Father, son killed on world's second highest peak

22:51, Jul 29 2013
Marty and Denali Schmidt
CLIMBING K2: The Altitude blogsite says Marty and Denali Schmidt were pictured at Camp 2 last Thursday.

Marty Schmidt set his sights high in wanting him and his son to become the first father-son team to summit one of the most unforgiving mountains in the world.

Instead, the former Christchurch resident and his son, Denali, have been killed by an avalanche on 8611-metre-tall K2 - the highest point in the Karakoram Range spanning Pakistan, India and China. It is the second highest peak in the world.

Sequoia Di Angelo confirmed the deaths of her father and brother in a post on Twitter today: "It is with great sorrow that I confirm the tragic death of my brother and father, Denali and Marty Schmidt. May their spirits rest at k2.RIP"

Denali Schmidt
Denali Schmidt.

Schmidt had recently worked as an Everest guide for Canada-based firm Peak Freaks, carrying out two tours to the world's highest peak.

Co-owner Tim Rippel, who had known Schmidt for about 20 years, said the climber had a good sense of humour, but was "serious about what he does".

Schmidt owned a house in Christchurch and had land in the North Island, but often travelled overseas for work.


Marty Schmidt
Marty Schmidt.

"He was just a nice friendly guy. His heart was always there. He was just one of those loveable kind of guys, people just loved him the first time they met him," Rippel said.

"He's going to be missed. He's touched a lot of people's personal dreams, helped them through some big times."

The New Zealand mountaineering community is today in mourning.

Sam Newton, from the New Zealand Alpine Club, said he understood Schmidt, 53, and Denali, 25, had been missing for two days.

A report from K2 base camp officials "seems to confirm our worst fears", he said.

"They believe that Marty and his son, Denali, were killed by an avalanche at Camp 3 on July 26 or 27."

Newton said Schmidt had very recently moved from Christchurch to Northland.

"He loved New Zealand. It was really his adopted home."

He was a highly-sought after guide around the world and had long-standing relationships with clients - some for more than 20 years.

In his personal climbing, he was "extremely physically gifted, very driven", Newton said.

"He was really just a prolific successful high-altitude climber."

K2 was "undoubtedly" one of the world's hardest mountains to climb, but Newton said he could not "second guess" Schmidt's decision to keep climbing to Camp Three when others turned back.

"We just have no idea what happened.

"His loss is a huge tragedy for the New Zealand climbing community."

The president of Pakistan's Alpine Club, Manzoor Hussain, said it would be unlikely the men's bodies would be found, but some of their equipment had been discovered.

"It's very difficult to find bodies," he told Radio New Zealand this morning.

"There's only one route and the ropes are fixed . . . [searchers] cannot deviate."

Hussain said other climbers had been descending the mountain because of the risk of avalanche, but the Schmidts had kept climbing.

"I think they overestimated themselves. They should have also descended back to the safety of base camp."

British mountaineer Adrian Hayes, who was climbing with Schmidt's expedition, said all of Camp Three had been wiped out by an avalanche.

"The deaths of a father and son is a tragedy in itself but compounded even further by the fact that Marty and Denali . . . . were very well known, highly experienced and extremely strong mountaineers - the last people many would expect to be killed on a mountain," Hayes said.

He said there was a thin line between life and death in mountaineering.

"The poignancy of the tragedy is not lost in that, had the rest of us not turned back that day - including Marty and Denali's Australian team mate Chris Warner - we also all would have been sleeping at Camp 3 when the avalanche struck."

Six teams backed down the mountain "alive and well".

Aspiring Guides director Whitney Thurlow, who had worked with Schmidt for more than 10 years, was still hopeful the pair would be found.

"I keep thinking, 'he's disappeared before . . . he's going to reappear'," Thurlow said.

Schmidt was born in California and moved to New Zealand in 1988, where he settled in Christchurch between climbing trips throughout the country and overseas.

He became an accomplished climber and did a lot of "cutting-edge climbing" in the Himalayas, Thurlow said.

Schmidt married and had two children, one of whom had caught his love for the outdoors.

Denali had been "just getting going" in the mountaineering field, Thurlow said.

"He was just young, wondering what he was going to do with his life, and he was getting sucked in doing exciting things with Marty."

Schmidt was close to becoming fully qualified as a New Zealand mountain guide but, ironically, had only his avalanche courses left to complete.

His disappearance is the second K2 tragedy for the tight-knit central South Island community, after Queenstown adventurer Bruce Grant died on the summit in 1995.

"Two isn't a big number but it kind of seems to me that that's where keen Kiwis go to die," Thurlow said.

Anne Braun-Elwert, director of the Tekapo-based Alpine Recreation, said Schmidt had guided for her company as a freelancer for more than 10 years.

His last guided climb with her late husband happened in 2007.

"It was quite a memorable trip. He was full of energy, an amazing person, always very positive, very encouraging, able to relate to anybody no matter their background."

Braun-Elwert said she last saw him earlier this year when he was "very excited" to be gearing up for an overseas trip.

"He was ambitious, but you have to be ambitious to achieve all that he did," she said.

"It's a huge loss. He's a brilliant climber and a fantastic guide, the loss will be keenly felt."

Wanaka mountaineer Guy Cotter, who had known Schmidt for about 15 years, said climbers put themselves at risk every time they went into the mountains.

"Until we hear from the people that were there we won't know why the decision was made by Marty to go on up when everyone else came down."

A big part of mountaineering was about managing risk and making the right decision at the right time, he said.

"I won't say he was known for being irresponsible or anything like that, he was a guy who was incredibly enthusiastic and an incredibly strong mountaineer, and achieved a lot."

Schmidt was a "very proficient mountaineer" and had climbed seven of the 8000m peaks.

"I thought hopefully there's the potential he might still turn up, but it doesn't seem that way."

Last year, Schmidt became the oldest New Zealander to climb to the top of Mt Everest at age 51.

Schmidt completed another climb of Everest last month, before heading to Pakistan where Denali met him to start their K2 expedition. They were accompanied by Chris Warner.

In May, Marty Schmidt's mother Mathilde wrote on her blog that her son had just "summited" Everest again.

"We are very proud of him. Now he is off to climb K2 with son Denali."

Denali had recently graduated from an art college in San Francisco and the family was "very proud of him too", she wrote.

Since K2 was first conquered in 1954, about 280 people have succeeded in climbing it - with roughly one death for every three successful climbs.

The Press