50 peaks, 43 days, 12 years old
Winter Park, CO Colorado
When I was 12, I collected stamps, trophies and, in my less brilliant moments, Garbage Pail Kid baseball cards.
Matt Moniz collects peaks. This summer, at age 12, the part-time Winter Park resident and freestyle teammate broke the world record for “bagging” each of the 50 state high points in record time – 43 days. Not only did he break the record by two days, 15 hours and 11 minutes, but he’s about a third the age of the former record holder.
Now he’s been nominated for National Geographic “Adventurer of the Year.” He’s up against some pretty stiff competition, including the 16-year-old Aussie who sailed solo around the world this year.
Matt has been climbing with his dad Mike since he was 9. His first major climb was a day hike up an 18,000-foot peak near Everest Base Camp. After that he was hooked. The next year Matt climbed Kilimanjaro and Russia’s Elbrus. Then, after turning 10, he summited 22,841-foot Aconcagua in Argentina.
He has a close friend with rare disease that mimics the symptoms of altitude sickness. So, in 2009, he decided to do a local speed climb to raise awareness. His goal was to climb 14 Colorado 14ers in 14 days. He did it in eight.
For the next expedition, he set a higher goal -50 highest peaks, 50 states, 50 days. The established record was 45 days and the team had a secondary goal of beating that record.
To accomplish this, they needed a twin engine Cessna, a Mercedes Sprinter (van) and four drivers. Matt and his dad were accompanied by a CSU student, a film student and a meteorologist. They drove around the clock and when they arrived somewhere they would get out and run to the high point, no matter the time of day, Mike said.
The trip started with Denali. That gobbled up 12 of the 42 days. (Not that the boys bragged about it, but to do the entire Denali expedition in 12 days is incredibly fast by any standard.)
Back on the mainland, the group headed to Nevada’s Boundary Peak, which was possibly Matt’s low point of the entire trip.
“I was surprised by how difficult it was,” he said. The trip headed over to California’s Mount Whitney and then back to Mt. Elbert in Colorado “to recoop,” Matt said. Next they hit Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas’ Guadalupe Peak, which was “a free standing peak in the middle of a bunch of plains,” and ended up on Matt’s short list of favorites.
The team then headed up the East Coast and jumped across the country to the Pacific Northwest. “I really really liked the ocean,” Matt said. “The seafood was really good.”
Vermont’s high point, Mt. Mansfield, “was really fun,” Matt said. “It was a downpour and the trail was all one solid piece of granite. On the way down was like a slip and slide.”
Surfing down Mt. Hood in Oregon on Styrofoam skateboards and completing Montana’s Granite Peak in two days also topped Matt’s list.
To keep things interesting, Matt decided to find the best hot chocolate and best root beer in the United States.
“The best root beer was at this little restaurant at the bottom of Mt. Rainier and the best hot chocolate was at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Salt Lake City.”
You can’t bag 50 high points without flying to Hawaii and climbing Mauna Kea on the big island, which was the team’s last stop.
“We made it a party,” Matt said. “My mom and my sister came.”
Looking back on his literal whirlwind tour he said: “It was a really good way to explore the United States. In the beginning it was a little annoying going day after day. But, after two weeks I learned to enjoy it.”
Ultimately, the call of the Seven Summits (7 highest peaks, 7 continents) may be too loud to ignore, but Matt’s already completed four of them, and he’s in no rush to finish.
Instead Matt’s looking at some more technical peaks. He rattled off a few possibilities: “We may go to Peru and do a peak called Alpamayo in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range.” (I had to make him repeat it and then spell it.) “It takes two weeks to do, but it’s only four to five days of technical climbing on a 65-degree pitch of snow and ice.” (Only.) “And, I want to climb Carstensz Pyramid in Papau New Guinea.” (The highest island mountain.) The Seven Summits … eventually, yes, but not soon. I don’t want to rush it.” (He is, after all, only 12.)
And, now that Matt’s seen all 50 states, I asked him which was his favorite.
His reply, hands down: “Colorado.”
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Things are starting to get back to normal finally.