As­pir­ing to great­ness CLIMBER’S HIGHER MISSION

Her jour­ney hon­ours lost love­dones

Woman’s Day (NZ) - - Real Life - For in­for­ma­tion about Se­quoia’s book tour, go to jour­ney­of­heart­

When I climb, I feel close to them. It con­nects me to my­self and fam­ily’ my

Se­quoia Sch­midt is about to climb one of New Zealand’s high­est moun­tains and be­gin a 35-city, nine-date cy­cling tour around the coun­try – all in the mid­dle of a post-Cy­clone Deb­bie down­pour.

When Wo­man’s Day catches up with Se­quoia, there’s more rain due to fall in the next 48 hours than the coun­try nor­mally gets in two months. But the weather isn’t foil­ing any plans for this plucky 26-year-old ad­ven­turer.

In­stead, Se­quoia is laser­fo­cused. She’s pre­par­ing to scale Mt As­pir­ing – the first ad­ven­ture in a se­ries of New Zealand trib­utes she’s de­vised to hon­our the mem­ory of her late brother and fa­ther.

Four years ago, her fa­ther Marty Sch­midt – a renowned Kiwi climber – and brother De­nali, 25, were killed in an avalanche while at­tempt­ing to be­come the first fa­ther and son to sum­mit K2 in the Hi­malayas.

“My most prom­i­nent memories are of Dad climb­ing,” tells Se­quoia, just days af­ter she lands in New Zealand from her home in Los An­ge­les. “Whether it was Te Mata Peak or him head­ing off on a trip to the South Is­land or to Nepal, it was al­ways him climb­ing.

“The rea­son I’ve cho­sen As­pir­ing is be­cause it was where Dad used to train and one of his favourite moun­tains.”

Born in Napier, Se­quoia has lived in the US for over a decade but has never been back to Aotearoa un­til now.

Al­though she in­her­ited her fa­ther’s love of na­ture and de­ter­mi­na­tion to achieve the im­pos­si­ble, she never took up climb­ing. “When I was a kid, we did quite a few small hikes around New Zealand. We would ski at Whaka­papa and Turoa, but the big climbs were never some­thing I ever thought about.”

When her brother De­nali sum­mited NZ’s high­est moun­tain Ao­raki (Mt Cook) for his 16th birth­day with her dad, Se­quoia didn’t want to join them. “I was in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world at that time,” she says. “I was more in­ter­ested in get­ting my nails done and wear­ing high heels.

“Climb­ing was their thing. Dad al­ways tried to make it some­thing for the three of us, but we had a chal­leng­ing re­la­tion­ship – I didn’t un­der­stand these moun­tains and what he loved so much about them. Now I do. That’s what will make the climb­ing part of this trip so emo­tional.”

In­stead, Se­quoia left home at 16 and went to school in Texas. By 18, she had founded the pub­lish­ing com­pany she con­tin­ues to run to­day. In her busi­ness achieve­ments lies a sense of her fa­ther’s steely de­ter­mi­na­tion. But Se­quoia didn’t dis­cover she also could climb moun­tains un­til af­ter his death.

She re­calls the fate­ful morn­ing she checked her Face­book feed and her life changed for­ever. Still try­ing to process the tragic deaths of her fa­ther and brother, Se­quoia was con­fronted by a news story about re­mains be­ing dis­cov­ered on K2.

“The im­age in front of me looked like the head of my brother,” she re­calls. “The next day, I got an emer­gency visa for Pak­istan.”

Trau­matic trek

De­spite be­ing com­pletely out of shape for such an ad­ven­ture, Se­quoia was de­ter­mined to re­cover her fa­ther and brother’s re­mains, so for the next 17 days, she trekked over 150km a day. “I never rec­om­mend any­one do what I did,” she ex­plains. “It was out of pure ne­ces­sity.”

Se­quoia also be­gan keep­ing a jour­nal. “I’d never been in a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try be­fore and I had these pre­con­ceived no­tions of what it would be like,” she re­calls. “Add the phys­i­cal and emo­tional side on top, and I just needed to get it all out, so I started writ­ing.

“It was a re­lease of what I was feeling, so lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing in the book is hap­pen­ing in the mo­ment that I’m writ­ing it,” she laughs. “When I’m talk­ing about a car that’s about to fall off the high­way ... well, I’m in that car, writ­ing on the lap­top as I’m about to fall off the high­way!”

On Se­quoia’s re­turn to the US, her jour­nal was 150 pages long and with the sup­port of her pub­lish­ing firm, she de­cided to turn it into her first book, Jour­ney of the Heart: A So­journ to K2.

It’s this mem­oir Se­quoia will share read­ings from dur­ing her cy­cle tour, start­ing with Queen­stown this week and fin­ish­ing in Auck­land early next month.

“I’m cy­cling be­cause I don’t want to be in a car. I want to be truly ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it, and when I’m an­gry and I’m scream­ing, I can pedal it out. Can you imag­ine driv­ing and try­ing to get all that emo­tion out? No way!”

Along with climb­ing Mt As­pir­ing, she’s also planned a few more Kiwi ad­ven­tures in hon­our of her fam­ily, in­clud­ing a ca­noe trip in Taupo and a sky­dive in Napier.

Given the amount of ad­ven­ture Se­quoia’s ex­pe­ri­enced in just a few short years, it’s no won­der she’s not let­ting NZ’s un­usu­ally big down­pours dampen her spir­its.

But most im­por­tantly, she knows when she reaches the top of Mt As­pir­ing, she’ll be car­ry­ing the spir­its of her fa­ther and brother with her. “When I climb, I feel close to them. It con­nects me to my­self and my fam­ily.”

Se­quoia’s brother De­nali and dad Marty trag­i­cally lost their lives in an avalanche on K2. Dar­ing ad­ven­turer Se­quoia is fol­low­ing her heart. “The rea­son I’ve cho­sen As­pir­ing is be­cause it was where Dad used to train and one of his favourite moun­tains,”...

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