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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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Athletes

Jul 07, 2017

Virgin Earth: Mike Libecki Heads Back to Greenland to Climb Massive Tower

Standing over 1,000 feet taller than Yosemite’s El Capitan, the tower that Mike Libecki, Ethan Pringle, Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann are hoping to climb over the next month is the kind of thing most climbers dream of.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

In a remote corner of Greenland, they’ll battle the elements and enjoy a midnight sun as they attempt to become the first people to stand atop the as-yet unnamed spire.

Along with guys like Mike Horn and Jimmy Chin, American Mike Libecki is one of the most accomplished adventurers alive today. He has traveled to every corner of the globe, seeking out untouched, pristine landscapes. He snowboards, kite-skis, paddles and treks, among other modes of transportation.

But most of all, he climbs.

On Thursday, July 6, Libecki embarked on his newest expedition (number seventy-something on his resume) with an all-star cast made up of Ethan Pringle, Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann. The foursome will attempt to climb a 4,000-plus-foot tower in Greenland, the region Libecki has returned to more than any other.

“There’s virgin earth in Greenland,” Libecki says, explaining the allure it has for him. “It’s one of the last and least explored places on the planet.”

Libecki refused to divulge precisely where the tower they hope to climb on this current expedition is located. “I specialize in finding the biggest, most remote walls on the planet, and this one is pretty special.”

And it really is about as remote as it gets. Libecki says of the tower, “It’s way back in a fjord.  You’d never see it from afar. Most everything that gets climbed in Greenland you can see from the the water. This tower is deep and hidden and remote,” he says.

Libecki and team’s objective for this expedition. @mikelibecki @dell @mountainhardwear #dellrugged Photo: Courtesy of Mike Libecki.

Libecki has perfected the art of finding unclimbed mega-walls through a combination of scouring the high resolution satellite images and embarking on reconnaissance missions. The tower at hand has been on Libecki’s radar since 2003. Since then he’s made several scouting trips to Greenland, including a 60-mile solo journey on which he sighted the tower. “It’s a hidden castle of radness,” he says with his trademark mix of stoke, hyperbole and earnestness.   

On his nearly four-score expeditions, he has recruited the top talent in the climbing world to join him in the vertical. The 44 year-old treated this trip no differently, hand-picking his team. “There are three expedition rules: You go with friends, you go with friends, and you go with friends,” Libecki says. “When you go with your friends, it’s a joy. And that’s a result of everything we’re doing, from the climbing, to the tough times to creating films about the expeditions.”

His first expedition with Ethan Pringle was in 2013, also in Greenland. Back then Pringle— one of the world’s strongest sport climbers today—was a neophyte in terms of exploratory big-wall climbing in extreme environments. Libecki gave him a crash course: the two established a 3,500-foot route on the northeast face of a formation called Daddy’s Tower, “in 52 hours, with a brief sitting bivouac,” according to the write-up in the American Alpine Journal. They named their route Built Fjord Tough. Libecki later partnered with Pringle a second time for an expedition to Yemen’s Socotra Island.

Keith Ladzinski has joined Libecki on several expeditions, including the aforementioned Greenland trip with Pringle. In 2012, Ladzinski joined him on an expedition to Queen Maud Land, Antarctica, in which they made the first ascent (along with Cory Richards and Freddie Wilkinson) of a formation they dubbed Bertha’s Tower.

In 2014 Andy Mann followed Mike into uncharted Greenland to scout out a tower called the Polar Bear Fang, but they never reached the spire. It was the fourth time that Libecki had tried to get there unsuccessfully. (Libecki finally made it to the Polar Bear Fang Tower and completed the first ascent of it with his brother, Andy, in 2015.)

Mike Libecki in front of the Polar Bear Fang Tower in Greenland. Mike and his brother Andy made the first ascent of this tower. @mikelibecki @dell @mountainhardwear #dellrugged Photo: Courtesy of Mike Libecki.

As a result of these past collaborations, the crew that Libecki has assembled for this current tower have endured every imaginable situation with him: hot, wet, cold, sketchy, miserable, super cold, terrifying, chossy, wet and extremely cold, piercingly beautiful and everything in between. But through it all, Libecki says the “organic” friendships they share make it “all pleasure, joy and passion. There’s not one second of work we do together out there.”

Once Libecki and team arrive in Greenland, they will travel approximately 400 miles by boat, and then ferry 60 to 70 loads of gear to their base camp at the foot of the tower. They will spend between four and six weeks“as long as we need to”climbing and exploring.

Despite all the reconnoitering Libecki has done of Greenland’s unforgiving landscape and this particular tower, only once the team is finally below the monolith, craning their necks backward to scan the granite skyscraper for the best line, will they really begin to have an idea of what they’re in for. “Without mystery there’s no adventure. The nucleus of all my expeditions is mystery,” Libecki explains.

Mike Libecki on a prior expedition to Greenland. @mikelibecki @dell @mountainhardwear #dellrugged Photo: Courtesy of Mike Libecki.

Mystery and, without question, appreciation for and wonder at the beautiful places he gets to visit. His social media posts, American Alpine Journal entries, videos and interviews are all chock full of infectious “Libecki-isms” like “Why ration passion?,” “Joyineering,” and “The time is now,”all catchphrases full of indefatigable optimism.

Libecki, Pringle, Ladzinski and Mann can’t wait to find out what mystery this tower has in store for them and neither can we—check back soon to find out how their expedition turns out!

Feature image courtesy of Mike Libecki

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Adventurers & Explorers

Jun 29, 2018

Engagés: Upon Reflection. Calm, Patience, Humility.

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WRITTEN BY

Maxime Lainé

During May of 2018, The Outdoor Journal reported on five French explorers who were traversing Greenland’s toughest terrain.

Their goal was to complete 700km in 30 days. In the face of much adversity, the expedition finally made it home to Paris, having being trapped at the finish line without food, and unable to extract themselves due to bad weather.

You can read about those final few days here, and a review of the Nixon Regulus, used during the Expedition here.

In this article, written one month after the expedition, Maxime Lainé reflects upon this period in his life, and what it meant to him.

As an entrepreneur I’ve learnt to fail, sometimes to succeed, but overall, I’ve learnt to get the most out of each experience I face, and eventually share those experiences with anyone who is interested.

I wanted to share what I’ve learnt from the most enlightening experience of my life, and how it triggered something deep inside of me.

I’m not a journalist nor a story teller, but simply someone with a story to tell. I might not be able to articulate my complex feelings perfectly, so I will just be myself, and be honest.

In May 2018, I crossed Greenland by foot from East to West along the Polar Circle, with 4 other entrepreneurs, in total autonomy. It took us 31 days to cover more than 550km. We faced extreme conditions, with absolutely no form of any life, under temperatures reaching -40C.

Our daily routine.

We woke up every morning at 5am or 6am. It took us 2 and a half hours to melt the snow, so that we had water for breakfast. We also needed additional 2 litres each for the day. We got left the tent at 8:15am, we packed them up, and we could start walking at around 8:45am or 9am. At first we had to walk at least 8 hours a day, up to 10 hours towards the end, occasionally up to 13 when the weather permitted us. When we stopped walking, it took us 1 hour to set up the camp, and then 3 additional hours to melt the snow so that we could cook, fix things and take care of our feet, before we could finally go to sleep. And then repeat, again, and again, no matter what, because we had to make it to the other side.

Calm, patient, humble.

I remember how I felt on the first day, excited, impatient and ready (at least that’s what I thought) to face Greenland. Like a kid that can’t wait to play outside. However, Greenland had other ideas, the terrain and weather taught us in its own way, that…

our success would depend on our capacity to remain calm, patient and humble. 

The first days of the expedition were “easy”. The snow was firm, it was quite sunny, and even if our pulkas were at their heaviest, weighting 90kg per person, we were expecting more of a mental challenge. At that point, it was just another physical challenge. 

For the first part of the expedition, we had to walk up to the highest point of the crossing. 2600m, almost half way, albeit a little bit closer to the east coast. After that, there was a flat plateau, continuing at the same altitude for about 100km. Finally, we had to walk down towards the coast, to reach our extraction point on the eastern side at 900m altitude.

We expected the first part to be the hardest. We were climbing up, and then, as we would walk down, it would get easier and we would be able to cover more kilometres per day.

We were fools, but we didn’t know it yet. 

When the first storm hit us on the night of the 11th day, we were almost relieved to spend 60 hours in the tents to get some rest. Even if it was physically intense, we all thought we would be able to get to the other side without any trouble. On the following day, we walked 28 km in 11 hours to reach our first objective, Dye military base located at 66.4934N – 46.3204W. However, at the end of that day 14th, we all started to realize that things were getting more critical. One of us felt pain in his back and knees, so we volunteered to carry some of his weights, in addition to the 90kg we already had to carry per person. As for me, I felt such a pain in my right ankle, that I could barely walk when I took my skis off at the camp. 

Fortunately, over the next 2 days, we were very limited as to how much we could walk, since there was another storm coming. That 16th day, we just walked 10km for 5 hours. The wind was coming in at more than 70km/h from the south, and caused our pulkas to flip over.

We were definitely going beyond our limits, this was the time to set up the camp, and be safe.

Setting up the camp under those conditions was crazy, but vital, and we managed to do it as a team. Once in the tents, we realised that we had pushed it to far, it had started to become very dangerous. If we could not set up the camp, then we would have just died from the cold. From that very moment, every day was going to be more critical than the day before. We were not even half way through the expedition yet, but we didn’t know it. We did know that our lives depend on our actions, our choices, and on our team. We realised that our bodies are amazing but fragile machines, that nature can break at anytime. 

However, the humility that we had already been taught, apparently wasn’t enough. The next few days were the coldest, with temperatures between -20C to -40C, and winds reaching 35km/h. We had lost too much time, stuck in the storms, we had to move forward. We were relieved to reach the highest point of the expedition. Finally, we had made it, but at a price. The cold froze my toe, and broke Antoine’s ski plugs. Fortunately we had a spare pair, but from now on, another equipment issue could risk the whole expedition.

From this point, we we headed downhill and the expectation was that it would get easier. We started to make some calculations and tell ourselves; “if we could walk 10 hours a day at 2.5km/h, then we could reach our objective in x days. On top of that, we’re going downhill, we should actually be able to walk 30km to 35km a day, without any additional effort, since we would not feel the weight of our pulkas”… However, Greenland decided to teach us humility one more time. 

It started to snow, day after day, after day.

It was physically so intense to walk that deep in the snow, pulling our pulkas was a burden that we had to accept. Each step challenged our body, and our mind. We started to walk 9 to 10 hours a day, but despite our expectations, barely managed to walk the same distance than when we covered when walking uphill.

Being tired was not a reason to stop. We told ourselves, tired is just information.

We had to push our limits forward. We had to find energy we didn’t know that we had, deep down inside us, or we wouldn’t make it. 

At the end of every day, we kept on making the same time vs distance calculations. However, there was always more and more snow every day. Every day the visibility worsened, until we could not see our skis. On the 28th day, we wanted to make 30km, it was important for us to do so. We made it, in 13 hours. We were so tired that when we set up the camp, we were in some sort of zombie state, too tired to even think. On the 29th day, the snow continued to play with our nerves, and we barely walked 6 km in 5 hours. One of us was injured, and could just not push forward.

That was it, our limit was reached. 

We were at 20 km from the extraction point, but just 5 km from the coast. We had to make a critical decision. We just had 1 day left of food. At our current pace, we would reach the extraction point within 3 days. We could kept on walking, or set up the camp here, and wait for the helicopter to pick us up tomorrow. We decided to set up the camp, and wait for a clear weather window for the helicopter to come in and get us… The next day arrived, and no one could get to us because of the weather. It was the 30th day, and we were completely out of food. The next clear weather window was in 4 days. 

At that very moment, something triggered in our minds.

We were not making any sort of calculations anymore, we were not expecting anything from anyone. We just accepted it. Nature always win. Period.

We just had to smile and face it. Finally, Greenland taught us humility, and we knew it. In the tent, we were just talking, peacefully, calmly. We had to call the pilot every hour to give him some updates about the weather, and every hour he would tell us that we had to wait one more hour. Until the 31st day, in the afternoon, we finally saw the chopper. Accepting our fate felt like the obliged path we had to take, to unlock the door to make our way home.

Reflection

It was unexpected that one of the hardest parts of the adventure, was to keeping our minds busy for 10 to 13 hours a day. I realised that I had so much time to think about things I had never considered before.

I would think of my girlfriend, my friends, my family, my startup Weesurf. Then I started to think about myself. I asked, why am I doing this? What kind of life do I want? What makes me truly happy? Why do I do the job that I do? Why do I love this or that? What can I change about myself? And for every question, I kept asking myself, why? For example, why do you want to make money? To buy stuff? But why? To travel? But why? To get a flat? But why? And I finally figured out what kind of life I wanted to follow, and what makes me happy…

Discover, Learn and Share.

I also realised that I used to consider money as something to value things and to set barriers. Something we all have to live for, and to live by, but I ask myself how I lived so many experiences over the last 2 years, and at that time I didn’t get paid by Weesurf. I went to Greenland to pursue my dream with almost no money on my bank account. I put in all my strength and effort, to make it all possible, because that would make me happy. I would discover, learn and share an adventure. No matter what, I would do my best to realise it. Whilst I was walking on the ice, I imagined if everyone would have a passion for his or her project, if everyone would put all of his or her faith and efforts to realise his or her dream, people would probably be happier. 

I’m very thankful that Thomas changed my life when he offered me on the Station F’s Slack, to set up a team to cross Greenland. He has made me an happier person. I told myself that I’ll do my best to do the same for everyone else.

So ask I you this. What is your dream? What prevents you from making it real? What are you doing to make it happen? If you’re not struggling enough, maybe it’s not your dream. What is your dream?

Remember, calm, patience, humility.

You can discover your own ice sheets in Greenland here with the Outdoor Voyage.

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