Remembering David Schmitt

Dave at Kootenai Falls, 2010 Dave Schmitt

As many of you already know, our good friend Dave Schmitt died last Friday, May 6th. He and a friend were in the War Memorial Stadium at the University of Wyoming the night before his graduation, and — to present a very condensed version of the events that were described to me — Dave fell trying to climb onto a ledge that wasn't there. There was a small amount of alcohol involved, but Dave was never known to drink to excess. They weren't being irresponsible or clowning around, just having fun. It mostly sounds like a case of very bad luck.

Natalie and I were very shaken when we heard of Dave’s passing while on our way to camp the night before a high-water Gore run. We quickly decided to stick with our original plan, and we had a great run in our friend’s memory.

Dave was an exceptional person. There is a tendency to see the recently deceased in overly flattering light, but in Dave's case, all the praise is deserved. Dave was always cheerful. I never saw him angry, grumpy, or mean. To sum up Dave's character — for those that didn't know him, and to help those that did know him remember why he was great — I’d like to share a story from our March spring break trip that we took together.

The trip was long, wet, and cold. Natalie and I were grumpy and cold some of the time, and we were even sleeping in the car while Dave slept outside in his bivy sack. He always seemed bright and cheerful in the morning even though his sleeping gear always completely soaked. About halfway through the trip, we had a break in the clouds as we were getting ready to put in for a high water run down the Nordheimer section of the Salmon River in California. Natalie and I have a plastic snake, and our traditional prank is to hide it in people's gear at strange times. I pulled the classic snake-in-the-boat prank on Dave just as we were putting on. It was Dave's response to the snake that I will always remember.

Ask yourself how you would react if you saw a plastic snake in your boat. Sure, given a second or two, you realize that the snake is not real and have a chuckle or maybe get mad, but for one brief second, all that your brain sees is this striking sign of danger. All the reactions that I've seen have been basically the same. People see the snake, representing the dangerous unknown things in life, and their instinct is to feel fear and withdraw. Dave was different. When he saw the snake, in that short, unguarded window of genuine reaction — instead of jumping back or dropping the boat — Dave let out an exclamation of amazed curiosity. "Woah, cool!" Dave said, as he tried to get a better look.

Dave’s genuine interest in life was what set him apart. When he would see anything new or dangerous or adverse, instead of retreating, he would advance to investigate. When faced with a new rapid, instead of seeing all the ways it could go wrong and then gradually figuring out a way that it could be possible, he would see all the awesome lines that could be run, and then check for dangers and complications. When he would wake up at 5:00am on that spring break trip, drenched to the bone from the rain, I like to think that his first thought was to wonder what new runs would come in with all the extra water. I hope in the brief time I knew Dave, some of his attitude might have rubbed off on me, and I'll always strive to see things the way he would have. Dave embraced the unexpected, not as a learned response, but instinctively.

Here are some of the great memories Natalie and I will remember Dave by:

- Those damn sunflower seeds he was always eating on long road trips. There is still a handful on the floor of my car.

- The first time he saw the Slave River, walking over a hill behind John Blyth's house after a three-day drive.

- Dave hooting and hollering after running Skoonichuck Falls on Eagle Creak in Oregon. He was so excited that at first we thought he was hurt.

- His first day of ocean surfing, on tsunami aftershocks.

- Double Rainbow, Bananaphone, and Who's the Shit

- Paddling the Topo Duos on the Slave

- Muscle Milk and the neoprene muscle tee

- Dave and those cute French-Canadian twins

- His ability to throw and land a donkey flip on the smallest feature

- His great smile and genuinely infectious laugh

Here is a slideshow of some of our favorite shots of Dave:

Here is a video of Dave and Ruthy's run in the duo down Pelican. His excitement and joy to be on the water really shines through.

Dave and Ruth duo run on Pelican from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.


  1. Great post Leif. I never met Dave but from your account it seems like he was an awesome person and friend. My regards for everyones loss and it seems like everyone could learn something from his legacy.


  2. The world just lost a one of a kind truly genuine and inspiring person. Dave, you were way more than a third wheel during our travels together. I have never met anyone like you and I still can't believe that I won't be able to share your company anymore. I'm going to miss you terribly.

  3. Gen says...
    wow that is such a sad news... John and I are shocked. My memories of Dave are just as you expressed them, the twins, the muscle milk, the smile and the run every morning from the yellow house to the swimming pool then swimming for a mile and a half then running back then going boating on the slave for 8hrs. He was incredible, I don't know many 22 year old man being so mature, genuine and talented as he was.

    I am deeply sorry for the loss of your good friend and we will be missing him up here on the Slave.

  4. I'm really sorry to hear the news. Even though I only met him briefly, he was a very cheerful and cool guy.

  5. I will miss my dear friend forever. He was always the bright spot in everyone's day, and I am so happy to see that he made you guys happy too.

  6. Thanks for that Leif and Natalie, eloquent and heartfelt. I only regret not paddling more with Dave when he was on the Slave. He was definitely a cool cat.

  7. What a tragic loss. He was such a nice guy and great paddler. Our sympathies to you guys - nothing brings people closer than the amazing challenges you faced with him. That day at Pelican on the Slave (even though Sandy and I just watched from the rocks) is a cherished memory. His wonderful spirit and positive energy enhanced all our lives.

  8. My condolences and prayers go out to his family and friends. I didn't get an opportunity to talk with him during paddle-fest, but seen him in action on the water. He sure loved it, you can see and hear it from him! He'll be missed for sure.

    Chief Paulette
    Smith's Landing First Nation

  9. Thanks Leif and Natalie, it's great to see it from Dave's perspective...
    from the rocks, it was so amazing to watch!
    I am shocked about Dave's passing...I know it is for the "crazy french twins" too.
    For me, he was a young exemple with a beautiful smile and energy. I'm sure he will be missed.

    Thank you Dave for the time you where here.


  10. Found out this weekend about David's passing. I am still stunned. I met David last year in CO. An excepetionally nice guy and excellent boater, he was so positive it was infectious. I nailed my only legit air screw at FIBARK with his coaching and was looking forward to hooking up in CO with him again next month. To good memories, good whitewater and grand experiences. Live on brother.

    Kerry Porche

  11. I met Dave when he cruised out to paddle Burnt Ranch this spring. He was truly positive and had great energy, and I'm completely stunned to hear this terrible news that reminds me too much of an incident I had that could've gone the same way. This is the one life we have and it can be so fragile so don't take it for granted and try to be positive, respectful, and a good friend like David was. Thanks Leif for the genuine words.


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