John R. Marts: Mountaineer, attorney, Navy veteran

John Marts

John R. Marts

The jack-booted Soviet Union policeman and I were arguing over my jay-walking across Red Square when a citizen approached, said something in Russian to the officer, and then pointed toward John Marts, who was partially hidden behind the corner of a building. As the crowd turned to where the finger pointed, John lowered his camera. The officer knew immediately that John was documenting the argument and motioned for him to come over. With a “Cool Hand Luke” grin, John slowly walked toward us while secretly winding his film into the canister. Using gestures, the officer ordered John to remove his film from the camera. Reluctantly, John did. The officer then pulled the strip of 36 exposures from the canister into the sunlight. The incident was lost. John just smiled and held the curled length of film aloft, as the Russian crowd broke into laughter. Typical John: A little hell here and there kept the spirit alive. In good spirit, John’s wit and humor endeared him to our 19-person American team, the approximately 160 other climbers from 18 different nations, and our Russian hosts during the deadly summer in the Russian Pamirs in 1974. —John Roskelley

John Rogers Marts, born June 3, 1947, was an exceptional climber and, like many who take up mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest, as comfortable on the region’s snow and ice volcanoes as he was bushwhacking into the granite spires of the north Cascades. While still in his teens, John guided in Estes Park with his older brother, Brian, for five years building his confidence and alpine skills. In 1968, John and Scott Davis, a well-known Yosemite big-wall climber, climbed the Bonatti Pillar of the Petite Dru and the East Face of the Aiguille de Fou, both first-time one-day ascents. After graduating from Shoreline High School and then the University of Washington in 1969, he joined the Navy and finished basic flight training in 1971. Once out of the Navy and after a trip to Denali in Alaska, John was chosen by Pete Schoening to represent the American Alpine Club in the Russian Pamirs. It was a tragic summer in the Pamirs, as 15 climbers lost their lives, including John’s friend Gary Ullin and an entire team of eight Russian women.

After Russia, John pursued a law degree from Gonzaga University, and later established a successful law practice in Edmonds, Washington, where he lived. Highly respected, John was a compassionate advocate to his clients for nearly 40 years. In 1999, he worked with and married Susan Stark; they were rarely apart and deeply in love. John became the patriarch to a family of four children, their spouses and 14 grandchildren.

John passed away December 15th after a long illness that took from him his eloquent and humorous expressive language and his ability to seek adventure: frontotemporal degeneration and progressive peripheral aphasia. Not one to sit still, John continued to be active over the years and was known for his physical strength to the end. He kayaked the Middle Fork of the Snake, rowed a private raft down the Grand Canyon, hiked the slot canyons of the Southwest, golfed with friends and made long-distance bike trips throughout Washington. He continued to seek adventure to the end of his life, leaving this earth with his pack, ropes and climbing gear set out ready to leave for his next climb.

John is survived by his wife, Susan, and children Trisha (Scott) Napier, Laura (Brandon) Miller, Daniel (Lori) Ellis, Bridget (William) Harrison, Wendy Daniel and 14 grandchildren who will miss their Grandpa and Camp Leader who guided them through hiking, kayaking, skiing, bicycling and long days on Lopez Island.  He will also be greatly missed by his sister Annette (Charles) Rothe, niece Shannon (Lance and Kaylee) Naugle, his brother Brian (Valorie Knieper) Marts and nephew Kevin Marts. John will be missed by many friends and neighbors. All were a never-ending support team in caring for John through an extremely difficult disease; John passed at home surrounded by family and friends with special appreciation to Leslie Bloomer and John Cox.  John is preceded in death by his father Dr. Marion E. Marts and his mother Dorys Rogers Marts.

A celebration of John’s life will be held on March 23, 2019 at 11:30 at 805 Aloha Street, Edmonds.

As his life ends, his spirit continues. We picture that classic grin of his and realize what a treasure of incredible memories he’s left us. Donations in his memory can be made to the Association of Frontotemporal Degeneration ( or John’s favorite cause, the Snow Leopard Trust (

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