Tracking ID UA-126977798-1
The types of human beings who feel they must climb in the mountains, are not your usual (some may even say not your "normal") kinds of people yet their feats inspire, motivate and even awe many other human beings. Why is this?
As this western calculated year of 2018 comes to a close and the first day of 2019 rises, I am reminded of my daughter's birth and of how my once husband, Martin Walter Schmidt aka Marty, a mountain guide, almost didn't make it back from Aoraki/Mount Cook in New Zealand, in time for the birth of our second child. He was in the southern alps when my labour started in Napier, without him. Down from the mountain with his client, he finally drove us to the hospital on the hill where I was rushed into the operating room after a heated argument with the doctor on call, who was inebriated - it was New Year's eve. My usual doctor was off for the night and unreachable since he had turned off his pager. There were no cell phones in 1990.
Our daughter, Sequoia, was born at 6:06 am on the east coast of New Zealand on January 1, 1991. My husband went to get our son, who was only 2 years old at the time, and finally we were four together on that New Year's day. This was only for about a week before my husband went off again climbing on another mountain range. He had done the same about a week after our first child, our son Denali was born in April 1988; that time he left to guide on Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) in Alaska, North America. It was my idea when I was pregnant to give the name "Denali" to our first child and we discussed our second child's name well in advance of her birth.
The mountains Marty sought were almost always on another continent, but our lives revolved around the different seasons for climbing the world's highest mountains. All our life schedules were constructed around climbing seasons in the southern and northern hemispheres. We had training elements in and about our homes, and sheds full of equipment every place we lived. Marty also stashed gear in various other places on his travels. The mountains and clients called from various points on our planet and my husband responded with enthusiasm. It is very hard on any family to have a major partner gone most of the time. Once our son, Denali drew and colored a picture of mountains with no peaks. When I asked him why, he answered, "So Dad won't have to go to the mountains to summit." He already knew what the word "summit" meant at four years old.
Sharing some photos from our family life over the decades. Please do not copy or share without permission. Thank you.
Their father, Marty, had his passion for climbing in the high mountains since he was a teenager and it carried him into joining the United States Air Force (USAF) and training as a Pararescueman (PJ) in their Special Operations unit. He learned skills in the military he used throughout his life. For him, the military was a step on his path to being his own boss, having his own guiding company and being in the mountains as often as possible. He called it "the vertical plane" and there he was most content. He was happier and saner there than anyplace else, including with his family. That's just how he was and a number of "Mountain men", mountaineers and mountain guides are. They are a unique breed and beast. They are often not as content, adept or comfortable out of the mountains on the "horizontal plane". It was after climbing Mt. Shasta in California together in 1987, Marty first asked me to marry him and then again after climbing Mt. Whitney. I love hiking in beautiful natural landscapes and cross country skiing, but not alpinism or high altitude. People who guide in the highest mountains need to be able to work in altitude and bear the cold along with having a passion for this work.
Unfortunately over the years, the profession of mountain guiding and the extreme "sport" adventure of high peak climbing became more and more commercial with pressures and competition to get "sponsors", media coverage and clients. Companies and governments raised permit prices seeking to capitalize on guiding businesses and the guides themselves. Safety was often compromised for possible celebrity status notoriety, book and movie deals, speaking engagements. Cases in point: the high profile expeditions of Mt. Everest in 1996; the terrible Khumbu ice fall affecting so many Nepalese sherpas supporting the National Geographic expedition filming on Everest, in 2014. www.outsideonline.com/1924596/everests-darkest-year The sherpa community was especially grieved after a number of their relatives bodies were not able to be recovered. "Tenzing Chottar’s body was never found, causing serious distress to his family in Ylajung, since that meant his soul might be wandering lost."
A large percentage of western mountain guides were once in their respective country's military and often in special forces units. Mountaineers Adrian Hayes (UK) and Mike Horn (South Africa/Switzerland) come to mind. This is not surprising as the thrill of camaraderie under challenging circumstances, making life and death decisions and coping with the unpredictable events in nature as well as constant danger in the higher mountains; is not that far removed from their life and jobs in the military when they were young men. I have spoken to a few spouses of sailors and "Men of the Sea" and it seems they are much the same. They prefer not being on 'dry land'.
There are other ways to approach mountains from people who have been part of the mountain landscape and respect their environment differently. Communities who have lived in the high Himalayas on the Nepalese side, in the mountains of Peru, or the Norwegian ranges above Hardanger Fijord, around Borneo's Mt. Kinabulu or here in China-the five "Taoist" mountains; see the mountains as alive. They do not feel a need to conquer a mountain and are taught to respect these tall creations of nature and the spirits within their realm. One does not approach these places without asking permission and heeding the answer. For example here in China throughout most of it's history "The mountain (Tai Shan) is: "considered a deity itself and has been venerated by the Chinese as their most sacred peak since at least the third millennium BC. The emperors of ancient China regarded Tai Shan as the actual son of the Emperor of Heaven, from whom they received their own authority to rule the people. The mountain functioned as a God who looked after the affairs of humans and who also acted as a communication channel for humans to speak to God." sacredsites.com/asia/china/sacred_mountains.html
Although the idea that all beings and all nature resonate in morphic fields and have a "consciousness" and even have a "memory" may seem radical to western raised and western thinking people, these concepts have been part of ancient cultures and religions in the East for thousands of years. One scientist who has been working to show and "verify" these different fields and consciousness is Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, who has lived and worked in both western and eastern countries and cultures. In a recent interview on the show, "Buddha at the Gas Pump", he explains these ideas and his hypotheses. You can watch it in English at this link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fzkMXoC8hQ
Buddhist countries have special ceremonies for any climber or climbing teams about to attempt to summit and return safely. This is called a "puja", a sanskrit word. A puja is a ceremony in which meditation, prayers are offered to the Buddhas and 'holy beings' to request their blessings or help. Traditionally in a monastery monks and nuns perform prayers for the long life, health and success of their teachers, friends, benefactors, all living beings, and for world peace. Pujas are performed to avert or clear three kinds of obstacles: worldly, inner and secret obstacles; conditions which prevent us from achieving our worldly and spiritual goals. The puja ceremony takes place at base camp before the team climbs higher on the mountain. Before every climb the Sherpa perform this prayer ceremony to bless the team, climbing gear, skis and even the food. The ceremony involves much prayer, chanting and drum beating, and offerings of juniper smoke, food and drink. www.usaf7summits.com/blog/2013/04/15/15-apr-puja-ceremony/
Earlier in Marty's life he was very diligent about performing "puja" before his climbs in any country where it was the tradition. He seemed to understand and believe in the importance of respecting the spiritual aspect of the landscape and land forms he was going to tread upon and dutifully fulfilled rituals, prayers, karakias before he began his trek, climb or expedition. I don't know if this was the case later in his life when we were no longer together. However, I was told by another climber on K 2 the summer of 2013, that for some reason Marty did not perform "puja" with them nor did he bring Denali to be part of that ceremony. Marty did not ask for a blessing and permission from those mountains. A serious breach of spiritual protocol in that community and for the sherpas supporting their team.
No one can know exactly what combination of natural forces, human decision making error, equipment failure, divine intervention or "destiny" determined the tragic fate of my son at only 25 years old, to perish on the Himalayan mountain of K2. The sherpas had warned them not to go up that day and everyone else turned around. Only Marty chose to trudge onward to a mountain peak he had tried to summit twice before in his life. Our son, Denali would not let his father go on alone, especially knowing the ailments he had in his fifty-three year old body and how much it meant to his father. Denali loved both his parents and to most people he met in his short life he was a "light". He led the way though he had never been up in those mountains before, and he died there or as some look at it..."the mountain took them into it's icy embrace" on July 28, 2013 (officially on the death certificate).
The mountain has not "released" their bodies yet so we do not know exactly what happened, if they were together or if one had fallen first and so on. I keep asking God to let us know finally, but perhaps the way they died will remain a secret. The mountains and that particular mountain, K2 holds many secrets and corpses. This can (and in my opinion) should be viewed as a cautionary tale on many levels. I just hope people will read, listen and learn from this true story. It is worth repeating.
Finishing this post with two links. One is actual footage from the K2 base camp after the attempted rescue of three Iranian climbers on Broad Peak my son, his father and Mike Horn tried in July, 2013. It includes the placques left in Pakistan for Denali and Marty at K2 base camp after their death. This video from Adrian Hayes is mostly about his feat of climbing K2 the next year in 2014, and achieving his goals there. It has vivid photography of that mountain in addition to a glimpse of the puja in 2014, before his second attempt. Worth watching. www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jJbyh3NqOY
The second link is a beautiful compilation of mountain scenery-not just peaks- from around the world put to the music of Vangelis. It's title, "Ask the Mountains", inspired mine this first day of January 2019. www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zUEKI_mvV4
Today is my daughter's birthday. I am especially grateful for her safe return from yet another climb, this time in the southern alps of New Zealand /Te Waipounamu before she heads out next month to Argentina to climb.
Yes, more than thirty years on my life is still oriented to the world's climbing seasons since my only remaining child has chosen to pursue paths in the mountains and in the sky in both hemispheres. It is better sometimes, that I don't watch her various feats in person or on screens or tell her of my prescient dreams.
Happy New Year to you and yours wherever you may be....
From Henan in winter,