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June 2013 Issue
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Going the hard way

Marty Schmidt is quite possibly the best climber you’ve never heard of. Denali Schmidt has a big name to live up to.

Not just in terms of the 6194m mountain he’s named after, either. The 25-year-old earned that when he climbed Mt Denali in Alaska with his father Marty Schmidt, 53, two years ago.

This year the father and son team plan to climb five 8000m mountains in three months. If he can withstand the hardships of the expedition, Denali will have earned his surname. Well, just about.

His dad Marty Schmidt isn’t easy to live up to.

Schmidt senior is a professional mountain guide and one of New Zealand’s strongest high altitude climbers, says mountaineer Pat Deavoll.

He holds the speed record for climbing the sixth highest mountain in the world, 8201m Cho Oyu , in 10 hours, 45 minutes.

In 2010, he became the first New Zealander to summit 8485m Makalu without the use of porters or supplementary oxygen. That day he also rescued three climbers, one from above 8200m.

He also forged a new route on Mt Everest to the 8100m point before turning back due to rock fall danger.

He climbs giants and is respected internationally as a high altitude mountaineer.

Yet many New Zealanders outside of the climbing community will never have heard of him.

On its website, the New Zealand Alpine Club speculated this might be because Schmidt hasn’t yet successfully climbed Everest – “the only peak that registers with the public”.

Schmidt’s an American by birth, but moved to New Zealand in 1988 and decided to call it home.

That year he heard about Aoraki/Mt Cook and after climbing it found the mountain had “touched his soul”.

He’s climbed Cook 26 times now and it holds, along with Mt Denali, a special place in his heart.

In his own words, Schmidt is “a spiritual kind of guy” so when he’s not climbing you’re likely to find him doing yoga or meditation and carefully looking after his health and wellbeing.

For him, mountains are a way to connect to the natural rhythm of the Earth. Climbing isn’t something that should be rushed or done as an ego trip, it’s a means to balance the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of life.

This balance, he says, is his way of trying to realise his true self.

When he takes his clients into the mountains, Schmidt tries to give them a deeper connection and harmony with the Earth.

“I also concentrate on small teams, with no Sherpas, no O2, no huts, no helicopters; we walk in and out on our own,” he says. “This brings real adventure back into mountaineering.”

Schmidt prefers the pioneering form of mountaineering done in the sport’s early days.

Rather than take a helicopter in, he treks to base camp even if it means carrying a 35kg pack for days.

Doing it the hard way isn’t about machismo – it’s a way to ensure he and his clients prepare physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to climb a mountain. The long trek generates a deeper connection to nature and a better sense of harmony among the team.

“The connectedness you get from walking in gives a far more positive climbing experience,” he says. “When you take a helicopter, it’s like you take a couple of breaths and then you’re right back in your seat at your desk. It’s not the full picture, it’s only a snippet. You miss the connection with nature and your fellow climbers.”

Starting this June, Schmidt, Denali and Australian friend Chris Warner plan to climb five 8000m mountains in the Himalayan and Karakorum mountains.

They’re staying true to the pioneering form of mountaineering and trekking up to 100km to reach each of their two base camps.

First on their list is 8051m Broad Peak in the Karakorum. Schmidt will give Denali and Warner an opportunity to build their strength on this “lesser mountain” before attempting a fast ascent of neighbouring K2, the second highest mountain in the world (8611m). They’ll then trek out and travel to Nepal to walk to Everest base camp from where they will summit Manaslu (8156m), Lhotse (8516m) and Everest (8848m).

Schmidt says the expedition is going to be hard graft because they’ll be doing everything themselves.

“There is no easy way around it. You have to love that hard work,” he says. “It’s an inner calling; you have to feel at peace with what you’re working towards because there’s no merit badge at the end.”