Climbers are adventurous by nature. They know what it feels like to spend the night lost in a blank sea of granite, their legs tingling from too much time spent in a harness. They know what it smells like to crawl into a sandy sleeping bag for the two hundredth night in a row and nurse their sore and tape covered hands back to health. They know that discomfort in the present only leads to bliss in the future. They know that deep passions produce ambitious dreams.
Mick Libecki is an expert on these few simple truths of climbing. Selected as a 2013 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, Libecki doesn’t know how to sit still. His climbing and adventure expeditions have taken him to the farthest reaches of Antarctica, Afghanistan, Greenland, China, Indonesia, Africa and Russia, to name a few, and the list continues to grow.
“Climbing is not only a passion, but an obsession,” says Libecki. “An addiction to pursue a life in the vertical world in the most remote and harshest environments on the planet.”
In 2010, Libecki traveled to the Koh-e Baba Mountains, a western extension of the Hindu Kush in central Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Province, with little more than a grainy photograph of some limestone towers and the strong desire to climb them.
“No one I met recognized them,” wrote Libecki in the 2011 edition of The American Alpine Journal. “After several hours of driving, I spotted them from the road. Locals agreed to hire a horse and mule and take me to the towers.”
What followed was a multi-day assault of some of the worst limestone Libecki had ever encountered. “The stone was so loose and sandy that most cam placements slid out under bodyweight,” he wrote in the American Alpine Journal. He left Afghanistan humbled by close rock falls and the realities of exploratory climbing.
Libecki would return to the Koh-e Baba Mountains every year for the next three years and make notable first ascents of the East and West Ibex Ears, and finally, in 2011 a solo first ascent of the prominent Ibex Horn.
In 2012, he returned to the Bamyan Province of central Afghanistan to be one of the first to snowboard in some of the best unexplored backcountry skiing terrain on the planet. “The threat of the Taliban was almost as scary as the avalanche danger,” said Libecki. “Fifty miles in any direction the Taliban would love to have us for company.”
For Libecki, climbing has always run hand-in-hand with exploration and adventure. Like many climbers, he lives for those brief moments of clarity, the moments on a climb or an expedition when the mind is clear of everything but the task at hand. “These moments are simply training for the next,” he says. “Each moment makes me hungry for more.”