Sequoia Schmidt has had a remarkable life so far- at just 26, she’s a published author, successful entrepreneur and keen adventurer. In 2013, she tragically lost two of the most important people in her life – her father, legendary climber Marty Schmidt and brother Denali, when an avalanche struck their camp on the world’s second highest mountain, K2. Four years on, Sequoia has authored an award-winning book: Journey of Heart; A Sojuorn to K2, and this April she returns to New Zealand to share her story – but in true Schmidt style, she’s made an adventure of her journey.
Sequoia was born to Marty Schmidt and his first wife Joanne Munisteri in Napier in 1991. Marty, originally from the US, was a well-known climber and had been leading trekking groups since he was just 15, initially starting in the Sierra Nevada Range in California. He first reached North America’s highest peak Denali in 1983 – a climb that would inspire the name of his first child – Denali who was born to Marty and Joanne after they moved to Australia in 1988.
Prior to Sequoia’s birth, her family had moved around a lot, but it was in New Zealand where they felt truly at home. Marty set up a successful mountain guiding career, gaining a reputation for his dedication in getting to know each end every person he accompanied on trips, encouraging them to conquer their dreams in the mountains.
Marty had a busy couple of years following Sequoia’s birth, making his first attempt to summit K2 – considered by many to be the most dangerous climb in the world. Although this attempt was unsuccessful, Marty left determined to one day reach the top.
Marty was a popular guide, and over the following years, he often ran climbing trips all over the world – he climbed Aoraki Mt Cook 26 times and Mt Denali 35 times, and gained a reputation as one of the country’s most knowledgeable and experienced climbers.
In 2000, he made a second attempt at K2 – but was once again unsuccessful due to adverse conditions.
“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 said.
Marty’s 25-year-old son Denali shared his love of the mountains, and he was filled with pride when he announced that his third attempt at K2 would be alongside his son in July 2013. But this trip was met with tragedy when Marty and Denali were killed by an avalanche at Camp 3 on K2 on July 27, 2013.
The news was devastating to their family and friends including Sequoia who had to come to terms with losing both her father and her brother at the same time.
“It changed everything for me, and it felt as though my world had fallen apart,” she said.
Through her pain, Sequoia decided to create something beautiful. She set up the Denali Foundation – a tribute to her artistic brother, and a way to share his amazing paintings and photography with the world as well as encouraging other young artists to pursue their creative dreams.
It was when she was showing her brother’s artwork in San Francisco that Sequoia became aware of some upsetting footage that had emerged on social media, with another climber posting a video that showed body parts, including a head, on K2. Sequoia was deeply disturbed by the footage, and naturally she wondered whether the body parts might belong to her missing family members.
She was issued an emergency visa to Pakistan, and within a week she was on a plane by herself to Pakistan.
“I was very much aware that there was a good chance that the remains in the video didn’t belong to my father or brother, but that did not move me in my decision to trek into K2.”
This was journey she had always intended to embark on – but the circumstances had brought her there sooner. She was unprepared and alone in a foreign country, but there was nothing could get in the way of Sequoia’s determination to find the remains of her father and brother.
The trek took eight days and Sequoia completed it with a cook, an assistant cook, a guide and two porters. Even though 100 people had ventured to Base Camp that year, not one of them had bothered to bury the remains.
“When we arrived at Base Camp, I said some prayers for Dad and Denali, it was a really emotional experience to stand at their final resting place.”
The group located the remains, and wrapped them in a white burial cloth before burying them at the base of the K2 memorial. To establish who they belonged to, DNA samples were taken to be analysed upon Sequoia’s return to the US. Those results revealed that the remains did not belong to Marty or Denali, but Sequoia says that doesn’t change her feelings around her decision to travel to K2.
“Burying the remains felt like the right thing to do. Whether they belonged to my Dad and Brother, or one of the victims of the 2008 avalanche, I felt like I was on a mission for all of the families of those who lost their lives on K2,” she says.
Four years after losing half of her family, Sequoia has shared her story in her award-winning book ‘Journey of Heart; A Sojourn to K2’. This April, she’s returning to her homeland for the first time since her father and brother were killed. New Zealand is a country that holds some of her most precious and painful memories. But, like the rest of her family, Sequoia has an adventurous spirit, and this trip isn’t an ordinary book tour – she’s going to be cycling from city to city – one bike, nine destinations, and also, four adventure sports along the way – including her successful summit of Mt Aspiring just a few days into her trip.
“The view was absolutely stunning up there – I have felt so at home in the mountains of Aotearoa.
Prior to my father’s death, he would constantly ask me to climb with him and Denali, but my life had taken a different path, and I had no desire to explore the mountains. That has changed. Following my trip to Pakistan, my passion for the mountains was ignited. Since that trip, I’ve flown to Ecuador to climb volcanos, I’m taken two expeditions to Mt. Baker in the Cascades, and in November last year, I was part of an expedition to Island Peak in Nepal.”
Don’t miss hearing all about Sequoia’s incredible story as she returns home this month: