Climber Matt Moniz, with his dad Mike, climbed to all the highest points in the 50 states in 43 days, a feat which made him one of our Adventurers of the Year—and our youngest honored Adventurer ever.
On April 3 I’m off to Nepal to begin an expedition I’ve been dreaming about most of my life … climbing my first 8,000-meter peaks—Cho Oyu, Everest, and Lhotse. While it may seem an audacious target for a 16-year-old, there’s a method to the madness. Our goal when planning this expedition was to limit objective risk, test me on an “easier” 8,000-meter peak prior to an attempt on Everest, and, if all goes well, connect multiple peaks, one mountain at a time.
Many nights last spring I remember the team—including my dad, Mike, Willie Benegas (an 11-time Everest summiteer), and Jim Walkley (another Himalayan climber)—engrossed in expedition planning and strategy, simply trying to understand how to reduce risk and increase our chances for success. For sure, we were most worried about the infamous Khumbu Icefalls. Few would disagree that the Khumbu Icefalls represents one of the most treacherous sections of the South Col route on Mount Everest. Large and unstable columns of ice, known as seracs, loom over climbers and relentless avalanches from Everest’s west shoulder and Nupste create a persistent threat. When mountaineers speak about objective hazards, we are referring to the elements of the climb that are outside of our control, like ice falls and avalanches. Most often climbers can avoid these risks through good route planning. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely eliminate the dangers of the Khumbu Icefalls.
Because of the need to acclimate the body to the extreme altitudes, which involves a process of successively ascending to higher elevations, climbers will have as many as four rotations or eight trips through the icefalls. In recent years, some teams have climbed on nearby Lobuche East (20,075 feet) to help with acclimatization and reduce the risky passages through the icefalls from four to three. This is the same reasoning we applied to our goal of limiting objective risk. By climbing Cho Oyu, earth’s sixth tallest mountain first, we will be completely acclimatized for a climb of Everest, reducing the Khumbu Icefall rotations from four to just one.
Another important reason for the team starting on Tibet’s Cho Oyu is to respect the alpine tradition of experience, preparation, and progression before climbing Everest. Countless stories have been written about inexperienced climbers attempting Everest, putting themselves and others in danger. Since I was big enough to carry a pack, I’ve climbed many mountains, four of the Seven Summits, all 50 of the U.S. highpoints, seven peaks over 6,000 meters, two trip to Everest Base Camp, and many of my home of state of Colorado’s 14ers.
So this raises the question, when do you know if you’re ready to climb Mount Everest? There’s no perfect response, but for me, the answer is this, when I can feel certain that if everything goes badly I have the skills and experience to get myself down on my own. To accomplish that, it means more than just having an impressive resume of peaks, I need to possess strong rock and ice climbing skills, rope handling must be second nature and I need to be able to understand what my body and the mountain are telling me.
By the beginning of May, if all goes according to plan, our team should be in position to reach the summit of Cho Oyu. Over the next week, through a combination of trekking, driving and helicopters the team will move to Nepal’s Everest Base Camp where we’ll rest and wait for a weather window to begin our ascent of Everest. With some good sustained weather, health and success on Everest we’ll return to the South Col to rest and prepare for our climb up Lhotse. Now for the big if, if the conditions in the Lhotse Couloir are just right and it’s rare that they are, the plan is to do a ski descent. Of course over the next two months a lot has to go incredibly well before we step into our Dynafit bindings. I keep reminding myself, one mountain at a time. Stay tuned.
You can follow Matt’s expedition at www.climb7.com and on Twitter @climb7moniz.