Remembering Rob Smurr | Mountain Travel Sobek

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Remembering Rob Smurr


On December 31, 2017, Rob Smurr, Adventure Guide and dear friend to Mountain Travel Sobek since 1997, ended his amazing journey on Earth. Rob led trips for MTS in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Antarctica, Mongolia, Russia, the Georgian Caucasus, Ukraine (the Crimean Peninsula), Azerbaijan, Finland, and Estonia. Prior to Mountain Travel Sobek, Rob got his start in adventure travel as a Mountain Guide on Russia’s Mt. Elbrus with REI Adventures.

In addition to guiding trips for adventure travelers, Rob, who taught Russian, Eurasian and Environmental History at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, also led international summer study programs for students. His summer courses traveled to remote destinations in the Former Soviet Union, and included taking students backpacking in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, traveling to the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan’s Pamir-Alai Mountains, and trekking in the Caucasus Mountains and republics of Armenia and Georgia.

Rob successfully balanced his academic and outdoor interests well, even offering a course at ESC called ‘Adventure Travel and Ecotourism,’ which featured guest speakers from Mountain Travel Sobek. He attributed his love for the outdoors in part to “being raised by outdoorsy parents and siblings near the banks of California’s majestic American River; living Twain-ian summers in, on, and around that river; endlessly exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range on extended backpacking, climbing, and skiing trips; and never tiring of doing any of the above.”

Rob also had a unique talent with language. Rob was fluent in 4 languages other than English – Russian, Estonian, German and French. After completing his undergraduate degree in Political Science at the University of California, Davis, Rob enlisted in the United States Army. He developed his Russian language skills while stationed at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and then served four years in Augsburg, Germany as a Russian Radio Voice Intercept Operator. He eventually moved to Seattle to enter the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, where he completed the program with an M.A., and then went on to complete a Ph.D., publishing an environmental history of Estonia, while mastering the German and Estonian languages along the way.

Rob was an adventurer, an academic, and an author, but above all else, Rob was a kind and jovial person who shared his insatiable joie de vivre with absolutely everyone he met. Rob’s glass was always half full. Even after a devastating diagnosis of brain cancer in 2005, Rob didn’t waste a minute of life’s precious time. He impressed us all with his relentless optimism and courage. He was always looking for his next adventure, and continued to lead trips for MTS until the fall of 2013. In 2014, after traveling to the Galapagos with the love of his life, and wife of 36 years, Becky, Rob backpacked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, solo, earning the name “Chemo Robbie” from other PCT trekkers along the way. “Chemo Robbie” did love to joke. He kept a collection of lemming cartoons on his office door, which he would read out loud to his guests—sometimes having to explain the joke afterwards. In fact, some might argue he was especially fond of truly bad jokes, but it was his love of laughter that left its mark on all of us at Mountain Travel Sobek – our staff, our travelers, and our extended community of guides all over the world.

We miss you Rob, and we wish you an eternity of laughter in your next big adventure.

The family asks that memorial gifts be made to support Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice. Gifts can be made online at, or mailed to Providence St. Peter Foundation, 413 Lilly Road NE, Olympia, WA 98506.

In addition, a scholarship fund is being established at the University of Washington to honor Rob’s memory. The Robert Smurr Memorial Fund will support scholars working in the fields of History and Environmental Studies. To make a donation, visit and select Friends of History Fund. After entering your gift amount, you will have an opportunity to indicate that this gift is in memory of Robert Smurr in the “in honor or memory of” section. Gifts may also be mailed to UW Foundation, Attention: Nick Peyton, University of Washington, Box 354882, Seattle, WA 98195.