Since hearing the news of Marty and Denali’s recent passing on K2, the last few days for me have been full and focused around my responsibilities, I really have not had a moment to just sit and be in a present space until now as I write this. I first met Marty Schmidt in 2003 when we were both guiding a trip on Mount McKinley (aka Denali whom he be-lovingly named his son after). This was my third time guiding Denali and for Marty it was around his 30th. Up until this time I had never heard of Marty, but after our expedition together I felt that we had spent many lifetimes together.
Upon meeting our group of clients in Talkeetna (your departure point for flying onto the Southeast Fork of the Kahiltna Glacier), it became apparent to me that Marty possessed a presence within him that was unique and completely unknown to me at that time. His ability to connect with the participants of our group was not from a logical head space, it was directly from the heart. Marty guided, communicated, and lived his life directly from the heart. When you were talking to him, it was direct presence, you were all that he could care about in that moment of existence.
Marty walked and lived his truth and he held the space for others to discover within themselves what it was that made their heart sing. I personally have been mountain guiding for over 17 years, I have had amazing instructors from my early days at Prescott College, and I have had the privilege to have worked alongside many amazing guides at both Alpine Ascents International and International Mountain Guides. But there is one person who has stood alone and who has supported me beyond anyone else. That person is Marty. I attribute to my growth as a guide and the catalyst to become a deeper human being from him.
Our Denali trip was amazing. Just being with Marty made you want to work harder and Denali is a working person’s mountain..something you cannot learn any other way outside of shadowing more experienced guides who pass their experiences onto you. I learned more from Marty in those three weeks about being a mountain guide then I had in the 5 years proceeding..it was a quantum leap in guiding from the heart.
We were one of many teams that had been stuck at 14,000 ft Camp (aka Adv Base) on Denali for about 8 days. As a result their was a backlog of over 120+ who were planning to move up High Camp at 17,200 ft. For us as a team, we were unable to transfer any of our load carries up to 16,800 ft at the base of Washburn’s Thumb due to the inclement weather. When the weather forecast became apparent that their would be a window of opportunity for us to get higher, we were still without any loads up high. Our team was strong and we were well acclimated after spending the last 8 days battling the weather up at 14 Camp, so physically we were ready for a move up high..but so were the 120+ that were waiting there with us!
Marty’s plan was to hang back at 14 while the rest of the teams broke trail and waited in lines at varies bottlenecks between the fixed lines at 15,600 ft and high camp at 17,200 ft. Instead our plan was to go ‘alpine style’ with the clients which meant paring down all of our group gear, personal gear, and food. We took exactly what we would need for the next 6 days. Our plan was to wait in the sun cooking quesodillas, and once the last group were to clear the bergshrund at the base of the fixed lines..we would then depart.
Our destination was not for the 17,200 ft camp, but for the snow caves that reside on the backside of the top of the fixed lines at 16,400 ft. It was smooth sailing as we ascended the lines with efficiency and ease..although upon reaching the snow caves we found that Mike Roberts (another amazing veteran guide) had already inhabited the caves with his crew.
We had a total of 7 grown men on this trip and we paired our shelters down to Northface VE-25 tents. So Marty’s backup was to cut a ledge on the protected leeward side of the West Buttress overlooking the Peter’s Glacier 3,000 feet below. We worked hard, cut out a secure ledge, setup and anchored our tents by running a matrix of ropes around and through our doors almost like a portaledge, and put the 3 biggest guys in one tent and the rest of us (including Marty and myself) were in the second.
The next day we moved without crowds up to high camp and dug in for the next 2 days. When it came for our summit window, us, along with 120 other persistent climbers departed the security of our tents and left for the summit..although this time Marty made sure that we were in front. After safely reaching the summit with all of our clients, we arrived back into our tents twelve hours later..right as the snow was beginning to fall again. We then spent the next 3 days weathered in our tents, Marty, myself, and our clients spent the tent bound days listening to NPR, playing cards, and making food..we spent this time getting to truly know each other as fellow human beings and most importantly we laughed.
After this trip Marty Schmidt became a fixture in my life. We stayed in touch the best that any mountain guides can do, but existence would constantly cross our paths. For instance, I would be walking down a street in Mendoza, Argentina..stop at a street crossing, and look to my left and their would be Marty. Or, I would be walking up a side valley in the Himalayas, look to my right..boom..Marty! In these crossings our connection just deepened and he became a rock in my life. Marty and his son Denali were living their truth with trust and totality. They were the creators and artisans of defining themselves as true human beings living in balance and flow with existence.
During his final visit to Seattle last summer, I had the opportunity to have Marty spend most of the week with me at my place. I would never had guessed that this would be our last crossing in this life. My heart and laughter now long for the next.