On July 27, 2013 one of New Zealand’s top climbers was tragically killed alongside his son Denali when an avalanche struck their camp on K2.
This month we remember Marty Schmidt – extraordinary mountaineer, dedicated father, dear friend and Macpac ambassador.
Born in California in 1960, Marty’s first climbing experiences were in the Sierra Nevada Range as a child – by age 15, he was already leading trekking groups through the area.
Marty first reached North America’s tallest peak Denali in 1983 while he was a member of the United States Air Force Pararescue unit. This was the climb that would inspire the name of his first child – Denali, who was born to Marty and his first wife Joanne Munisteri after they moved to Australia in 1988.
The young family soon packed up and moved to New Zealand – a place where Marty said he felt truly at home. It was here that his mountain guiding career really kicked off. He built up a loyal client base over the years, and dedicated his time to getting to know each and every person he accompanied on trips, helping them to build on their strengths, and conquer their weaknesses out on the mountains.
Marty and Joanne gave birth to a Kiwi daughter – Sequoia – in Napier in 1991, and the following year Marty made his first attempt to summit K2 – the highest point in the Karakoram Range which spreads over points in Pakistan, India and China. Considered by many in the climbing community to be the most dangerous climb in the world – K2 is often referred to as the Savage Mountain.
Although Marty was unsuccessful in this first attempt to summit K2, he remained determined to one day reach the top.
In 1993, the Schmidt family moved to Christchurch where Marty quickly set up base for his guiding business. However, the following year, they moved once again to New South Wales, and soon back to the U.S. In 2000, Marty and Joanne separated, and by 2001, they had all relocated back to New Zealand where Marty later married his second wife Giovannina Cantale.
A popular guide, Marty often ran climbing trips to Alaska, Argentina, Europe and the Himalayas. Throughout his career, he climbed Aoraki Mt Cook 19 times, and Denali 27 times, quickly becoming regarded as one of New Zealand’s most knowledgeable and experienced climbers. He also made another attempt to summit K2 in 2000, but was once again unsuccessful due to 100mph winds.
“I’ve climbed a lot of the world’s biggest mountains, but K2 is the one I respect the most. I’ve been on it twice without summiting. I’m just called to it all the time,” he once said.
Marty joined the Macpac team in 2007 after the company took over iconic Kiwi outdoors brand, Fairydown. He took on the role of testing our gear in some of the world’s toughest mountainous environments. The team fondly remembers Marty’s regular visits to the Macpac head office, bursting with ideas, and always with a story to tell.
“Marty was unique in many ways”, says Macpac Design Manager, Gavin Davidson.
“His vast experience as a guide meant he was a real asset to the design team in terms of sharing ideas and passing on feedback, and his boundless energy was infectious – it was impossible to leave Marty’s company without feeling uplifted”.
“I love to climb with Denali. We have a great time for three months. Not many fathers get that kind of time with their grown-up sons,” said Marty before he left.
But this trip was met by tragedy, when on July 27 2013, Marty and Denali were killed by an Avalanche at Camp 3 on K2. It is believed the avalanche struck in the night, burying their camp site. Members of their original climbing team had retreated the day before due to treacherous conditions, but the pair had chosen to continue on, determined to reach the summit, and fulfil a lifelong goal.
“Marty packed a huge amount of adventure into his life. I only knew him for a little over a year, but just loved his energy, passion and infectious smile – something that rubbed off on everyone around him,” says Macpac CEO, Alex Brandon.
The company marks Marty and Denali’s anniversary with sadness – but Chairman, Bernie Wicht says the Macpac team remembers the pair as incredible people and talented climbers who died doing what they loved most.
“Marty was an exceptional climber and friend, and although he may forever remain on K2, we will always be grateful for the contributions he made to Macpac and everyone who had the privilege of crossing his path. Marty was a truly special person and treated everyone equally with respect and interest. The pride and pleasure he had to climb with Denali was also very special, Marty and Denali will always be missed here at Macpac.”
Commercial Sales Manager John Pearce got to know Marty well during his many visits to the Macpac head office over the years. He remembers Marty and Denali for their uplifting nature, and the way they inspired all around them.
“Marty and Denali leave behind an incredible legacy. Marty was such an inspirational person and so enthusiastic about whatever he did. Our thoughts are with his family as we mark this anniversary.”