Climbing Three 8,000-Meter Peaks in One Push

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We hear a lot about young people climbing big mountains. However, we rarely hear about the steady-handed partners climbing alongside them and keeping an eye out for them.

In 2010, I covered 12 -year-old Matt Moniz as he set a High Pointer record by standing on the highest point of each of the 50 states in under 50 days. His dad Mike was with him on every climb, from Florida's 345-foot-high Britton Hill to the summit of Denali. Now, Mike is setting out on his own. This spring, he plans to climb Everest, Lhotse, and Cho Oyu—all in a single push.

Mike is not a guide: he is a regular father with a real job. So attempting three 8,000-meter peaks during the same expedition is ambitious, especially considering that his highest thus far is 6,962-meter Aconcagua. But Mike is a case study in preparation and training, and is approaching this summit with a meticulous attention to detail. Not be left out, Matt is going back to Everest Base Camp too.

How is Matt these days? Any recent climbs?
Matt is doing really well – his latest climbing project was in the Bolivian Cordillera Real, attempting three 6000-meter peaks in 6 days, summit to summit. Always thinking ahead, he’s been looking for a possible “first ascent” or something ambitious. I’m not sure what he has in mind but he’s creative. This summer he’s planning a trip to Spain to connect with his climbing hero Chris Sharma for some rock climbing and Spanish lessons.

Matt is active as an Ambassador for Outdoor Nation, and is currently working on a podcast series about great adventurers called SPARK! This May he’ll be releasing a book with National Geographic School Publishing that teaches grammar school children about the geography of the US through a diary of his 50 State High Point Expedition.

You have set an ambitious goal of three 8,000-meter climbs in one push: Everest, Lhotse and Cho Oyu. Why not just bag one like a “normal” person?
I recognize this is an audacious goal, but I really enjoy the complexity of multi-summit climbs. In a way, they’re like the mountain equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, a real-life three-dimensional puzzle. It could also be a coping strategy to keep me from fixating on Everest.

You consider yourself a speed climber. What does that mean, and what motivates you to climb fast?
My guess is that when people think of speed climbing, Ueli Steck and his three-hour climb of the Eiger’s North Face or Hans Florine ripping up The Nose of El Cap first come to mind. That’s not exactly my style.

Our focus has been on multi-peak, multi-day climbs where speed is measured in days or weeks. Most recently, we attempted three Bolivian 6,000-meter peaks in six days. We almost succeeded, but one of the team came down with a fairly nasty stomach problem, so we opted for Illimani (6438m), Huayna Potosi (6088m), and Pequeño Alpamayo (5370m) in six days. Before that it was fourteen 14,000-foot peaks in eight days.

When you do challenge yourself with seemingly impossible goals, sometimes all the stars align—weather, health, training, team—and it works. Other times it doesn’t, but you still walk away a better version of yourself. And accomplishing 90% of the impossible is nice too.

Are you concerned that you will be climbing it as the monsoons traditionally start up in early June?
It’s probably best to consider this expedition plan through a utopian lens. Assuming that many of the interdependent variables coalesce positively, it could be done.

Given the extreme physical nature of your climb, are you doing anything extraordinary in your training?
When possible, most of my training is in the mountains. August in Bolivia was a great training ground: high, technical and sustained. Since then I’ve been on a six-day a week schedule, which includes varied aerobic work and weight training.

Here in Colorado, I try to get out for long, three-to-seven-hour ski mountaineering excursions at least three days a week, always with moderate weight in my pack. Berthoud Pass is an ideal conditioning venue for me. In almost any conditions I can get to the ridge of the Divide (12,200 feet) in less than an hour. On a good day I can log several miles at 12,000-13,000 feet.

While I’m out, I like to target about 70-80% of my maximum heart rate, which helps increase mitochondrial density and stroke volume and should help me make the most of the limited oxygen up high. At home, I have an inclining elliptical trainer and fluctuate my workouts between high and low intensity.

You are participating in a unique high-resolution brain scan before and after your climbs to measure the effect of high altitude on the brain. Please tell us more about this.
Many in the climbing community read the 2006 MRI-based Spanish study that asserted a link between high altitude mountaineering and brain damage. The limitation with MRI is that it measures the structure of the brain, but not its function. So I’ve been especially curious what the functional impact might be on the oxygen-starved brain.

During March 2012, and then post my Himalayan expedition, I’ll be undergoing a type of brain imaging called SPECT. SPECT measures the functioning of the different regions of the brain. In addition to the SPECT scan the results will be analyzed by extremely sophisticated software from a company called CereScan. The combination will offer an unprecedented look at the function of a pre- and post-eight-thousand-meter brain. Hopefully, imaging tools like SPECT and Cerescan will allow climbers to make educated decisions, [by] offering them information about the changes that occur in the functioning of the brain as a result of high altitude exposure, as well as information about how well their brains heal. 

Matt is going to Everest Base Camp along with you, but for a special cause. Would you tell us about it?
In March Matt will be co-leading a group of teens (eighth-grade girls and boys, including Matt's twin sister Kaylee) from Boulder to EBC. He’ll be teaming up with longtime friend Tak Man Rai, Matt’s Sherpa who accompanied him to Everest Base Camp when he was nine. As you can imagine, they’re both very excited about the Nepal reunion.

Prior to the Everest Teen Team’s departure, they’ll be working with the American Himalayan Foundation to raise awareness and funding for their program to “stop girl trafficking”. The problem in Nepal is significant. It is estimated that over 20,000 girls are trafficked a year from Nepal. Remarkably, just $100 keeps a Nepali girl safe and in school for one year. Each one of the team plans to secure at least $1000 in pledges for their EBC Trek. Along the way they will be visiting the Khumjung School for a learn-and-share.

You can follow Mike's and the Everest Teen Team's expeditions on their website .

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. He just completed his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's project to raise $1 million for Alzheimer's research. You can read more on his site.

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