It used to be something I joked about with friends and family. But now, at age 43, it’s time to just come out and say it: I’m obsessed with remote, first-ascent climbing expeditions. Maybe even addicted, yes, addicted, that’s better. Each year, I plan multiple exploratory trips to unclimbed rock formations in remote and harsh environments. At some point, there’s always a choice: go or don’t go. And I always go — knowing there will be suffering. Knowing I could die (well, not really, what I do is 100-percent mathematically safe). Even knowing I will leave my 13-year-old angel of a daughter, Lilliana, for months at a time (though she’s going with me on some trips and has been to 17 countries and all seven continents). I believe anything worth doing takes compromise and sacrifice.
So far, my “exp-addiction” has led to more than 65 expeditions in almost 100 countries. My goal is to complete 100 expeditions by the time I reach 100 years in age. And it all dates back to a day when I was just 6 years old.
It was 1979, at my home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, less than an hour’s drive from Yosemite National Park: My first expedition began on a normal Saturday morning after hot chocolate, Honeycomb cereal and Bugs Bunny cartoons. I had seen mountain lions sneak into the woods on my two-mile walk to the school bus stop, so I grabbed my Red Bear bow and arrow and pump pellet gun and went to find one of these wild cats. I headed off into the forest without telling anyone where I was going.
Amazingly, I did see a mountain lion that day (with two cubs). She stared me in the eyes before following her babies into the woods. I also had a run-in with a 5-foot rattlesnake and shot it with my pellet gun. (Where the pellets punched holes in the snake, eel-like baby snakes slithered out.) These moments with wild nature started it all. The addiction to adventure began. I couldn’t have predicted what would happen that day, and that quality of mystery is what still drives me to explore. Not knowing what I will see, touch, smell, taste, hear and what or whom I will meet. Without mystery, there’s no adventure.
So it is that I continue to embrace the addiction to being in the wild. Inside my home at the foot of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch Range is a stack of metal USGS map drawers filled with hundreds of maps collected over almost 20 years. They cover the entire planet. I pore over these maps like Sherlock Holmes, looking for clues that will lead me to large, unclimbed rocks. (Google Earth is not exploring and cannot reveal the unknown, the huge unclimbed walls that wait for a first ascent.)
And now I’m also helping my daughter pursue her dreams of expeditions around the world. Her idea, however, is to combine humanitarian efforts with adventures. She’s inspiring me to inspire her, and we’re preparing to embark on a three-week expedition to Nepal to help hospitals, schools and dental clinics recover from the devastating earthquake last year.
Embrace the “joyage”!
(You can mock Libeckisms, but they work for me.)
Mike Libecki is the subject of the film Poumaka, which will screen at Mountainfilm 2016 on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House and on Sunday at noon at the Palm Theater. He will also share his thoughts on getting out there during a Booze and Banter conversation on Sunday at 5: 30 p.m. at the Black Iron in the Madeline Hotel.