In his book, Running Toward Danger: Real Life Scouting Action Stories of Heroism, Valor & Guts, Michael Malone has compiled an anthology of bravery and preparedness by our youth members over the first hundred years of Scouting. But it is the last chapter, the Epilogue, that I chose for this tale of inspiration.
The hero of the final chapter is Matt Moniz, a modern-day adventurer and a seventeen-year-old Eagle Scout. Even before his experience on Everest, many were following his fame in National Geographic, Boy’s Life and Scouting magazines.
I personally heard Matt talk about his adventures at our National Top Hands Meeting in August 2015. He told us that the Climbing Merit Badge was his favorite. At age 12, long before he earned his Eagle, Matt and his dad, Mike, took just six weeks and a day to climb to the highest point in every U.S. state. That’s 50 summits—from Alaska’s 20,322-foot Denali to Florida’s 345-foot Britton Hill—in just 43 days. That effort broke the previous record by more than two days.
According to Malone, after Matt set this speed record, “He also was the youngest climber to summit Mt. Makalu in the Himalayas, the world’s fifth highest mountain. In 2010, at just 12 years-old, National Geographic magazine named Matt as its ‘Adventurer of the Year.'” Needless to say, many eyes were on him that fateful April day on Mt. Everest.
At Top Hands, he told us about his harrowing experience when the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years triggered a tragic avalanche that swept away the Mount Everest Advanced Base Camp.
The day of the avalanche, Matt said: “We are definitely pretty rattled, but after we got out of the slide, all the base camp kind of came together and started looking for people who were injured.”
Boy’s Life reported: “What followed was shock. And confusion. And chaos.
“First, Matt returned to a camp that had escaped the wrath of the avalanche. He watched as other climbers filed in, their faces full of horror and sadness. Most of the climbers sat in stunned silence, even as they heard a voice over the radio calling for help.
“Then another thought popped into Matt’s mind: ‘A Scout is helpful.’
“So he sprang into action.” He said that all of his Scout training just kicked in and he had to help somehow.”
ScoutingWire reported: “After the huge cloud of cascading snow poured over the Everest camp, the team of climbers struggled to seek cover as tents flattened and the camp crumbled in a matter of seconds. Many climbers were either stranded or caught in the avalanche’s deadly path” Miraculously, Eagle Scout, Matt Moniz, his climbing partner and Sherpa made it through without injury when they were able to take shelter behind a large boulder, shielding them from the powder blast that literally sucked the air from their lungs as it past.
Malone wrote: “…the sudden shake released a giant avalanche of 400 million metric tons of ice that raced down Everest’s face. Nineteen people either suffocated under the wall of snow and ice or were fatally injured when flung against equipment or exposed rock and boulders. It was the single worst day in the history of the world’s tallest mountain.”
What followed was 36 brutal hours of rescue operations. His climbing partner, Willie Benegas, tried shielding Matt from the carnage by giving him tasks to do away from the rescue operation. Benegas said: “I did not want him to experience this. No seventeen-year-old kid should experience this scene. So I told him to go back to our tent…[but] with the ‘true character’ and leadership skill that Bengas later would compare to an Army General, Moniz gathered up five climbers—three Sherpas, a cook and a Spanish climber (many of them still in shock)—and organized them to carry [an] injured man 40 minutes over rock and ice to the other camp.”
Matt continued the process three more times, becoming more efficient with each rotation. Matt said. “I felt comfortable and confident leading our team of six people; it was very similar to leading my patrol when I was patrol leader … these people didn’t have to help, but they did at great risk to themselves.”
Malone explained: “On the second trip down with a victim, the region was struck by a major aftershock that set off another avalanche. Not surprisingly, several carriers dropped the laden stretcher and ran for cover. Matt called to them shouting, ‘Please, do not just leave him here.’ Instead, Moniz and his team lay over the injured man to protect him from debris. Happily, the avalanche was smaller and mostly missed them.
“After three trips with the stretcher—not to mention having survived a life threatening event—Matt stumbled back to his tent and collapsed in sleep.” Later that day, he tried calling home with a satellite phone, but it was midnight in Colorado where his family lived. So he texted, “Dad, are you there?” By dawn his family knew something awful had happened on Everest, but they were not sure about Matt’s condition. Finally they connected by phone. “Dad I cannot talk to you… there are people injured everywhere and I have to help.”
Benegas and Moniz spent the next day at Base Camp, “assisting wherever they were needed and helping plan the evacuation. It took another week to reach Kathmandu. By then, news of the devastation reached the survivors on Everest—the quake demolished parts of the country, leaving behind more than 9,000 casualties. It devastated cities to the tune of $5 billion.
Though Matt could have returned home, he spent the following weeks helping “move food and supplies to the epicenter of the April 25 earthquake in the Laprack Valley. It was dangerous work. Aftershocks, especially one… 7.4 magnitude, killed scores more… and set off avalanches, landslides, and collapsed buildings and homes. Despite this risk, Matt help build a shelter for a woman who just lost her husband and dug 25 latrines for a village,” Malone wrote.
In an interview with Scouting magazine, Matt said: “One of the most important lessons I learned in Scouts is leadership. Unlike a sports team, kids in Scouts come in all shapes, ages and sizes, and all with different talents, so you learn to work with lots of different personalities, a bit more like real life.
“Some people have asked why, with all the outdoor adventures I go on, would I need Scouts. I tell them that when I’m out on an a big expedition I really don’t get to lead or make my own plans and decisions. People cook for you, guides point the way, summit plans are made. In Scouts, I don’t have my partners and guides to rely on to make the dinner or choose routes, evaluate the weather, etc. But in Scouts I’ve learned how to be self-sufficient.”