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: Expeditions always have challenges. They’re what make our adventures worthwhile. What are some of the challenges that you faced on the expedition to the Tien Shan Mountains?
Mike Libecki: The biggest challenge for me on this expedition happened before I even arrived in China to meet the team. I arrived directly from Russia after a major solo expedition to Franz Josef Land in the northern arctic islands. I was totally worked, physically depleted, but mentally fired up.
At the end of that trip I had lost almost fifteen pounds, narrowly avoided hypothermia, and had a mild case of trench foot after a forced and soggy eighty hour bivy (I lost my two big toenails a couple of months later).
I had just climbed a big wall first ascent in Russia, completely solo, most likely the northernmost wall and technical climb on the planet (read more here). I was completely worked in every way, but was still completely psyched to meet my friends and climb more untouched vertical stone on the border of China and Kygyzstan.
I feel so blessed and thankful for these incredible opportunities. A week after arriving in China, I had gained some good weight back. My feet and toes were still partly dead and rebuilding for the next adventure ahead.
Mountain Hardwear: For many people, all the travel, the hardships, the weather, and the run-in with Chinese military would be a total turn off. How did these challenges add to the overall adventure?
Mike Libecki: Its pretty simple to sum it up: Without mystery, there is no adventure. Period. This goes for every step of the way to the summit, or non-summit, just being out there in remote, untouched wild, embracing the magic, power and beauty is what it is all about.
Not surprisingly, as with any intense adventure, this trip was largely about challenges, both individually and as a team. Each hardship we faced was incredibly emotional, powerful, and painful, but with a strong expedition team, solid communication, optimism and belief, you can overcome anything. The people and the culture and new friends all add to the sweetness of life and the joy of the trip.
We went through so many hardships together, and pulled together as a team time and time again. Without these challenges, there can be no successes. Things can go in ways you could never expect on expeditions, and that is the best part of the adventure.
– Mike Libecki