All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien



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.


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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May 14, 2019

Bringing Kiwi Back to Wellington

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird.



Sean Verity

This article was made available to The Outdoor Journal via a press release by Tourism New Zealand.

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic Kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird. Wellingtonians are known for their love of flat whites and their passion for the arts. But there’s a new pastime that’s rapidly growing in New Zealand’s capital and all around the country.

Assembling and setting traps for rats, stoats and other predators in their own backyards. It’s a somewhat unlikely hobby, but in Wellington alone, there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management.  They’re all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world and a paradise for native birds such as the tīeke (Saddleback), hihi (stitchbird), kākā, kākāriki and toutouwai (North Island robin). 

In Wellington alone there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world. Photo by: Capital Kiwi

Ever since conservation project Zealandia created a fully fenced 225-hectare ecosanctuary within the city limits in 1999, native birdlife has returned to many suburbs and Wellingtonians have embraced their avian friends. The groups are part of a groundswell of community conservation initiatives sweeping New Zealand and delivering fantastic results.

“Where once it would have been a remarkable sight to see a single kākā (a boisterous native parrot) in the wilderness of our mountain ranges, we now have literally hundreds of them across Wellington city, screeching across city skies,” says self-confessed “bird nerd” Paul Ward. Buoyed by the birdsong orchestra he thought, “Why stop there? Let’s bring back New Zealand’s most iconic bird, the Kiwi.” “The only time I’d seen a Kiwi growing up was in a zoo, and that’s not right for our national taonga (treasure),” he insists. 

The flightless birds with hair-like feathers and the chopstick bill have been absent from Wellington for over a century due to the loss of their habitat and the spread of predators. Ward’s ambitious project Capital Kiwi hopes to lure Kiwi back to the Wellington region within the next decade. Approximately 4,400 traps will be set on 23,000 hectares of public and private land stretching from the outskirts of town to the coast.

“Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime”

As long as stoats, ferrets and weasels are around, Kiwi chicks have hardly any chance of surviving their first year.  An average of 27 Kiwis are killed by predators each day according to charity ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’ which supports community-led initiatives around the country. They warn that at this rate “Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.” 

But projects in Rakiura / Stewart Island in the south of New Zealand, Whangarei Heads in the north and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty have shown that with the involvement of the community as kaitiaki (guardians) it is possible to grow a wild Kiwi population. 

The project Capital Kiwi hopes to bring New Zealand’s iconic birds back to Wellington by setting more than 4,000 traps in the hills on the outskirts of the city. Photo by: Capital Kiwi.

Michelle Impey, from Kiwis for Kiwi explains that one of the challenges of Kiwi conservation is “getting people to understand and care about something they can’t see and don’t experience.”

Kiwis are nocturnal, and with only a few exceptions live far removed from cities, towns and villages. “Bringing Kiwi closer to where Kiwis live makes them top of mind, completely relevant, and creates a sense of ownership with those who are privileged enough to have them living on or near their land,” Impey adds. She hopes that the new project will create “a city of Kiwi conservationists” who feel a personal attachment to their national bird. 

In August 2018 the government’s Predator Free 2050 initiative, which aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators that threaten the nation’s natural wildlife by 2050, announced their support for Capital Kiwi, committing more than NZ$3.2 million over the next five years.  It may sound like a lot of money, but the other way of looking at this is “What is the cost if we don’t?” Ward ponders.

“Can we, as a nation of Kiwis, afford to let our national icon die and become extinct? What would that say about us as guardians of the taonga (treasure) that makes our country so special and unique?”


Ninety-year-old Ted Smith, who lives in the small seaside settlement of Makara just over the hills from Wellington, helped to kick off the project with the setting of the first trap in November. He and his local community started trapping in their backyards a decade ago which resulted in a remarkable increase in birdlife – tūī, kākā, kererū, pūkeko, kingfishers, quails and others. “If we allow Kiwi to die out then we deserve to be called idiots,” he says. Wellingtonians love the vision of having Kiwi rummaging through their gardens and Ward says he’s been overwhelmed with the offers of help and support from the community.  

“We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington”

Capital Kiwi has received hundreds of emails from people keen to help. Schoolchildren are now monitoring tracking tunnels, mountain bikers and trail runners check reserve trap lines on lunchtime rides and families come together to build traps. If the eradication proves successful after three years, the Department of Conservation will look at translocating Kiwi to the hillsides. The hope is that in less than a decade, tourists will be able to post their Kiwi encounters on the outskirts of Wellington on social media, and locals will beam with pride at hearing the shrill call of the country’s iconic birds in their backyards. 

“I would love to be woken up by the sound of the Kiwi. We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington,” the capital’s Major Justin Lester says. 

The Department of Conservation is backing Capital Kiwi too. “Getting Kiwi back into the hills of Wellington where people can hear them call is a great way to demonstrate what New Zealand could look like if we get rid of the stoats and ferrets,” DOC’s Jack Mace says. 

“It would certainly add another feather to Wellington’s cap as one of the best places to see New Zealand’s unique wildlife.”

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Cover Photo: New Zealand’s little spotted Kiwi at Zealandia Eco-sanctuary in Wellington. Photo by: Zealandia Eco-sanctuary


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