It’s taken me a few days to reflect and process the passing of Kim Schmidt. My experience last weekend with him running the Middle Fork of the Salmon River was special to say the least. Here is a little insight from the trip and my experience with Kim during the last few days he was alive.
If you don’t already know, Kim died in a car crash while driving away from the take out of the river, moments after I said good-bye for the last time. First off, thank you Brian for sharing these photos and your eloquent words. I remember vividly Kim sitting back, lifting his tongue to the rain and his face to the sun. I felt both peace and beauty inside me, thinking, “There is a man embracing what life has to offer. Right here, right now.”
I am grateful for Stephen Koch inviting me and to Dr. Bruce Hayes, who orchestrated the trip. Dr. Hayes is my Dr. of 10 + years, a river exploring legend and exudes the essence of a Zen Master.
When Stephen and Sue had to bow out just before, I realized I would be rowing a catamaran with Kim as my passenger and would get the opportunity to share some quality time with him, do my best to keep him safe and assist him in having a great experience on the river however I could. What an honor that was.
We arrived at the airport to begin the bush plane flight and I met Brian Whitlock, the forth on our trip, for the first time. Brian and I connected right away and would share in our support and care for Kim along the journey. I knew I was in for a very special trip with some amazing people, all of which have lived very full lives of adventure.
We floated nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork, navigating technical class 4 rapids together over three glorious days. We observed the beauty of the river and our attention was often directed toward the surrounding cliffs. In between the rapids, Kim and I would stare dreamily at the walls. We pointed out potential climbing routes and ascents to each other while sharing tales of climbing big walls and embracing the challenge and uncertainty of what lie ahead.
I asked Kim countless questions about his life and his experiences. I wanted to know everything about just how he had lived such an amazing and adventuresome life. He shared story after story of climbing and adventure, each one creating a vivid picture for me to imagine. His recounts of his early first ascents of El Capitan in the 60’s, the first ascent on the Trango Tower and his two month ski traverse in the Karakoram range in Pakistan were just a few that kept me literally on the edge of my seat.
He was equally interested in hearing about my climbing adventures and shared a mutual desire about going to the places I spoke about.
We talked about the death of dear friends and climbing partners, including the recent passing of my partners Jarad Spackman and Gary Falk. He shared in great detail how he stared into the eyes of one of his dear friends, Jonathan Wright, while climbing Mount Gongga in China. He was the last man on the rope team with Chouinard, Ridgeway and Read. As he belayed from above, the team below set off an avalanche and he was ripped from his belay. As he catapulted down a mountainside, he was able to look into his eyes of his dear friend, connecting with him one last time the moment before his death.
I had brought a copy of Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations” and we spoke about stoic philosophy and how it applies to the world of adventure.
I asked him what his most common piece of advice was that he gave to people over the years. His response: “Put your consciousness into the soul of your feet.” Love that.
He walked using his two “sticks” and through his occasional tumbles he would quickly recover and say something like “well, it just is” and bound up again like a springboard, ready for the next challenge. Each day he would have a “sit” and meditate with Dr. Hayes, clearly enjoying each opportunity.
His plans were to travel to Cambodia and Laos this winter to “get some walking in and get strong again.” His goal was to climb El Capitan again next year. Of course it would be a new route he had yet to climb. As he shared his dreams with me, I could envision him walking strong again in these foreign lands and climbing El Cap, joyfully back in his element he loved so much.
Kim Schmidt inspired in me a sense that anything is possible and that overcoming obstacles is a natural progression of living a full life. He reminded me to follow my calling and that living a life of adventure as an eternal pursuit of my soul is a natural and beautiful thing.
Thank you, Kim Schmidt, for sharing these precious last few days with me and for infusing a lasting impact of the love for life and adventure. I will carry these things with me forever.
– Tim Walther