I met Marty Schmidt outside of Castro Valley High School last spring. I sat in front of the theater with a pen and a notebook, looking for a fiftyish man through the crowds of people trying to move out of the high school. I had no idea what he looked like, and after about 15 minutes, I began to worry that I had missed him. But when I saw him, I knew it had to be Marty. With dark, sun battered skin, rough looking hands and Teva sandals that had seen far too many hikes, he looked like a mountain climber. I stood up, shook his hand, and introduced myself.
I liked Marty from the first words he spoke to me. He treated me with respect; something that is rarely received by teens. He still seemed to be very friendly to me, as if we had met each other before. He described his experience when he attended CVHS as we entered the theater, and briefly told me about his son, Denali, who was out of high school, and was finding his own mountain climbing life. I was able to see the caring side of Marty, as he proudly talked about Denali, and how he couldn’t wait until they would climb together later in the year.
He started the interview with a statement that stayed with me for the rest of the interview: “I try to live my life in the horizontal world like I live in the vertical world.”
At first I didn’t understand, I couldn’t comprehend why you would want to live like you were at 20,000 feet with sub zero temperatures. But I had more questions to ask so I moved on.
I was curious about his past, what had made him a mountain climber. No one comes out of high school planning to become a professional mountain climber. Marty responded with a statement that almost made him sound overqualified. Marty had started climbing early in his life and by high school he was already climbing local mountains. He lived in Yosemite for several years, then joined an elite team of rescuers and lived in Alaska doing high risk search and rescue operations. But with all his experience and knowledge, he made one thing very clear: “It doesn’t matter who you are, anything can happen. I live my life to the fullest, because I don’t know if I am coming back.”
As the interview went on I began to understand his first statement. He said, “It’s the nature, the mountains, you have to understand them and respect them, before you climb.”
Marty lived his life with respect, and responsibility, on the mountains and on the streets. He did not disrespect me as a high school journalist just as he wouldn’t underrate a high peak. His life was not training to go up the tallest peaks of the world, but training for every day of his life. He saw that life really wasn’t that different on Everest than it was in Castro Valley, because the morals he learned from the mountains were principled in every aspect of his life. And when I met Marty, those morals became part of my life, too. He kept his mind open, and lived his life to its fullest extent, because Marty knew the risks, and knew that one day, he might never leave the mountains.
Marty and his son Denali died on Pakistan’s K2 in July when an avalanche fell on their camp. Marty’s soul will forever be at the highest peaks, with the person he loved. And may we learn from Marty, and not let what he believed in so dearly die, that everything should be treated with respect, and that we are only a small part of this world; we are only men amongst mountains.