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Mike Libecki: What I’ve Learned

40, soloist, explorer, father, 46 expeditions around the world

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Mike Libecki. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

When I was six years old I went on my very first expedition. At that time, I lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite. I had seen mountain lions (or were they bobcats?) sneak into the woods more than once on my two-mile walk to the bus stop. One Saturday morning, after a good session of hot chocolate, Honeycomb cereal and Bugs Bunny cartoons, I grabbed my Red Bear bow and pump pellet gun, and decided to find one of these wild cats. I headed off into the forest without telling anyone where I was going. I found a momma mountain lion and two cubs, and wonder why I was not eaten that day. I ended up shooting a rattlesnake, and babies slithered out of the pellet holes. I will never, ever forget that day. At that very early age adventure tied its rope around me and the knot is still cinched tight.

***

Now, aside from having a much bigger body, being a father and too many bills to pay, not much has changed; expeditions define most of who I am. I have been fortunate to have been on over 45 expeditions and counting. My goal is to survive 100 expeditions before finding out if being an atheist was a smart choice.

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Climbing is most fun when there is mystery, so first ascents in areas that are unknown are what keep the obsession/addiction not only alive, but continuously growing out of control.

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I’ve coached my daughter Lilliana’s soccer team for five years, I’m on the PTA, a home-room parent, and volunteer at my daughter’s school on a regular basis. Being a father is the best thing I have experienced.

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Solo expeditions have to be yearned for, loved, wanted and needed. Being in utter solitude, climbing a first ascent without the possibility of rescue, and immersing myself in the absolute mystery of first ascents is a challenge and joy I live for.

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Going on an expedition with partners is like short-term marriage, even closer than marriage. It’s a trust more powerful than any trust I know, and is an experience that can create a lifetime friendship… Or not.

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Van Halen was the first band I ever listened to, and I will never forget hearing David Lee Roth holler, “No Risk No Rock!” This relates to pretty much every aspect, every variable of the climbing expedition equation.

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Training is training for training.

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I must be getting old because Rock and Ice asked me to comment about what I have learned.

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I remember a couple friends and family asking if I was making the right choice by going to the mountains of Afghanistan solo. Ironically, on my second solo expedition to Afghanistan to complete the first ascent of the Ibex Horn, I did experience deep, mortal fear. At base camp, a group of men on horseback came over a ridge towards me. I thought it was the Taliban, but it ended up being some men I had befriended coming to warn me that there was a group of Taliban in the next valley and that I should leave immediately. Only through extensive research could I have found friendly, reliable locals like this to help me succeed here. It is incredibly important to do everything you can to research these areas before stepping out the door. It has saved my life more than once.

***

These trips are expensive and I have no trust fund. It is believing 100 percent in my dreams and goals that they have come true. You truly have to believe, with optimism, with everything, every part of you, all the energy you can create, to make these far-fetched dreams come true.

***

Packing for an expedition is one of the most important parts of the process. Let’s say I forget to bring a specific tool to fix a stove in Antarctica, or a simple antibiotic for Afghanistan or Kyrgyzstan (where I have been incredibly sick from eating things like braised ox penis), the expedition could end (or worse) before I even touch the rock.

***

Climbing and expeditions are 100 percent safe. It is pretty simple, you just can’t make a mistake. An error can have dire consequences. You can’t fuck up or misjudge something. Yea, I know the debate on this all too well. … But honestly, I have to believe this. It is the optimist in me that just won’t go away.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 211 (July 2013).


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