K2 avalanche: father and son killed

K2, the world's second-highest mountain, is in the Karakoram Range.
K2, the world's second-highest mountain, is in the Karakoram Range.

Marty Schmidt and his son, Denali, wanted to be the first father-son team to summit one of the most unforgiving mountains in the world.

Instead, the two men have been killed by an avalanche on the 8611-metre-tall K2 - the highest point in the Karakoram Range spanning Pakistan, India and China. It is the second-highest peak in the world.

Sequoia Di Angelo confirmed the deaths of her father and brother in a post on Twitter on Tuesday.

"It is with great sorrow that I confirm the tragic death of my brother and father, Denali and Marty Schmidt. May their spirits rest at K2. RIP."

In May, Marty Schmidt's mother, Mathilde, wrote on her blog that her son had just "summited" Everest again.

"We are very proud of him. Now he is off to climb K2 with son Denali."

Marty Schmidt, an American, moved to New Zealand in 1998.

Denali Schmidt had recently graduated from an art college in San Francisco and the family was "very proud of him too", his mother wrote.

Mountaineers in mourning

The New Zealand mountaineering community is in mourning.

Sam Newton, from the New Zealand Alpine Club, said he understood Schmidt, 53, and Denali, 25, had been missing for two days.

A report from K2 base camp officials "seems to confirm our worst fears", he said.

"They believe that Marty and his son, Denali, were killed by an avalanche at Camp Three on July 26 or 27."

British mountaineer Adrian Hayes, who was climbing with the Schmidts' expedition, said all of Camp Three had been wiped out by an avalanche.

It is believed all other climbers on K2 had retreated to Base Camp and abandoned their expeditions due to the avalanche risk.

"The deaths of a father and son is a tragedy in itself but compounded even further by the fact that Marty and Denali ... were very well known, highly experienced and extremely strong mountaineers - the last people many would expect to be killed on a mountain," Mr Hayes said.

He said there was a thin line between life and death in mountaineering.

"The poignancy of the tragedy is not lost in that, had the rest of us not turned back that day - including Marty and Denali's Australian teammate, Chris Warner - we also all would have been sleeping at Camp Three when the avalanche struck."

Six teams backed down the mountain "alive and well".

"One team went up and are tragically dead."

Mr Schmidt had recently worked as an Everest guide for Canada-based firm Peak Freaks, carrying out two tours to the world's highest peak.

Co-owner Tim Rippel, who had known Schmidt for about 20 years, said the climber had a good sense of humour, but was "serious about what he does".

"They felt maybe it wasn't that dangerous to get to [Camp] Three to see what was going on with the snow conditions. We really don't know what went on up there.

"He was just a nice friendly guy. His heart was always there. He was just one of those loveable kind of guys, people just loved him the first time they met him," Mr Rippel said.

"He's going to be missed. He's touched a lot of people's personal dreams, helped them through some big times."

'Cutting-edge climber'

Mr Schmidt was born in California and moved to New Zealand in 1988, where he settled in Christchurch between climbing trips throughout the country and overseas.

He became an accomplished climber and did a lot of "cutting-edge climbing" in the Himalayas, Mr Thurlow said.

He was married and had two children, one of whom had caught his love for the outdoors.

Denali Schmidt had been "just getting going" in the mountaineering field, Mr Thurlow said.

"He was just young, wondering what he was going to do with his life, and he was getting sucked in doing exciting things with Marty."

Mr Schmidt was close to becoming fully qualified as a New Zealand mountain guide but, ironically, had only his avalanche courses left to complete.

His disappearance is the second K2 tragedy for the tight-knit central South Island community, after Queenstown adventurer Bruce Grant died on the summit in 1995.

Anne Braun-Elwert, director of the Tekapo-based Alpine Recreation, said Mr Schmidt had guided for her company as a freelancer for more than 10 years.

His last guided climb with her late husband happened in 2007.

"It was quite a memorable trip. He was full of energy, an amazing person, always very positive, very encouraging, able to relate to anybody no matter their background."

Ms Braun-Elwert said she last saw him earlier this year when he was "very excited" to be gearing up for an overseas trip.

"He was ambitious, but you have to be ambitious to achieve all that he did," she said.

"It's a huge loss. He's a brilliant climber and a fantastic guide, the loss will be keenly felt."

Wanaka mountaineer Guy Cotter, who had known Schmidt for about 15 years, said climbers put themselves at risk every time they went into the mountains.

"Until we hear from the people that were there, we won't know why the decision was made by Marty to go on up when everyone else came down."

A big part of mountaineering was about managing risk and making the right decision at the right time, he said.

"I won't say he was known for being irresponsible or anything like that, he was a guy who was incredibly enthusiastic and an incredibly strong mountaineer, and achieved a lot."

Mr Schmidt was a "very proficient mountaineer" and had climbed seven of the 8000-metre peaks.

"I thought hopefully there's the potential he might still turn up, but it doesn't seem that way."

Last year, Mr Schmidt became the oldest New Zealander to climb to the top of Mt Everest at age 51.

Mr Schmidt completed another climb of Everest last month, before heading to Pakistan where Denali met him to start their K2 expedition. They were accompanied by Mr Schmidt's good friend and fellow climber, Mr Warner.

The president of Pakistan's Alpine Club, Manzoor Hussain, said it would be unlikely the men's bodies would be found, but some of their equipment had been discovered.

"It's very difficult to find bodies," he told Radio New Zealand this morning.

"There's only one route and the ropes are fixed ... [searchers] cannot deviate."

Mr Hussain said other climbers had been descending the mountain because of the risk of avalanche, but the Schmidts had kept climbing.

"I think they overestimated themselves. They should have also descended back to the safety of base camp."

Since K2 was first conquered in 1954, about 280 people have succeeded in climbing it - with roughly one death for every three successful climbs.

Fairfax NZ News

This story K2 avalanche: father and son killed first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.