“Have fun,” said the Fed Ex employee as he loaded the Mountain Hardwear duffle bags onto the cart and sent me on my way out of the store.
How nice of him, I initially thought, to wish me a fun trip. And how naïve of me to think that is actually what he meant. After lifting the 140 pounds of bags and taking one look at me, he was obviously thinking “Have fun trying to move these bags once you leave that lovely cart at the curb outside.”
He wasn’t very far off base, and he would have certainly been entertained watching me haul the bags up the two flights of stairs to my house. Both duffles are from Mike Libecki. They are sealed and I am not to open them. They could be filled with rocks for all I know. Maybe this is the hazing process that all newbie expedition members have to go through. All I know is that if the fun in store for this trip is directly proportional to the weight of gear packed for this trip, we are going to have one hell of a good time.
Rewind nine months. Ethan Pringle, Mike Libecki and myself meet in California to discuss a new trip concept. All we have at this point is a basic idea: to use the unparalleled knowledge of Mike Libecki, adventurer extraordinaire, to guide a small crew of slightly less adventurous souls to unexplored rock. Throw that concept into the melting pot of motivation and experience that sits between the three of us, and things could go literally anywhere. Ideas begin flying. Are there boulders in that place, or walls in this place, is it too hot over there in the summer, or too icy up there, and do we have enough time to reach xyz? SO MANY OPTIONS, my head spins. Plus, there is the underlying question that weighs on my mind: Will I be (insert chosen word here) enough to go to any of those places?
[Mike Libecki, Angie Payne, and Ethan Pringle go over the maps in Tasiilaq, Greenland. PHOTO: Keith Ladzinski]
At the point of the idea’s inception, I had only met Mike Libecki a few times before. I did know, however, that we have lived drastically different lives in the climbing world.
Mike is a solo adventurer who travels to remote, unexplored corners of the globe. My biggest solo adventure involved riding trains around Europe for a day, getting stranded in a pleasant town in Italy for an hour, and being saved by a nice English-speaking Italian police woman who let me use her cell phone.
Mike climbs gigantic walls that are untouched by humans, while I typically climb small boulders with well-worn paths to their base, or plastic grips coated in chalk from the hands of hundreds of others. If there was a competition to assemble the most unlikely mix of personalities, this team would be a strong contender for the gold.
Ethan Pringle, who bridges the gap between Libecki’s and my diametric worlds, is the third member of the team. Ethan and I have known each other since our pre-teen competition climbing days. If I had to guess, I would place him somewhere in the middle of the spectrum that ranges from my sheltered life to Libecki’s adventurous existence. We are a motley crew, no doubt.
From that point in October, the trip idea began to take shape. Greenland would be the location, and August would be the time. Keith Ladzinski would join our team as well, bringing his impressive photography skills along to document the journey to the world’s largest island.
Having been around this area many times before, Libecki has assured us there is more untouched rock there than our two weeks in the field will allow us to fully explore. Some of that rock is in the form of boulders, and some stands tall above the gorgeous landscape, dwarfing the over-sized pebbles below.
We will fly to Iceland, then to a town in Greenland called Kulusuk and finally take a long boat ride to some location far, far away. We will camp and explore and climb. We might see polar bears, I might get seasick, and the mosquitoes might drain my body of all its blood. No matter what, it will be a once in a lifetime experience with a great group of people.
I am starting to get truly excited about the trip now. If you are following the timeline closely, you will notice that a bit of time has passed since the idea first came to be. “And you are only getting excited now?!” is probably what you are thinking.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been supportive of the trip idea from the beginning, but the planning portion of the journey hasn’t been without its moments of hesitation on my part. More than a few of those have revolved around the option that exists for the team to climb some of the aforementioned “tall rocks.”
I am almost exclusively a boulderer. The number of vertical feet I have climbed in my whole life is probably close to what Mike Libecki climbs in a normal expedition. Okay, I exaggerate, but you get my point. So, when faced with the opportunity to climb a big wall, I take pause. The timing of the trip has also created some internal conflict for me, but I have come to realize that most of the things I will sacrifice to go to Greenland are opportunities that will come again. This is a special opportunity.
[Angie Payne and Ethan Pringle climb everything in sight. PHOTO: Keith Ladzinski]
As I begin to pack for the trip (a bug net, ascenders, other miscellaneous items I have never needed before) and stare at the Libecki duffles (what if they are just full of rocks?), I realize the journey has already begun. I have already been challenged mentally and physically (I’m serious, those bags are heavy!), but I know the real challenges will come once I leave home. This will be a unique trip, to say the least. I am excited to see some beautiful new places and climb untouched rocks. I hope I see a polar bear, and that the mosquitoes have mercy on me, and that I establish at least one new boulder problem.
And I really hope Mike doesn’t make me carry those bags.
[Mike Libecki schleping gear. PHOTO: Keith Ladzinski]