Matt Moniz keeps company with some of the most prominent names in the mountaineering game: Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus, Mount Aconcagua and Mount Everest.
In 2010, when he was named one of National Geographic's Adventurers of the Year, Moniz had conquered the highest peaks in all 50 states in just 43 days — record speed. Moniz was 12. The state highpoints include three “fourteeners” and Alaska's Denali, which towers over them at 20,310 feet.
The Boulder, Colorado, native has since summited Mount Makalu and Mount Cho Oyu, the fifth- and sixth-highest peaks in the Himalayas, and though Everest's summit still eludes him, he remains confident that one day, he will stand higher than everything else on Earth.
When we speak in January, Moniz is prepping for a college interview and a month-long EMT course. I get the impression that he's preternaturally self-possessed — a useful quality for an alpinist prodigy, as is sound judgment. He's currently lamenting the forfeiture of a powder day at Winter Park, but his education is his top priority.
Both Moniz and his twin sister, Kaylee, graduated high school early — in December — by accumulating credits at the University of Colorado. After completing the EMT course in Washington in February, the pair will embark on an enviable road trip, threading some of Canada's best ski hills, followed by a surf trip to Mexico or Panama.
Skiing the Pfeifferhorn #sickday #findingwinter A photo posted by Matt Moniz (@matt_moniz) on
Moniz had planned to be in Antarctica this month with Kaylee and his climbing partner, Willie Benegas, but they've rescheduled the trip for November when Antarctica promises to be even more hostile than it is in January. The average temperature will be around 35 degrees below zero.
“Right now, we are trying to decide if we want to fly to the interior or take a boat from Punta Arenas, Chile, to the [Antarctic] Peninsula. The Peninsula will probably have better skiing, but the interior will be a more remote,” Moniz says.
“If we go to the Peninsula, we'll be able to sleep on a sailboat and base our ski operations there. [In] the interior, it'll be more of a base camp setup.”
While researching this trip, Moniz came across teams who'd traversed Greenland and the North Pole with great efficiency by kite.
“I thought that was a really cool idea and definitely something with great potential in Antarctica,” he says. “My sister and I are training with Ozone Kites … it's pretty tricky, but you can travel really fast, depending on the wind speed.”
Antarctica may be a curious destination for tourists, but for explorers, not so much:
“In the world, there are maybe not a lot of unexplored regions, except for Antarctica,” Moniz says. “I think it'll be amazing to go to these peaks and places where no one's ever really been before.”
Matt and Kaylee Moniz were genetically predisposed to adventure.
Their parents, Dee and Michael, worked as rafting and climbing instructors for UC Boulder's Outdoor Program before becoming a nurse and a venture capitalist, entrepreneur and adventurer. They were always “adamant” that their children spend time outside.
They put them on skis at two years old, and it was Michael who sparked Moniz's love of high-altitude climbing with a trip to Everest's Base Camp when he was nine.
Since then, he's made two attempts at the summit. In 2014, Moniz was trying to best Cho Oyu, Everest and Mount Lhotse, and also be the first person to ski Lhotse Couloir.
A deadly avalanche on Everest prompted the team to change tack, and Moniz became the youngest climber to summit Makalu.
Matt Moniz and I after a successful 3 days ascent of Mount Makalu. Arrived at ABC on May 22, summited at 4am May 25 2014 and 12 hrs later back at ABC. #lasportiva. #amga1979 A photo posted by Benegas Brothers Expeditions (@benegas_brothers) on
The following year, just two days after Moniz received a blessing from a Buddhist monk to protect him “from avalanches and earthquakes,” a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the Gorkha region of Nepal and triggered an avalanche at Everest's Base Camp.
The team spent the next month assisting with rescue and relief efforts.
“Being in base camp when the avalanche happened,” Moniz says with a pause, “was definitely the most scared I've ever been in the mountains, that's for sure. It was a very wild experience and one that I'm fortunate that I came out of okay, and I was able to help out, but definitely one that I would not want to repeat.
“It's always been a dream for me to climb Everest. Almost my bigger dream is to ski Lhotse Couloir. [But] I think I'm going to give it some time.”
Moniz is wise beyond his years and refreshingly bright-eyed, and this unique combination is a huge asset in the mountains.
“One of the biggest things with high-altitude climbing is how serious a lot of people are out there, and we are in a lot of very dangerous situations,” he says, “but at the same time, it's really important to have fun and realize why you're there.”
He tells stories about the rapidly escalating series of pranks that he and Benegas played on each other while climbing Makalu (think tents pitched on 10-foot boulders). They reenacted ridiculous scenes from Vertical Limit and staging the “Winter Olympics of Denali.”
It dawns on me that Moniz has answered almost all my questions with anecdotes. At 17, he has already learned what some people never do: a well-lived life is an endless collection of stories.
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