“If you think about it, every person was a climber at some point, climbing on the couch or rocks or trees when they were kids, you know? We all were climbers of some kind, I think that some of us just never stopped.” These are the words of Mike Libecki, a climber, an explorer and a champion.
Mike went on his first solo expedition when he was 6 years old. What? Mike spent his childhood in the foothills of Sierra Nevada near Yosemite national park and was intrigued by the big cats he used to see sneaking into the woods on his way to school. One morning after finishing his bowl of cereals and a big glass of hot chocolate, he decided to find one of the cats. Yeah right, coz what else should a 6 year old do on a Saturday morning! He grabbed his pump pellet gun and went alone to the forest nearby. That day, he saw a mountain lioness with her two cubs. Why was he not attacked is a question he still asks himself. I can imagine a 6 year old walking out of the woods satisfied that he saw the big cat. And running home afterwards to tell mommy all about it.
Mike has been on 87 expeditions till date, and has solo climbed some of the most remote peaks on the planet. He was named a 2013 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for his commitment to exploring the world’s most remote places, including Antarctica, Baffin Island, Greenland, other remote exotic islands, and even unnamed spots on the globe. His goal is to go for 100 expeditions before he turns 100. At this rate the goal will be achieved in next few years. What after that? Well he wants to open an animal sanctuary. He loves animals and has pet dogs, cats, pig, chickens, a potbelly pig and a parrot at his home. How can someone be so perfect? I am already in love.
For him climbing is not just an adventure, it is food for his soul. He loves climbing in areas where no human has reached. The mystery attracts him, he says. It’s what keeps the fire burning in him. Can you imagine the adrenaline rush one gets when scaling a mountain without knowing what’s waiting on the other side? Humans are curious beings but for Mike, curiosity is the way of life.
His stories are filled with joy and optimism. My favourite is when he was climbing the mountains of Afghanistan. He was completing the first ascent of the Ibex Horn when he saw a group of men riding their horses towards the basecamp. He thought it was the Taliban as he was warned before coming there about the group being active in the area. But they were few locals he had befriended earlier. They came to warn him about a group of Taliban in the next valley and asked him to leave immediately. They kind of saved his life.
His trips are unique and dangerous. He had been almost killed by rock fall on few occasions. When asked about the risks he takes in these trips, he answers “Climbing and expeditions are 100 percent safe. It is pretty simple, you just can’t make a mistake. “Haha what a positive outlook towards life Mike.
You can tell how a person is the way they narrate their stories. Mike will tell you about the time when he stripped nude on top of the summit or about the food hunting in a local village. He will tell you about the people and the kindness he found on the road. But he won’t talk about the difficulties he faced during the expeditions and when you pester him, he’ll say “Why ration passion? The time is now!
Mike has won numerous awards and accolades, but he was the happiest on winning ‘Father of the Year’ award at his daughter’s school. In every interview, he told that he is the proudest of being a father to his daughter Lilliana. When not on an expedition, he is a stay-at-home dad and had coached her soccer team for 5 years. Adventure runs in Libecki genes and Lilliana too is a curious kid. Since she was in kindergarten, she had been telling her father that she wanted to ski with penguins. Mike started her training when she turned nine. And she visited Antarctica on a three-week ski expedition when she was 11. I was yelling “Mummy where are my socks” when I was her age.
Lilliana, now 16 has travelled to over 20 countries and all seven continents, skied in Antarctica, climbed Kilimanjaro, summited peaks in Peru and Nepal, been to Mount Everest Base Camp, received a grant from the American Alpine Club, founded a nonprofit, or spearheaded six humanitarian expeditions to remote corners of the globe. Phew, okay she is a daughter every dad should be proud of. But Mike has been the best father as well.
What melts my heart further is how he records messages for her whenever he is on any expedition. As most of his trips are solo, he carries a camera to record them. But whenever you see these recordings, you’ll note how he is talking to Lilliana telling her how beautiful the place is. He wants to tell her everything he knows about the world and wants to make sure she loves the unknown as much as he does. Ek hi to dil hai, kitne baar jeetoge!