We sent Mike Libecki, Ethan Pringle and Liv Sansoz to the Tien Shan Mountains near the border of China and Kyrgyzstan to find unclimbed routes up perfect rock. Needless to say, their expedition didn’t go exactly as planned (they never do) but it was still the trip of a lifetime.
We sat down with Mike Libecki to get the story of the adventure and get the low down on expedition life.
Mountain Hardwear: Fear is a very real part of climbing and expeditions. At what point does fear become a limiting factor?
Libecki: Fear is one of the best tool you can use in the mountains. Not only is it important, but part of the reason to get out there. But fear can sometimes be a sign that things a getting a little too dangerous. This is when our choices are crucial, and every part of the equation of success and survival goes into every move we make. In my opinion, if we are not pushing the edges of our personal potential, something is wrong.
On this trip, we learned to deal with the fear of the massive amounts of rock fall that would occur all around our basecamp and on the wall. It felt a little like Russian Roulette. It taught us to mitigate our risks and only attempt objectives within our reach.
I embrace fear as much as any other emotion. It makes me feel alive in a surreal way, and remember that we as soft, fragile humans can be crushed by the stone. It makes me realize the gift of life.
[Mountain Hardwear athlete Ethan Pringle finds a gear placement as Mike Libecki belays. Photo by Keith Ladzinski.]
Mountain Hardwear: What was it like to experience this fear with the rest of the expedition group?
Libecki: An expedition team is like a family. That is what you become when you are out there. You’re a family that must trust each other, have fun, be supportive, and grow together. One of the ways an expedition can be evaluated is how close and comfortable the team is out there, and how close you are by the end of the trip. You speak your mind. You get emotional. You miss your loved ones. Pre-joy comes along for sure, but that always leads to joy.
I trust my partners with my life and they do the same with me. I have to trust them to be open to my honesty. Pulling together experiences and moving forward and upward as a team is a priority. There needs to be 100% trust in every way. We walked away with big smiles, were closer friends, and will always remember the laughter and enthusiasm.
[Mountain Hardwear athletes Mike Libecki and Liv Sansoz hang out at base camp. Photo by Keith Ladzinski]
Mountain Hardwear: What will you celebrate most from the trip?
Libecki: I am celebrating the bonds, the friendships, the adventure, the challenges, and everything I learned from this expedition. I am celebrating this incredible experience of pre-joy, joy, fear, triumph, and everything we experience along the way. I am celebrating an amazing first ascent and success on our goals. I am so glad everything happened as it did. I feel honored to have been out there with such amazing humans, Liv Sansoz, Ethan Pringle, and Keith Ladzinski.
There is something to be said when you want to go back out on a trip again with everyone.
Whenever I am on an expedition, either solo or with a team, I always feel like there are hundreds of other people out there with me. All the people that make it possible — family, friends, sponsors — they are always out there too, on the summits with us. It takes so many people to make all of this possible. I had planned this trip to the border of China and Kyrgyzstan for many years, and it was a huge dream come true.
I would like to give a huge shout out, thanks and bow-down appreciation to Mountain Hardwear for making incredible journey possible.