in Australia in 1988 where our first child, Denali was born. We moved to New Zealand because of my work in 1989 and our second child, Sequoia was born in 1991. We were granted citizenship in 1994. Sequoia and I are still deeply in sorrow over our loss and send our prayers and sympathies to those families who have lost their sons, brothers and fathers on Everest already in 2014, and to all those families who have experienced this particular type of loss of their loved ones in the mountains of the world.
3) Anonymous
21/04/2014
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