Aspiring to greatness CLIMBER’S HIGHER MISSION
Her journey honours lost lovedones
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.”
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,”...