Guest Post: Silver Lining in the Cloud over the Himalaya

Today we have a special treat – a guest post by Erin Brosterhous of Inside Out PR. Thank you to Erin for capturing Matt’s amazing feat so beautifully!

Although the 2014 Himalayan climbing season has been fraught with tragedy and political turmoil, Boulder-based climber Matt Moniz, famed mountain guide Willie Benegas, Pemba Tshering Sherpa and Nima Kanchha Sherpa from Khumjung and Thame, respectively, celebrated the true spirit of high-altitude, alpine style mountaineering with a quick change of plans, resulting in back-to-back 8,000-meter summits of Cho Oyo and Makalu. A helicopter shuttle to Makalu base camp allowed the duo to take advantage of their acclimatized condition and summit Makalu in just three days, the fastest known time from base camp to base camp. They completed both summits within eight days and Matt became the 14th American to summit Makalu.

This season’s expedition was Matt’s third Himalayan climbing experience (his first was a trek to Everest Base Camp and a summit of Kala Patar at 18,501’ when he was nine) and resulted in the realized goal of climbing an 8,000-meter peak as a father-son team before Matt heads to college. Mike and Matt had meticulously-crafted a three-summit plan called the Triple 8 Expedition. The original goal was to consecutively climb Cho Oyu, Everest, and Lhotse, finishing off the trifecta with a first-ever ski descent of the Lhoste Couloir.

Matt and his dad, Mike

After weeks of acclimatization on Cho Oyu, the Moniz duo, Benegas and Jim Walkley, a fellow climber from Denver and Mike’s 2012 Everest summit, took advantage of a break in the storms and successfully completed their push for the 26,906’ summit Cho Oyo on May 17th. Nearly one month after the fatal avalanche on Everest, the tragedy continued to weigh heavy on the minds and hearts of the team. They also realized that an Everest attempt was highly unlikely. Out of respect for the Sherpas’ wishes to close the mountain, the team adapted and made a quick change of plans.

Through the fog of bad news and negative press coming out of the Himalaya, Matt and partner Willie saw an opportunity to resurrect the spirit of alpinism, which both men treasure. They acted nimbly, packed lightly and hitched a ride via helicopter to advance base camp of Makalu – a mountain considered to be one of the world’s most difficult to climb. Upon arrival at base camp, the duo and their full team of four climbing Sherpa landed and immediately ascended to Camp 2, the next day they climbed to Camp 3 and reached the summit at 4:00am on May 25th, Day 3 – the fastest known ascent of 27,825’ Makalu to date.

Makalu

Matt and Willie celebrated their feat in their tent (for five days) thanks to an oppressive snowstorm that kept them bound to the side of mountain.

The team is deeply saddened by this year’s tragedy, but they continue to be ever grateful for the lessons and gifts that climbing offers. Their team motto “One Mountain at a Time” reminds them to continue to learn from the mountains, respect the conditions and cherish the rich history of the sport. The team’s successes on Cho Oyu and Makalu have provided them all with a silver lining to the dark cloud over Everest and the 2014 climbing season.

Congratulations, Matt!

Recent Press Coverage

Matt Moniz, 16, Summits Back-to-Back 8,000 Meter Peaks” by Jayme Moye, Men’s Journal

16yo Matt Ascends Mt. Makalu a Week After Cho Oyu Feat” by Rajan Pokhrel, Himalayan Times

Himalaya 2014:  Matt Moniz Summits Second 8000 Meter Peak of the Season” by Kraig Becker, The Adventure Blog

Thank you for the great coverage!

More from Makalu

Fresh off the helicopter and sporting 8K meter boots

Matt and Willie finally made it safely back to Kathmandu around 10:00 am Nepal time on 5/29 (2200 MDT on 5/28) after being snowbound for the past four days on Makalu. We are so proud of the team for these exciting back to back summits!

Matt on Makalu (27,825 ft) summit push

SUMMIT – Makalu (27,825ft)

At 4:00 am local time (1545 MDT) on 5/24, Matt, Willie, Nema and Pemba summited Makalu (27,825 ft) making this the second 8,000m peak summited in just one week. The team departed at 8:45 pm on 5/23 due to strong winds and made fast work of the summit. For those keeping track, that is an astounding THREE DAYS from start to summit on Makalu.

We are so proud of Matt, Willie, Nema and Pemba on this amazing accomplishment! (5/25)

Makalu – Camp 2

Continuing in the alpine ascent tradition (light and fast), Matt and Willie are now at Makalu Camp 2. Mike sent this update:

Matt and Willie had an impressively long day of over 3,200 vertical feet from Advanced Base Camp (18,370 ft) to Camp 2 (21,650 ft). Tomorrow at 4:00 am they will begin another major push to Camp 3 (24,600 ft) where they will stage for a summit attempt (27,825 ft) on May 25th. Joel Gratz is forecasting winds and precipitation within our margin.

Here is the schedule in MDT if you suffer from time zone confusion as I often do:

  • 5/23 at 1545 MDT:  Matt and Willie will depart C2 for C3
  • 5/24 at 1545 MDT:  Matt and Will will depart C3 with a hopeful summit around 2300 MDT. NOTE:  Summit day times are based on the typical Moniz summit pattern and have not been confirmed by Mike.

I will post updates as they come in!

Matt and Willie at C2. Too bad they look so unhappy :-)

Peak 2: Makalu!

SPOT update on 5/21 at 2232 MDT

After a couple of days rest in Kathmandu, Matt and Willie have taken off for their second 8,000m peak, Makalu (27,875ft).  Makalu is the fifth highest mountain int he world and is about 12 miles southeast of Mt. Everest on the border between Nepal and China. They have a narrow weather window and are targeting 25 May as the summit date.

The Himalayan Times featured this interview with Matt and Mike in today’s online edition.

Mike posted the following video and info to Facebook this morning.

Birds are in the Air

More from Cho Oyu Summit

Team photo at the summit

Mike posted more details and gratitude on the weekend’s Cho Oyu summit on Facebook yesterday.

The smiles say it all. Thank you to Willie Benegas for your great expedition leadership and precision. Joel Gratz, thanks for helping us thread the weather needle! Special thanks to a remarkable team of Sherpas who, despite a painful Himalayan season, gave their all to make this a safe and successful summit. Amazing fact:  our team fixed the entire mountain for all spring 2014 Cho Oyu climbers and, therefore, carried and fixed 11,500 feet (3,500) of rope, plus hauled snow pickets and technical gear up the mountain this season.

The team is now off the mountain and getting some much needed sleep!

Check out the reflection in Matt's goggles!

Summit – Cho Oyu, 26,906ft!

Best father-son picture ever?

Our intrepid team reports this about their summit on 5/17 at 11:00 am, local time:

After departing Camp 2 at 4:00 am we made the summit this morning at 11 am. Joel Gratz, thank you from the entire team, you picked one heck of nice day – light winds, warm and stayed clear long enough for us to make it all the way back to Advanced Base Camp. The Team is exhausted after the 17 hour day but everyone is healthy and happy to be down. Thanks so much for the all the support and encouragement.

Congratulations, team!!!

Matt on the way up!

Summit Rotation Day 2

SPOT update on 5/16 at 0456 MDT

I am excited to report that the team is now at Camp 2, roughly 7,200 m (23,622ft). Keep an eye out here for news of a summit!

Summit Rotation – Day 1

Mike's view for the next 72 hours

The team left Advanced Base Camp on the morning of 5/15 to start their three-day summit rotation. Mike updated Facebook with the following:

Finally, we have a narrow, but defined weather window for a summit attempt on Cho Oyu (26,906 ft). The team departs in two hours to Camp 1 where we’ll overnight and then move to Camp 2 tomorrow. Finally, on our third day, we’ll push to the summit from Camp 2. If all goes according to plan, we’ll be near the summit at midnight (MDT) on Saturday. The winds, according to team meteorologist Joel Gratz, will be marginal near our maximum threshold, so we may need an extra layer or two for warmth. Everyone is excited and ready to climb – thanks for all the good wishes!

For those following along with the adventure in the US, I’ve converted the schedule to MST so when you check your watch, you’ll exactly where the guys are.

  • ABC to Camp 1:  Depart approximately 8:30 pm MDT on 5/14. Climb through our night.
  • Camp 1 to Camp 2:  Evening – night MDT of 5/15. Climb through our night.
  • Camp 2 to summit:  Early evening with summit happening at approximately midnight MDT of 5/16

Good luck, team! (5/15)

SPOT update on 5/15 at 0125 MDT