Clovis News

Climber shares his solo adventures

To follow the adventures of Mike Libecki, better pull out a big map. Better yet, an atlas.

For the past 15 years, Libecki has ventured to some of the most remote corners of the planet, often by himself. Once there, he climbs the tallest rock walls he can find, filming video and taking photos the entire time.

The list of countries and continents where Libecki has established first ascents would make a cartographer scurry for cover: Antarctica, Baffin Island, Greenland, China, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Venezuela, Africa, Yemen.

"It's all about seeking out virgin earth," Libecki says earnestly. "Unexplored, untouched, unseen with the goal of finding the biggest walls on the planet to climb.

"There's a lot of stuff out there. I've got 16 more expeditions on paper right now."

Just about the only place one can be sure Libecki won't be is in his hometown.

But not next week. On April 9, the 37-year-old Clovis native will give a free presentation about his expeditions at REI in Fresno. He will show photos and video from all seven continents while narrating stories about the experience. Some of the stories are humorous. Some are frightening. All are as real as real gets.

It's a skill Libecki has honed for years while giving 30 to 40 shows per year as part of his sponsorship agreement with Mountain Hardwear, an outdoors clothing and equipment company.

One of Libecki's best attributes, both as a speaker and professional climber, is that he loves sharing his expeditions with others as much as actually being there.

"I don't show, 'Here's how rad we are climbing this big wall,' Libecki says. "It's about the whole adventure: the flora, the fauna and the people we meet along the way.

"I try to capture those moments of right now as they happen and share the real experience. It brings people as close as possible to being there without actually going."

Libecki, who lives just outside Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah, knows full well most people will never go anywhere near the places he frequents.

Most people don't spend 80 days kite-skiing and climbing obscure big walls in Queen Maud Land, Antarctica.

Most people don't trek 700 miles -- solo -- across the Taklimakan Desert of western China, known to locals as the "Sea of Death."

And most people don't have a network of contacts in foreign countries -- government, military and scientific -- that alert him to potential new terrain or help navigate the maze of paperwork he needs just to board the plane.

"Honestly," Libecki says, "what it comes down to in a lot of these places is ... money talks. They're getting $100 bills. They want to be paid in cash, no receipts, and it's a done deal."

Sometimes, not even that helps. Last July, Libecki flew into China's far Western Xinjiang region one day after nearly 200 people were killed during rioting in the capital of Urumqi.

"It was just mayhem," he says. "There were tens of thousands of military lining the streets."

Despite having the proper credentials, Libecki was thrown in jail -- twice -- before his government liaison untangled the mess.

"They like to play the authority game there, especially in small towns with no tourists," he says. "They see this American walking around alone with cameras and assume he's a journalist."

A few months later, Libecki and friend Josh Helling of El Portal flew to Yemen -- against State Department recommendations -- so they could be the first modern climbers to set foot on Socotra, a small island in the Indian Ocean.

While being dazzled by the island's unique flora -- more than a third of the island's 800 plant species exist nowhere else in the world -- the pair scaled a 1,000-foot-tall pinnacle of rock called Mashanig.

Once at the top, they were surprised to find moss-covered rocks that had been stacked and arranged. They took the discovery to a local botanist, who said it indicated someone had gone up there to die.

How anyone without ropes and equipment could manage a moderately difficult multipitch climb rated 5.10 by current standards remains a mystery. One Libecki hopes to solve when he returns to Socotra in 2011.

"It's a cool mystery to try and unravel," Libecki says. "It's that kind of mystery that drives me. You never know what's going to happen next."

When Libecki was starting out in the world of expedition climbing, he used credit cards to finance his trips. Now established, he supports his lifestyle (and his 7-year-old daughter, Lilliana) through grants and awards, speaking fees, product testing and by selling his photos, video and writings.

Soon, Libecki could be more visible than ever. Following a feature article last year in Men's Journal, he received inquiries from TV producers interested in making him the star of an outdoors-themed show similar to "Man vs. Wild."

The talks are ongoing.

"I'm not going to say too much to jinx it right now, but the possibility is pretty exciting," Libecki says. "I'd like nothing more than to share the adventure with as many people as possible."