Scaling School from On Top of the World (nearly)

Matt Moniz approaches the summit of Makalu at 27,250 feet during Boulder High School’s spring semester 2014. Photos courtesy of Matt and Mike Moniz ©2014 All rights reserved.

[PART ONE] Mountain climber and Boulder High School student, Matt Moniz, loves a challenge.

That could explain why he summited two of the highest mountains in the world back-to-back and conquered sophomore year finals—all at the same time.

But, it likely has as much to do with Matt’s desire to enjoy the social bonding and friendships of high school, yet still “go out and do big things,” as Matt’s dad, Mike Moniz, puts it.

Penchant for high-altitude alpine climbing

Last spring, in the second semester of Matt’s sophomore year, Matt and Mike, summited the sixth highest mountain in the world, Himalayan peak Cho Oyu, which stands at 8,201 meters (26,906 feet).

Matt Moniz and his Dad, Mike Moniz, scale Serac Barrier on Cho Oyu 21,000 ft.

Matt Moniz and his Dad, Mike Moniz, scale Serac Barrier on Cho Oyu 21,000 ft.

Immediately following, Matt summited Makalu, the fifth highest peak in the world and thought to be one of the most difficult climbs in the Himalayas. Climbing with seasoned mountain guide, Willie Benegas, they took advantage of their acclimatized state, helicoptered to Makalu base camp, and completed their ascent in a record-setting three short days.

Together, the Cho Oyu and Makalu summits were completed in eight days, and Matt was the fourteenth American to summit Makalu.

Yeah, pretty amazing. But, hold on.

To reach these summits and complete his sophomore year in high school on time also took some serious academic gymnastics.

Summit of Cho Oyu 26,906 feet.

Summit of Cho Oyu 26,906 feet.

Before leaving on expedition, Matt took his math final two months early—all while he and his Dad prepared for the journey they dubbed the Triple 8 Expedition.

In the summer preceding sophomore year, Matt took two college classes at CU, followed by two more college classes during first semester sophomore year, along with high school classes.

Then, while at the 18,500′ Cho Oyu Base Camp on the border of Tibet and Nepal, he finished course work and took final exams online for History and Language Arts classes to complete sophomore year.

Okay, now you can be amazed.

Taking school along for the journey

“Finding a way to keep Matt on-track to graduate on time was one of the more complex aspects of planning,” Mike added.

The trek required a stay of 44 days at base camp to adjust to the altitude and await suitable weather conditions.

Kindle books enable Matt to travel light and take his schoolwork along.

Kindle books enable Matt to travel light and take his schoolwork along.

“Acclimatization is mostly waiting, and we had lots of waiting for weather windows, so I had the time to do schoolwork,” Matt said.

The original plan was to use Skype to talk with teachers, but Skype wasn’t working, and Internet access was only “kind of” available.

“We brought a laptop and satellite uplink that worked about 50 percent of the time, and even then, the connection was spotty,” Matt added.

Time for Plan B

When Skype failed, Matt and teachers relied on email. With the help of BHS history teacher Kristen Lewis, Matt took history quizzes every week and “basically did the same coursework the rest of the class did.” His coursework was connected to the trip through studies of the Indian Reformation and history of Tibet.

Matt’s Spanish-3 teacher, Shauna Polson, “was awesome. And, the Mexican and Argentinian climbing teams were a great help for Matt as he practiced Spanish,” Mike said.

Jeff Likes, BHS Language Arts teacher, had Matt write a paper on colonialism and study two novels, Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness.

Matt writes his language arts paper at 18,500’ while at Cho Oyu base camp, with a laptop powered by a solar-powered recharger.

Matt writes language arts paper on colonialism at 18,500’ while at Cho Oyu base camp, with a laptop powered by a solar-powered recharger.

“Our expedition team set up an informal book group. We all read the books Matt was assigned, and we had discussions on the meaning of symbolism in the books,” Mike said.

Initially, studying at altitude was a challenge.

“Before you are acclimatized you can feel the effects of the altitude, so it’s trickier doing work that requires higher level thinking. That improves after acclimatization, so after two weeks I could think more clearly,” Matt said.

Battery power was essential to using their mobile devices, and recharging was accomplished using portable expedition solar panels made by Goal Zero.

“We laid five solar panels out on rocks. On a sunny day, you could charge a computer in two hours, on a cloudy day it could take seven or more,” Matt said.

Read PART TWO: Matt Moniz Gets a Top Education In & Out of the Classroom

For more information on Matt Moniz, visit his website

Photos courtesy of Matt and Mike Moniz. ©2014 All rights reserved.

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