Meet The 21 Year Old Who Climbed Lhotse and (Almost) Descended On Skis
Picture your average 21-year-old. Are they playing beer pong, eating avocado toast, and spending too much time on instagram? Or are they on a mission to climb the world’s biggest mountains, attempting to make the descent on skis? If they are the latter, they’re probably Matt Moniz.
Matt Moniz, born February 1998, is known for summiting 8,000 meter peaks around the world, including several of the Seven Summits (the highest mountains on each continent). At ten years old he summited Mount Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, followed by Kilimanjaro with his twin sister and parents. Next was Argentina’s Aconcagua, becoming the youngest person to reach the summit.
Then he started climbing for a bigger cause. At age 12, he summited the highest points in all 50 US states in 43 days, to raise awareness for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension, a condition his best friend Iain Hess lives with. His dad drove and climbed.
As of now, he’s bagged summits of Cho Oyu, Makalu, Mt. Everest, and Lhotse, not to mention the audacious (and somewhat controversial) descent of the Lhotse face on skis… but more on that later.
How it All Started
Matt grew up in Boulder Canyon, in the mountain mecca of Boulder, Colorado. Skiing, hiking, mountain biking and generally just being in the mountains was the norm for him. He didn’t quite realize how “not normal” it was for pretty much everyone else.
In 2007, at 9 years old, his dad took him to Everest Base Camp. In awe of the Himalayas, he experienced his first crush and true love all at the same time. Following in his sister’s footsteps, he competed in freestyle skiing but quickly learned that the big mountains and bigger lines were calling. He especially couldn’t resist Everest.
But what makes Matt Moniz different, is he’s on a mission to adventure – and combine two disciplines – climbing big mountains and skiing down those same peaks, which if you ask us, is the most fun way to go down.
Big Mountains, Big Lines
OPL: So, seriously, why Everest?
MM: “Yeah, I get that a lot. Technically, it’s not that challenging of a mountain…the one thing, no matter how much ridicule it gets, it’s still the tallest mountain in the world. And nothing’s going to change that. It was the reason I started climbing.”
The more places he climbs – Tibet, Bolivia, Russia – the more drive he has to travel to more peaks. Not only because of the fun technical climbing, which he thrives in, but the travel opportunities, the people and communities he meets, the cultures he gets to experience. As cliche as that may sound, it’s the opportunity to travel the world and experience a totally different perspective that keeps him going.
It’s About the Experience
OPL: So, is big mountain climbing about the journey, or ticking off your big mountain bucket list?
MM: “Definitely the journey. There are so many people who go to Everest because it’s Everest, and have never climbed in the Himalayas before. If you go to the Khumbu valley, on either side of it are 7,000, 8,000-meter peaks that no one climbs…”
He’s not thinking about tackling the most famous peaks or chasing the accomplishments of the world’s best mountaineers. It’s more about “where’s my next adventure, who will I share it with, and what kind of experiences do I want to have?”
So, What Happens If You Don’t Get to the Top?
In 2014, Matt and his team were planning to attempt back to back summits of three 8,000 meter peaks, Cho Oyu, Everest, and Lhotse, in less than 15 days. Unfortunately, the team watched from Cho Oyu as an avalanche ripped down Everest, burying many Sherpas who were setting fixed lines. Out of respect for the Sherpas who were killed, they reevaluated their plans, and climbed Makalu instead.
OPL: There’s always a chance you won’t reach the summit. How do you feel about that?
MM: “I think a lot of people don’t quite understand it. Until you go over there. For example, when I came back from my third attempt on Everest… people would come up to me and be like, ‘oh Matt, really sorry you didn’t get to climb Everest, that’s a real bummer’ and I kinda see it as, no it totally wasn’t. The opportunity to climb Makalu was as just as rewarding.”
That next year, when they returned to attempt again, this time to ski the Lhotse Couloir, a devastating Earthquake hit Nepal, causing an avalanche to run from Pumori into Everest Base Camp. Matt took cover and withstood the 200 mph wind that blasted camp. But he didn’t leave. He and Willie, his climbing partner, stayed in the valley, volunteering their time towards relief work for the people in Laprak village, including raising money to hire over 800 porters to carry food and supplies into the village.
MM: “I think that experience was far more rewarding than standing on the top of the world ever could be, and that shaped my life a lot more – what I want to do, and how I want to interact with the mountains than climbing Everest ever could…you’re in this incredible place. Not making the summit, is not a big deal.”
Drama On The Big Mountain
The next year, they return again to ski the Lhotse face. While Matt and Willie were doing their acclimatization climbs, they skied down from Camp 3 to Camp 2. Willie posted their decent on social media, saying, “well after 10 years dreaming about it, it happen!” he wrote. “Managed to ski from Camp 3 Everest 7,200 meters to Camp 2 6,400m.” Someone reported their ski descent to Nepalese officials, who wanted to know if Matt and Willie had the appropriate ski permits. They, unfortunately, did not.
MM: [There were] “a lot of political issues as well as a lot of miscommunication…there’s not a lot of clear information about what a ‘ski permit’ is. A lot of people thought we were heli-skiing. Which was really unfortunate. Because after climbing Lhotse, it was perfect conditions, there was no one on the couloir at the time, so it would have been the most ideal time to ski it, which was kind of a bitter-sweet moment for us. But it’s one of those things that we can always go back and do.”
OPL: Where were you on the climb when you got wind of the media’s ‘failure to pull a permit’ news?
MM: “When we first heard about it, we thought it was a joke because we spent so much time over there, we brought skis over there…and we talked to so many people who skied in the area who have skied there, and we’d never heard of this ski permit. But a group of Sherpa leaders wrote a letter that 150 Sherpas signed, supporting Willie and me, explaining to the Nepalese government that it was simply a miscommunication, and not in malicious intent. That [support] was really special for us.”
The Sherpas were excited. They thought this was the year someone would ski the couloir. They knew Matt and Willie well, from Willie’s 11 Everest summits, and the rebuilding and relief efforts both had so passionately taken on after the earthquake in 2015- they wanted to see them succeed.
They did, however, still have valid climbing permits for both Everest and Lhotse – the skis just had to stay in the tent. For now, at least.
Will You Go Back?
MM: “Great question…Skiing the Lhotse Couloir is absolutely a reason to go back. It’s so dependent on the weather and the conditions on that line. It changes so much. For example, last year there was no way you could ski the couloir, it was way too icy and rocky… it’s something I really want to go back and do, but we’ll see, it’s kind of a crazy place, but you have to wait for good conditions.”
OPL: Mountaineering is hard enough, especially that high up. What’s it like to have to carry a pair of skis on your back too?
MM: “So for me, to ski down from Camp 3 was the hardest ski I’ve ever done. It was challenging, with pretty steep and variable snow. But for us, it was our first time up to Camp 3, so we were still acclimating and doing that climb with skis and then skiing down, was extraordinarily difficult. We did four jump turns and then would just lay on the snow and gasp for air. There’s really no rocking some big GS turns or anything.”
OPL: At least you didn’t fall.
OPL: “Well, this is by far the coolest trip we’ve heard of, and the fact that you get to do this with family and good friends is pretty rad. We know you’re going to college – what does life look like for you in the future?”
MM: “I think that for right now, there’s definitely a balance. Getting an education is super important. I’m enjoying my classes so much, I love learning. Being at Dartmouth and being surrounded by a lot of brilliant people is awesome… I think that in the future – I love climbing, it’s the biggest passion of my life – being able to combine the experiences and skills I’ve gotten from climbing with the skills that I’ve developed at Dartmouth and through my activism, is a big part of what I want to do after college. I just need to figure out what exactly that is – but I’m confident that I can figure it out.”
The Really Important Questions
OPL: What’s going on between your ears when you’re in those tough moments?
MM: “I think a lot of climbing is type II fun. The key to that is having a good attitude and a fun take. You need to take it seriously, it’s a dangerous place and a hard mountain, but I think that having a fun, good, humorous attitude about it is something Willie and I share. We’re always pranking each other and having a good time.”
OPL: Any mental preparation tips?
MM: “Be in the mountains. A lot of my training was going ski touring, being in the area, and spending time there. I think the best way to make good decisions up there is to have previous experience in the mountains, making decisions like that.”
OPL: You’re ticking off big mountains. Some people have never been to Everest and you’ve been three times. How do you keep your ego in check as you become more of a badass?
MM: “…Everest is a big mountain, but there are so many peaks in Pakistan and India that are so much harder. You can be the best climber in the world, and still not be able to climb a lot of peaks. No one is a true expert in this field. There’s a lot of people that have done a lot harder things than I have and that keeps me in check.”
OPL: What is the one piece of gear you definitely could not have lived without?
MM: “Adidas sent me some gear to try out on the latest climb. I was super impressed by their down jackets and shells. They made this mid-weight puffy jacket, I think I wore it every single day from basecamp to the summit… it was by far the most wonderful piece of clothing, and I use it for everything from a pillow to a backpack on the bus, to everything in between.”
OPL: What about something you wish you left at home?
MM: “Willie and I brought way too much food. We just overpacked. There’s really good pasta made out of chickpeas and we brought like 7 boxes, but ate like 3.”
Last Question, Why Do This Stuff?
“For me, spending time outdoors is as valuable as learning intellectually. The experiences you gain and the lessons you learn outside are just as important. It also one of these dwindling resources, that we do need to protect. And I think people who work in the outdoor industry recognize that and realize the importance of these lands and outdoor areas. I think it’s something a lot of people take for granted.”
We all have that desire to be outside. And whether you’re about bagging peaks, skiing down Everest, or just spending time outside at your local hiking trail – it’s athletes like Matt whose passion for adventures and experiences in the mountains keeps the stoke torch burning and passed along to the next generation.
Find Matt and follow along with his adventures on his Instagram, @matt_moniz.