Luke Smithwick - A Life in High Places
Luke Smithwick is a professional alpinist, ski mountaineer, and mountain guide best known for his cutting-edge climbs and descents in the world’s wildest mountain ranges. Luke is based in Victor, Idaho, in the shadow of the legendary Teton Range, but he spends large portions of each year deep in the Himalayas, guiding clients on remote peaks or pursuing personal climbing and skiing objectives on 7-8,000-meter peaks. He is currently hard at work on a multi-year skiing project called The Himalaya 500, which is his personal quest to ski 500 aesthetic ski lines throughout the greater Himalayan Range.
Luke was born and raised in North Carolina, and he moved to Colorado for college, where he attended CU Boulder and studied environmental biology and cultural anthropology. When not in class, Luke immersed himself in outdoor sports and soon began working as a guide-- first a river guide on Colorado’s Upper Arkansas River and then a climbing guide. After graduation, Luke completely committed himself to the mountains, and his adventures have since taken him everywhere from the Alaska Range to his current work in the Himalayas. His company, Himalaya Alpine Guides, focuses on trips to some of the lesser-known (and less crowded) peaks in the Himalayan Range, where his clients can enjoy completely unique climbing and cultural experiences that cannot be found on more mainstream, well-known mountains.
Luke and I went to high school together back in the mid-1990s, and I was a couple of grades ahead of him. After graduation, we lost touch but have reconnected during the past few years thanks to shared interests and common friends. I was so happy that he joined me on the podcast, because I had lots of questions about how a guy from small-town North Carolina has become one of the world's most accomplished Himalayan skiers. We had a wonderful conversation, discussing everything from his career trajectory to this season’s climbing objectives. We talked about how he picks ski lines, how climate change is affecting the Himalayas, the unique nature of his guiding company, how he trains, why he has made his home in the American West, and his deep respect for the people, history, and cultures of the Himalayas.
I loved catching up with my old friend Luke. I was blown away by all he has accomplished in the past 20 years, and I have the utmost respect for his understated, humble approach to life, learning, and adventure. Be sure to check the episode notes for links to everything we discussed. Enjoy!
- Luke Smithwick
- Himalaya Alpine Guides
- The Himalaya 500
- Episode Notes with Links: https://mountainandprairie.com/luke-smithwick/
- 4:00 – Luke walks us through his trajectory post high school and how he became a professional outdoor guide
- 7:30 – Luke talks about his work and his guide company in the Himalayas
- 9:45 – Luke explains why he focuses on a deep understanding of mountain ranges instead of just the principle summits of a range
- 13:15 – Luke discusses how he finds his clientele
- 15:30 – Luke explains the importance of local relationships for his business
- 17:45 – Luke discusses his project, the Himalaya 500
- 21:15 – Luke explains how he picks his ski lines
- 23:00 – Luke talks about the information age and its impact on the availability of “secret spots”
- 25:00 – Luke talks about the people he has met in his travels around the Himalaya
- 27:45 – Luke talks about how current action in Afghanistan may affect his work
- 28:45 – Luke discusses the impacts of climate change that he sees in his work
- 32:00 – Luke explains how he trains for his work and play in the mountains in order to make it a sustainable lifestyle
- 36:00 – Luke talks about his current 8,000 meter peak goal
- 39:00 – Luke discusses how he balances humility and the need for self-promotion in his field
- 44:45 – Luke talks about training for alpine trips in his forties
- 48:00 – Luke talks about his family
- 49:15 – Luke discusses his hometown and the significance of Boy Scouts in his upbringing
- 51:30 – Luke’s book recommendations
- 53:30 – Luke’s film recommendations
- 54:30 – Luke talks about the most powerful experience in his life
- 56:45 – Luke’s parting words of wisdom
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