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Published on September 18th, 2013 | by Editor


Mike Libecki Interview – 7 Amazing Places To Explore

If you have ever dreamed of living the adventurer’s life, read on. We interview explorer Mike Libecki who’s life is filled with dizzying highs and breath-taking depths, a life of mystery, intrigue, and – well, you get the idea.
The explorer’s life is not for the faint-hearted, but it is for those who want to see something that no package holiday can provide. As humans continue to venture out further into outer-space, it may surprise you to learn that our own planet has not yet been fully explored. From tight spaces to high places, there are still parts of this world that have not yet been recorded. So strap on your climbing boots and stock up on your factor 50 as we take a look at some of remotest places on earth.

Sarma – Arabika Massif


In August 2012, explorer Pavel Rud’ko pushed through a narrow meander at what was previously believed to be the depths of the Sarma cave and discovered a whole lot more cave behind it, making the Sarma cave officially the second deepest cave on earth. However, as scientists remain unclear as to where the Sarma cave drains to, who’s to say how deep the cave really is? Any aspiring explorer could be the one to discover new depths in the cave and make world history.
The Sarma cave was first explored in 1990 by Osintsev Alexander; he reached what was believed to be the depths of the cave with fellow explorer Plotnikov Vladimir by 2001. Originally believed to be -1,570 m, the Sarma cave now reaches depths of a whopping -1,830 m. The difficulties of climbing to such depths include extreme physical exertion due to hard rope work, heavy equipment and dealing with possible obstructions, not to mention the dangers posed by floods. Such explorations also take a long time, so you need to be prepared to spend a few days with an expedition group in a limited amount of space, with limited food and limited light.

Gangkhar Puensum – Bhutan


The incredible height of the Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan claims the title of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world at 7,570 m. Its name translates to “Three Mountain Siblings” due to its spiritual association as the “White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers.”
There have been four attempts to reach the summit since Bhutan was opened for mountaineering in 1983 but each of them failed due to inaccurate mapping of the area.
Although higher peaks exist around the world, those that have yet to be climbed count officially as subsidiary tops rather than separate mountains, making Gangkhar Puensum officially the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. However, if you fancy making history you may find yourself in for a bit of a wait. Since 1994, the climbing of mountains in Bhutan higher than 6,000 m has been forbidden out of respect for local spiritual beliefs and customs, and since 2003 mountaineering has been banned completely, ensuring that, for the time being, Gangkhar Puensum’s enticing peak remains out of reach for explorers.

The Amazon Rainforest – South America


One of the greatest attractions for aspiring explorers is the opportunity to discover something entirely new and previously unknown. The Amazon Rainforest offers explorers just that chance, being the largest and most species-rich expanse of tropical rainforest left in the world.
Seeing as one square kilometre of Amazon rainforest can contain approximately 90,790 tonnes of living plants, and a mere 438,000 species of plants have been registered in the region to date, that leaves plenty more waiting to be discovered and potentially named after you!
However, best be careful when seeking out your claim to fame, as the rainforest is home to many predatory animals such as the jaguar, cougar and the infamous anaconda. As well as this, crossing rivers can prove treacherous due to inhabitants such as electric eels and piranhas, while poison dart frogs should not be handled due to the toxins the secrete through their flesh. If you manage to survive without being bitten or stung, take care to vaccinate yourself against many parasites and diseases that exist in the Amazon, particularly malaria and Dengue fever.

The Central Range – Papa New Guinea


The Central Range is a chain of mountain ranges and intermountain river valleys running though Papa New Guinea, and makes an incredible adventure ground for any aspiring explorer. From ice-capped peaks to lush green farmland, the Central Range offers spectacular views and the chance to see some endangered birds and wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else.
Among the many peaks to be explored is the spectacular Mount Wilhelm, an extinct volcano with a crater lake. Re-live history on the Maoke Mountains (also known as the Snow Range) where H.A. Lorentz discovered perpetual snow in 1909 at a mere 14,635 feet. The highest peak of this range is Mt. Carstensz which rises to 4,884 meters.
Expect a humid climate as Papa New Guinea is a tropical rainforested island, but the higher you climb the more opportunities there are to cool down.

Kamchatka Peninsula – Northeast Siberia


The Kamchatka peninsula is home to the incredible volcanoes of Kamchatka, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Russian Vladamir Atlasov was the first person to explore nearly the entire peninsula between 1697 and 1699. However, after World War II, Kamchatka was declared a military zone and remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990, so it is only recently that the beauty of the peninsula is being rediscovered. In all there are 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. Although the highest volcano is Klyuchevskaya Sopka at 4,750 m, the one that attracts explorers the most is Kronotsky, due to its perfect cone and striking beauty.
However, aspiring explorers have more than active volcanoes to worry about, as earthquakes and tsunamis are common in this region, the most recent earthquakes of significance occurring as recently as April 2006.

The Mariana trench – Pacific Ocean


If you happen to have a large bag of cash lying around and want to know what it’s like to be at the deepest point in the ocean, then the Mariana Trench is the spot for you. Located in the western Pacific Ocean, the trench reaches a maximum-known depth of 10.911 km. Four descents have been achieved in the past, two manned and two un-manned. The first manned descent was achieved by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard in 1960, and the only other manned descent was by filmmaker James Cameron in 2012.
However, future descents are planned by Triton Submarines and Virgin Oceanic, so if you can afford a private submarine or are friends with Richard Branson then you’re in with a shot. Otherwise, you may have to wait until submarine companies are ready to offer commercial trips to the bottom of the sea.

Greenland Ice Sheet


If you can’t get to the Antarctic, then the Greenland Ice Sheet offers a magnificent alternative, being the second largest ice sheet in the world after the Antarctic itself. The ice sheet is almost 2,400 kilometres long and its greatest width is 1,100 kilometres.
It is estimated that the ice in the current ice sheet is as old as 110,000 years, although evidence suggests that there has been an ice sheet covering significant parts of Greenland for the last 18 million years, so you truly will be walking on history. The dangers posed by such an icy terrain apart from the obvious slips and falls are also extreme winds and bitter temperatures, with the lowest annual temperature reaching approximately – 31°C.
Although the first extensive exploration of the Greenland ice sheet was by Alfred Wegener 1930, the only likely companion you may have out on the ice now is NASA’s GROVER, an Earth-bound rover that is currently examining the layers of ice in Greenland’s ice sheets.

Mike Libecki Interview

Mike Libecki Reading a Map

The gregarious Mike Libecki makes us want to throw caution and debt to the wind and take off on an extreme adventure. However, as we daydream about it, Mike is actually out there doing it. Not one for believing in the slow life, Mike wants to see the world up close and personal. From climbing mountains in Borneo and jungle walls in Guyana to visiting the Artic Islands of Northern Russia and the Dragon Ridge of Antarctica, Mike really has seen the world from top to bottom with plenty more in-between.
Mike has undertaken over 40 expeditions, and he doesn’t intend to stop anytime soon. Mike’s love for life and untamed desire to experience as much as possible is the uncompromising definition of what it takes to be an explorer in the modern age, and makes it easy to see why he was nominated for the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2013. When questioning if you should take off and see the world, consider Mike’s ever-prevailing question: why ration passion?

You lead a truly inspiring life – exploring the unknown is amazing and we are all really jealous. What inspired you to lead this kind of life?

Well, I was going to college to follow my love of math and physics. I grew up near Yosemite National Park, the centre of the Universe for climbing… I left college to climb full time and live in my truck. That was over 20 years ago. I slowly just walked up the staircase of climbing and adventure so to speak, and it has led me to seeking out the most remote, untouched places for all types of first ascents and exploration. I just complete my 50th expedition, but I am only half way, my goal is 100 expeditions before I die. Funny, I used to sort of joke about being addicted to first ascents and exploration, it is no longer a joke, I need it in my life. Perhaps, it is some kind of Peter Pan Syndrome…

Mike Libecki climbing

You have just been to Russia, China/Kyrgyzstan for two months, what have you been doing there and how did it go?

It was wonderful of course, and not only successful with the goals of first ascents and exploration, but also success in coming home alive. I narrowly avoided hypothermia in Franz Jose Land, in the Russian Arctic, and left there with a case of trench foot. I was able to solo climb three first ascents. China/Kyrgyzstan was amazing with good friends. After many challenges, including being arrested by the Chinese Military, we were able to climb a beautiful wall. The best part about going to China/Kyrgyz was being with friends, laughing, and embracing so much joy together. It was a tough trip because it rained pretty much every day, but we held onto optimism and loved life every moment.

What are you planning on doing next?

If I told you I would have to kill you, haha! Well a few new areas, a secret Mystery Island, a new area in Africa, another new area in Papua New Guinea, then to a huge 5,000 foot wall in Baffin Island (one of my favourite places, after being there five times) that is still unclimbed, HUGE! The list goes on. I want 50 more trips!

Mike Libecki top of Mountain

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow your lead and go search the unexplored?

Well put simply: the time is now… what are you waiting for? No excuses. Dream big… and climb those dreams. After all, it is not only life, but the quality of this life. Death and/or old age is coming… we must live sweet. Why ration passion?

What’s the craziest/scariest moment you have experienced on an expedition?

If I had to choose one it would be when I was soloing the Ibex Horn Tower in Afghanistan. After leading under a 2 ton flake of shitty rock, not 10 minutes after being underneath it (about 600 feet up the wall) the entire flake let loose and fell, chopping both of my ropes half way through in a few places. Had I been where I was just 10 minutes before, I think I would have died. I really had a tough time with that. I cried that night after coming down from the wall, it was very scary to think about my daughter and how she would feel, my family, friends etc. It was my scariest moment ever in more ways than one.

Mike Libecki Greenland

We can imagine you have had a few near misses with a career like yours. So what we want to know is, what has been your luckiest escape?

See the above question, #5. Though, I have been in a few 100 mph wind storms, both in Greenland and Antarctica. I never was too worried, but it was quite frightening. Wind storms and rock fall are the scariest for sure.

How have you managed to fund your expeditions and do you think it would be possible for someone to explore some of the places you have been a fairly small budget? (If you could give an example of rough costs – that would be great, it doesn’t matter if not.)

I have been very fortunate over the years. I do not have a trust fund! I work very hard for everything I have. I probably have more debt than anyone I know. But the support of sponsors, grants, media, and simply working my ass off is how it has all happened. I have maxed out several credit cards many times, then come back to pay them off after. I have even taken loans from my mortgage to fund trips. I have never been out of debt from expeditions come to think of it. But really, sponsors, the outdoor industry, grants, hard work and always believing in my dreams and goals has been the key. There are countless people to thank, countless people that are on the summits with me, without the help of countless people, I would do nothing.

What do you miss the most while you’re away?

My daughter. I cry every time I get on a plane. Her mother is so amazing. Without her mom and family and friends, I could not do this.

How long does it take to plan an expedition?

Could be a month, or years. Some trips have taken 10 years to make happen!

What is your favourite curse word?

I don’t have one.

How did you learn all the skills required to undertake the areas you are exploring?

Quite simply from experience, from other team members, just going out and getting worked, going for it, and learning. I learn something, well many things on every trip, from every person.

Do you have any regrets?

Not one.

Mike Libecki abseiling Antarctica

If you didn’t have a career exploring the world, what do you think you would be doing and what would you least like to be doing?

I would have a huge animal sanctuary on a big lot of land, so all animals that are abused, or people give up on, or any animal needing a loving home could be there. Any kind of animal, every animal, and I would give them a wonderful life.

Mike Libecki Paddling in Greenland

You have been on over 40 expeditions, which one would you most like to do again?

Just did my 50th trip! I just tried to answer that. I can’t. I have fallen in love with so many places and cultures and memories. I would go back to every place again and again. Many of the places I have been to, I have been to several times.

Last question, In 30 years’ time how do you hope you will be remembered?

Ha! I don’t want to be remembered in 30 years, I want to be going on expeditions!

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