Originally published on 6/18/18 on Scouting Magazine
When it comes to gaining perspective about life, it’s hard to beat the view from the top of the world.
Matt Moniz, a 20-year-old Eagle Scout and the BSA’s first Adventure Ambassador, made it to the summit of Mount Everest on May 20, 2018.
This was Matt’s third Everest attempt, and coming up short twice before both strengthened his resolve and gave him a new definition of “success.” Matt learned to see his previous two Everest trips not as failures but as transformative experiences. He has learned to value the journey over the destination.
“Going into this project, I came in thinking if I get the opportunity to stand on top of the world, that’s going to be amazing,” he says. “But if not, I’m still going to learn from it and have an incredible experience.”
Matt’s journey to the top of Everest didn’t begin at Everest base camp. It started when he was a Scout in Colorado. Matt says Scouting gave him the leadership skills that are an often overlooked but essential part of climbing.
I caught up with Matt by phone last week after he returned safely to Boulder, Colo. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
2014 and 2015 attempts
In 2014, Matt’s first Everest attempt was thwarted by a block of ice falling onto the Everest slopes.
A year later, Matt was in Nepal preparing his second attempt when a deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit.
Instead of immediately heading home, Matt used his Scouting skills to help others — service that earned him the BSA’s Honor Medal with Crossed Palms.
When Matt returned to the U.S., people told him they were sorry he wasn’t able to climb Everest. “I feel really bad for you,” some of them said.
“And I say, ‘No, I think I got more out of that experience than I ever could standing on top of the world,’” Matt says. “Everything is so unpredictable, and people can get bogged down focusing on the summit. You’ll learn a lot from every experience.”
The Everest project
When talking to Matt, I noticed that he didn’t call his expedition to Everest a “trip” or a “journey.” He called it his “Everest project.”
That’s because he’s actually been working on this project since he took a trip to Nepal when he was 9 and saw Mount Everest for the first time.
“It really sparked my passion for climbing,” he says.
Since then, everything Matt has done — including rock climbing during Scout campouts and becoming the youngest person to summit Makalu, the world’s fifth-tallest mountain — has been part of the Everest project.
“Every time I get the opportunity to climb, I have to realize I’m so fortunate to have this opportunity,” he says. “That’s one of the big things I love about Scouting. They do a great job of introducing people, who previously had no access to the outdoors, to magical places.”
How’s the weather?
On an Everest attempt, everything depends on the weather. On a single day, one side of the mountain might get an inch of snow while the other side gets a foot.
Matt and his team kept in contact with Matt’s friend who is a meteorologist in Boulder. The friend sent weather updates that included forecasted wind speeds — the most important weather factor for an Everest climb.
On certain exposed sections during Matt’s journey, the winds reached 40 mph, and the temperature dropped to minus-35 degrees.
Way up there
The other big factor is the altitude. Everest’s summit is 29,029 feet up — nearly 5 and a half miles above sea level. And so Matt and his team had to slowly acclimate — training their bodies to survive in lower-oxygen conditions.
“If you went from your home in the U.S. and jumped right to the top of Mount Everest, you’d die very quickly,” Matt says. “You have to acclimate your body slowly to the pressure that’s up there.”
Matt and his team used a technique he calls “rotations” but I call “two steps forward, one step back.”
The idea with rotations is to climb high and sleep low. They’d climb up to a camp, touch the camp, and then climb back down to sleep at the previous camp. That process repeats as they slowly make their way up.
“Some people do as many as three or four rotations before making a summit attempt,” Matt says. “For me, I like it a lot because you get to know the mountain really well. For others, it’s really frustrating.”
The summit attempt
While some climbers reach the summit when it’s dark, Matt and his team wanted to be there in sunlight. They timed it perfectly.
“We reached the summit, and the sun hits us in the face,” Matt says. “We saw that little tiny glow over the horizon.”
Matt hugged his teammates.
“We couldn’t even speak because we were so happy,” he says. “It was beautiful. It was more powerful than any of us realized. There are no words to really describe what it was like.”
A team effort
Matt reached the summit on May 20. His team of four included his friend Willie Benegas and two sherpas, Pasang Bhote and Cheten Bhote.
“I feel like people don’t recognize enough the sherpa team that you’re with. I don’t think anyone could climb these mountains without the help of these guys,” Matt says. “A lot of people see it as two separate groups, but I felt it was really important that we integrate and see us as one team.”
When climbing, Matt says, you need to know your team and trust them. It’s like that “trust fall” team-building exercise, but the stakes could be life or death.
“They’re going to hold your life in their hands,” he says.
When Matt talks with members of the climbing community, he’s often asked why he’s so passionate about Scouting.
“And I think that unless you’re part of the Scouting community, you don’t realize what skills Scouting emphasizes,” he says. “The biggest ones that helped me on this project is the leadership skills. Scouting really emphasizes making young guys and young girls leaders.”
When climbing Everest, everyone had to do his part. Everyone had to make decisions. To know when to follow and when to lead.
“The amazing thing about Scouting is you’re introduced to that at a young age,” Matt says.
More quick questions with Matt
Favorite trail snack on Everest: “Everyone always makes fun of me, but I love these things called Bobo’s Oat Bars. Especially the lemon poppyseed flavor. I brought probably 50 of them, and I ended up running out.”
Favorite piece of Everest gear: “My Adidas Terrex jacket. Most comfortable, warmest jacket I’ve ever used, and it packed down super small.”
His hero: “I really look up to my dad. He does a great job of balancing climbing with being with his family and with work.”
What he did during downtime on his Everest climb: Reading and a lot of sleeping. “Almost every night you’re getting between 10 and 12 hours of sleep, which I never do. You spend so much time sleeping and recovering because you’re climbing so much and putting your body through so much physical stress.”
What’s next: Matt is a sophomore at Dartmouth College, studying government, international relations and global health. “I want to do some international work and something that combines my climbing, medical and academic backgrounds.”