High Altitude Adventures in the Himalayas

Beyond Talks and Elevation Outdoors hosts Triple 8 climbers Matt Moniz, Mike Moniz, and Jim Walkley

While most sixteen-year olds spent the past spring engaged in normal adolescent activities like prom and finals, one Boulder High School student decided to take his schoolwork to a new high. No, we are not talking about cannabis; we are talking about high-altitude alpine climbing. Matt Moniz spent the spring high in the Himalayas setting records on several 8,000-meter peaks, all while cranking out homework and emailing to his teachers thousands of miles away.

This past Wednesday, June 17th, Matt, his father Mike Moniz, and fellow Triple Eight expedition team member Jim Walkley gave a presentation at Boulder REI. The night was co-sponsored by Beyond Talks and Elevation Outdoors. The motto of Beyond Talks is “Conversations Inspired by Adventure” and the subject for the night was fitting.

Mike and Matt Monitz are co-conspirators in adventure; the father and son team has been dreaming up bigger and better escapades since Matt traveled to Nepal in 2007 with his father. Having summited the highest peaks in North America, South America, Africa, and Europe over the last several years, they set their eyes upon the penultimate peak this spring: Everest. Their well thought out, Kneivelesque plan was to be the first team to summit three 8,000-meter peaks -– Cho Oyu, Everest and Lhotse — in one season, hence the expedition name Triple Eight. While on Cho Oyu acclimatizing for their first summit news of the tragedy on Everest reached them, effectively destroying their original plans.

Undaunted, the father and son along with Jim Walkley, lead guide Willy Benegas, and a small team of Sherpas continued working their way up Cho Oyu; setting fixed lines and ferrying supplies higher up the mountain. When not climbing Matt was working his way through two months of schoolwork to ensure he would finish his sophomore year on schedule. When asked how he maintained focus, his reply drew a collective chuckle from the crowd, “I had my father and two pseudo-uncles, Willie and Jim, riding me all the time. If they caught me slacking, I knew I would pay. Life in base camp can be dull sometimes; I think my schooling gave them something to distract them from the boredom. They seemed to know my assignment calendar better than me sometimes.”

Mike, Matt and Jim after presentation at REI.
Mike, Matt and Jim after presentation at REI.

After forty days on the mountain, the team successfully summited on May 17th and immediately began planning their next step. Having exhausted all of their contacts in the Chinese government trying to secure a permit to climb Everest from the north side in China, the team was escorted to the border. “I think we might be unwelcome in China for awhile; we worked tirelessly the whole time we were on Cho Oyu to secure a permit. I am pretty sure we ruffled some feathers,” said Mike. “We were literally escorted to the border by guards and told to leave.”

Enter Makalu the fifth highest peak in the world, a peak that is notoriously tough with limited successful summits. Due to the high costs associated with helicoptering climbers and gear to the mountain, they decided to send Matt and Willy along with four climbing Sherpas for a classic alpine blitz for the summit. The trip in was quite eventful according to Matt. “We had to dump most of our gear because you could only take forty-eight pounds on the copter. My pack basically had a down suit, hat, gloves, booties, goggles, and a few other items. It was nerve racking to leave all of the other gear behind. Every open space on the copter was packed with jet fuel for refueling after they dropped us.”

The team pulled off an incredible feat upon reaching Makalu; they logged the fastest summit attempt ever, three days from base camp to summit. On their final day they climbed 6100 vertical feet to the summit and Matt became the youngest climber to ever stand on top. They had a scary moment when two of their oxygen masks malfunctioned moments after topping out. “My regulator blew out first so I replaced it with our only back up. In the ten minutes it took us to replace it I felt my extremities getting colder. It was a bit scary,” Matt calmly recounted. “Then, as we headed down, Willie’s regulator blew out. After smacking it around a bit he was able to get it working at a less than a fifth of the normal rate of oxygen flow, it was enough for Willie to get down, but we knew we had to get moving.” Turns out that the extreme temperatures from climbing at night had caused the equipment to freeze up from condensation.

Upon reaching base camp they were immobilized for several days due to a snowstorm that dropped several feet of snow. With supplies running low they were happy to finally escape their tents and fly back to Katmandu.

Even though their original goals were not met, the expedition was a success. Mike summed it up thus, “I think this was probably my favorite expedition ever. The day Matt summited Makalu was one of the proudest moments of my life, he had met every single setback with a smile and accomplished something incredible.”

When asked what his next plans are Matt said, “I want to get into a good college, and focus on climbing more peaks, not necessarily just the big peaks. There are so many great mountains out there and I want to climb them.” As he was leaving he calmly dropped this plan, “Oh and Willie and I are going to head to El Capitan in Yosemite in August to climb a big wall. It seems like it would be fun.” Not much of a stretch for a kid who has already done some pretty amazing things. Something tells me we might be hearing a lot more about Matt Moniz in the coming years.

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