Voyage Into the Unknown

Rock climber Mike Libecki travels to the world's most remote locations.


Nov. 19, 2007— -- Rock climber Mike Libecki is on a one-man quest to conquer remote lands untouched by humans. He travels the world in search of "virgin earth," and some of nature's most daunting terrain -- rock walls, cliffs and treacherous mountainsides. He then climbs on perilous journeys that can last for weeks.

Over the last 10 years, he has taken 30 such trips to the far corners of the planet in search of extreme adventure.

Libecki developed an attachment to the outdoors growing up in California, near Yosemite. He first climbed as a sophomore in high school and became so obsessed he dropped out of college to devote his life to exploring full time.

But climbing on the so-called beaten path soon wasn't enough. In 1997, Libecki went on a climbing trip in the Canadian Arctic and became consumed with discovering the unknown, trekking alone.

He was 24 years old. The journey to Baffin Island, the largest island in Canada and home to some of the highest rock walls in the world. Some rock faces are a mile high. He calls it his "first real step into completely virgin territory," Libecki got a rush from climbing in remote, untouched and dangerous land.

"[It was] complete, utter wilderness where there is no rescue possibility," Libecki told "Nightline." "Way out there, climbing these big vertical walls that no one's touched before. That was the first one, and it hit me hard. When I got home, I just kept thinking, 'How am I going to get back out there?'"

But Libecki has been back out there, returning to Baffin Island four times. On one trip he spent six weeks in solitude, climbing a 2,000-foot rock wall.

He is drawn to extreme climbing not only as a way of discovering the unknown but also for the intensity of living in the moment and being totally consumed by the wilderness around him.

"I've explained it as living in the ultimate now," said Libecki. "Experiencing the ultimate moment of reality, where you're so involved, you're so entwined in what you're doing, it's so exotic that you're not thinking in the past or the future. It's just a ride of ultimate reality."

In 2004, Libecki took a two-month expedition to Antarctica. He hitched a ride on a Russian military plane, set up base camp in a remote area called Queen Maud Land and surveyed the frozen terrain before the climb by kite skiing. As his target, he selected a 2,000-foot mountain cliff that no one had ever set foot on before.

Libecki's extreme climbs are recorded on a video camera attached to a helmet

"Looks like God created this area for climbers," Libecki said. "Just a little niche on this earth for climbers to come out and live their dreams, just satisfy their souls."

It took 16 days of grueling, precision climbing to mount the unnamed rock face. He sought shelter in a tent dangling from the rock, perched on a port-a-ledge, which is a horizontal platform anchored into the rock face with a tent lashed to it.

There have also been five trips to Greenland, including two solo climbing trips. In 2002, he traveled by boat for a week until he arrived at his final destination, 250 miles from the nearest Inuit civilization. From there he selected a 4,400-foot rock wall to conquer.

For 23 days, he lived on the sheer drop in absolute solitude -- fighting off gnats and singing to himself to keep occupied. But it was all worth it when he reached the summit of the wall.

"All the work is paid off at last," Libecki said into his camera. "The beauty of all is around me and I'm loving life."

This blissful sense of accomplishment doesn't come without risk. On that trip to Greenland, a freak summer blizzard almost knocked his tent off a cliff. And on his trip to Antarctica, he and his climbing partner ran into a rock fall. The ancient mountains crumbled on both of them, but they were not hurt, just shaken.

As the single parent of a 4-year-old daughter named Lilly, Libecki has even more reason to return home safely. At home, he is a full-time dad and soccer coach. And when he goes on an expedition, he makes sure to call Lilly every day from a satellite phone.

"Some of the climbing is frightening," Libecki said. "And I appreciate that there is a lot of fear because I think that keeps me safe. I know it keeps me safe. It's not a death wish like some people have thought about it. It's a life wish."

The danger of climbing isn't the only risk; simple food-borne illnesses can also disrupt a journey.

In western China, Libecki and his brother became extremely ill from consuming local food. They weren't sure if it was the horse milk, horse yogurt, goat heads or the goat intestines.

"We got more sick than I've ever gotten in my life," Libecki said. "Sort of digestive, who knows what was living in us. And it was just horrible."

Weak and filled with antibiotics, they made their climb anyway. Despite these inherent risks, Libecki is ready for more. His next trip is planned for right after Christmas, somewhere in Africa. But he wouldn't say exactly where he's going because, as always, he wants to be the first to set foot there.

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