Remembering Adam Shmidt

Shmidt, a devoted climber, husband, and teacher, passed away after a fall on San Diego’s El Cajon Mountain in July.

Photo: Courtesy of Becca Fink

“You’re capable. You got this,” Adam reassured me as the 1,200 feet of exposure started to make my knees shake. I continued up the arête of the Red Rock classic Blade Runner, which we accessed after climbing Ginger Cracks and was by far the longest climb I’d yet attempted. I was breathing heavily when I made the summit. Adam greeted me beaming with pride, the defining dimple in his wide smile on full display. We quickly rappelled while there was still sunlight and spent the five-hour car ride back to San Diego grinning from ear to ear, reliving every moment and movement of the climb and reflecting on how far we’d come since beginning our outdoor climbing journey three years earlier. That day in 2022 remains one of my most exhilarating and inspiring days outside, and it was made possible by the endless confidence that Adam, my partner of 13 years, had in me.

A figure standing on a thin granite tower in the Yosemite high country, arms spread high, with a shiny blue lake and rocky hills in the distance.
Shmidt in Yosemite (Photo: Courtesy of Becca Fink)

Adam Shmidt was raised in a Jewish home on Long Island, an ever-curious child who once asked a teacher “but what language does God speak?” and was promptly promoted to the next grade level. He and I met studying philosophy at Brooklyn College in 2010 and were bonded by a common struggle: never truly knowing our place. We didn’t feel at home in the towns where we were raised, so we escaped to New York City, found each other, and soon realized we didn’t belong in the city either. We searched for life’s meaning in books and moved to Atlanta for Adam to pursue his master’s in philosophy. It was there we found a passion that forever changed us: climbing.

Adam’s accident doesn’t make me fearful; it fuels me to continue adventuring and exploring, to keep showing him the natural beauty of this world through my eyes, to continue his journey with my own life.

A friend introduced us to a local gym, and we instantly fell in love with climbing, quickly becoming members and going as often as we could. Climbing showed us a way to connect our minds and bodies in a way we hadn’t before—expressing ourselves physically while challenging our minds—poetically using our bodies to solve intricate puzzles. We continued indoor climbing when we moved to Boston for Adam to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and me a master’s in communications, but we also began expanding our love and appreciation for the outdoors, hiking extensively in New Hampshire and Maine. The desire to spend more time on outdoor adventures brought us to San Diego in 2019, the first place we both finally felt like we belonged. We picked up some outdoor climbing skills and hit the ground running.

Adam was never bored, often declaring that he would live forever if he could, because there was no end to the places one could explore and things one could learn. He seized every opportunity that life gave him. If he had an interest in something, it would completely consume him. This intensity drove him to earn a Ph.D., run a sub-3:15 marathon, create his own deck-building card game (‘Forest Dwellers’), and, by 2019, to accumulate a huge tick list of rock climbs and technical peaks.

Adam Shmidt chimneying up a granite cliff, quite runout, smiling over at the camera.
Shmidt climbing Fishhook Arête on Mt. Russell in 2022 (Photo: Courtesy of Becca Fink)

“Adam was a person who always saw the potential of what you were capable of—the best versions of yourself,” said Johnny Floersheimer, one of Adam’s favorite climbing partners. “It’s what we all truly wish to find in a partner, in both climbing and in life. I will forever cherish the experience of having received this gift, and Adam’s bottomless exuberance in my life.”

“‘Oh we’re ready for it!’ Adam would always say to me. And to my surprise, he was always right,” recalled Johnny. “We cut our teeth at El Cajon Mountain, leveled up on Levitation 29 and Cloud Tower in Red Rocks, and had the absolute time of our lives doing The Vampire three times in one month on Tahquitz Rock. Tackling several dream routes with Adam was surreal, and would have been unimaginable for me to be ready for them so quickly without Adam’s endless motivation, overflowing stoke, and insightful certainty that we were truly ready to get after it.”

As the summer of 2023 began, Adam set an intention to make each day particularly meaningful before he started an English instructor position at a new high school in the fall. He maintained a two-year streak of solving New York Times crossword puzzles each day, read the 12 books on the curriculum for his upcoming school year, climbed the Diamond on Longs Peak and the Grand Teton, explored big wall climbing in Zion, ticked off classics like The Nutcracker in Yosemite, gave me an immense amount of love and affection, and gave all of himself to his family and friends. He lived life to the fullest knowing it could be taken at any time.

And on July 31 Adam went to the place where he felt most connected to himself and nature: El Cajon Mountain in San Diego. Over the last four years, Adam had been there more than a hundred times, often with me or Johnny. That morning, Adam set out to scramble up Sleeping Giant, a ten-pitch moderate he had soloed countless times. It’s unclear what went wrong that day that resulted in his catastrophic fall. I only know for certain that Adam died doing his favorite thing in his favorite place.

A selfie of a smiling couple high on a California rock climb–the desert and the sky behind them.
Shmidt and the author at El Cajon (Photo: Courtesy of Becca Fink)

I thought I understood the extent of Adam’s impact while he was alive, seeing him motivate climbers to push past their comfort zones and encourage his students to think critically. But at his memorial I was amazed to see more than 100 of his former students and local climbers gathered to honor him. It’s a testament to the kind of person he was that in just 34 years he was able to make a profound impact on so many, to inspire others to emulate and embody his passion for living.

Adam’s accident doesn’t make me fearful; it fuels me to continue adventuring and exploring, to keep showing him the natural beauty of this world through my eyes, to continue his journey with my own life. He showed me true love, and I gave that back to him. I wish we had forever together, but I hope that I can let parts of him inhabit me now. When I’m tempted to say no, I hope he inspires me to say yes.

I keep finding myself recalling conversations we had about taking advantage of life while we have it. I think that concept was just words to me then, I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of what we were saying until now.

I also keep revisiting part of the vows Adam wrote for our wedding: “And when I say I want to be yours, I mean forever, so if you ever lose my soul, you can find it here, because that’s where I’ll be, waiting for you to come find me.”

I’ll keep living fully and searching for Adam in the mountains, on the climbs, in all of our favorite places.

I love you forever and always, A.

Shmidt and the author smiling, wearing helmets, with a rope draped over them, at the top of Tahquitz Rock.
Shmidt and his wife, Becca, at Tahquitz Rock, California (Photo: Courtesy of Becca Fink)

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