Clovis native tells story of scaling the untouched

September 28, 2011 

If someone wrote a screenplay about Mike Libecki's life, the opening scene would be set inside a Fresno City College classroom in the spring of 1993.

It was then, during the middle of a statistics lecture, that Libecki made the decision that would shape the rest of his life.

He got up and walked out.

"I remember thinking, 'What am I doing here? I want to climb,' " Libecki says. "That was a turning point, no doubt. I'll never forget that moment."

Now 38, Libecki continues to blaze his own trail through rock climbing by venturing to some of the most remote corners of the planet.

Relying on a vast network of contacts, Libecki seeks out big walls that have never been touched by modern humans, let alone climbed. It's this passion that drives him and shapes his unique world view.

"Virgin earth," Libecki says. "That's the attraction. Going to places where no one has been before."

During 35 expeditions, Libecki has filled more than 100 pages of passports with stamps from all seven continents and more than 40 countries, some of which he's visited several times. Just this year, he's been to Guyana, Afghanistan and the China/Kyrgyzstan border. In November, he's headed back to Socotra, a small island in the Indian Ocean.

But before that adventure, the Clovis native will make a rare hometown appearance at 7:30 Sept. 29 at MetalMark Climbing & Fitness in Fresno. Admission is free.

One of the qualities that sets Libecki apart from most professional rock climbers is he enjoys sharing his experiences with others as much as he enjoys experiencing them himself. His presentations, which include photos, video and music, are packed with humor, positive energy and inspiration.

Another is that Libecki prefers to go alone.

In 2001, Libecki made the first known crossing of the Taklamakan Desert in northwest China, known by locals as the "Sea of Death." He covered 1,000 miles in 62 days – solo.

The following year, Libecki spent 35 days by himself in a remote fjord in eastern Greenland, where he climbed a 4,200-foot face of untouched, unseen granite.

"Going alone is the ultimate challenge," he says. "It requires intense mental focus because there's no one else to rely on. If you break an arm or a leg, the consequences could be a lot worse."

Those consequences can strike at any moment.

In 2010, seduced by a rock tower in the background of a photo he saw on the Internet, Libecki ventured to Afghanistan. (Never mind there's a war going on.) While attempting a route, a large limestone flake that probably weighed several tons came off the main wall minutes after he climbed beneath it. The rock nearly severed three of his ropes. He retreated.

"That was probably the closest I've ever come to dying," Libecki says. "If I was underneath , who knows what would've happened."

Undaunted, Libecki returned in July to finish the ascent – even though he had gotten reports that Taliban fighters were nearby. Again forced off his intended route by rockfall and crumbly stone, he made a third attempt on the opposite face and finally reached the top.

"The goal is the summit, but that doesn't always happen," Libecki says. "You have to make that choice to come home alive."

Libecki spends about three months a year on expeditions and another month traveling the country giving presentations. Those shows, along with photo sales, sponsorships and grants, are his primary income sources. It's also how he funds his expeditions.

"I don't have a trust fund, and I should probably thank Visa and MasterCard for the convenience of debt in America," he jokes.

During the eight months a year that he's at home in Utah near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Libecki dotes on his 8-year-old daughter, Liliana. (She lives with her mother when Dad is away.) He coaches her soccer team, makes regular classroom appearances and has twice been named Father of the Year at her elementary school.

Libecki also spends a considerable amount of time planning his next adventure. He has notes on 18 more expeditions and no plans to slow down.

"I'm thinking at least 10 more years," Libecki says. "I don't see why I can't be doing this well into my 50s."

The reporter can be reached at marekw@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6218.

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