Accomplished climber Mike Libecki and photographer Cory Richards battle extreme cold and furious katabatic winds in an epic, ten-day climb to the summit of the untouched Bertha's Tower at the bottom of the world.
Explorer Mike Libecki is the consummate adventurer. With more than 45 expeditions to his name, he shows no signs of slowing down. And 2012 was his busiest year yet.
In early winter, the 39-year-old kicked it off by completing the first ascent of a 2,000-foot tower in Borneo's West Kalimantan, a feat that involved wading through mud, leeches, and "machete mayhem" to get to the wall.
Via snowboard, he made a series of first descents in Afghanistan's avalanche-prone Koh-e Baba mountains and then kite skied over mountain lakes-all while keeping a watchful eye out for Taliban operatives.
As summer rolled around, Libecki was off to Franz Josef Land, a Russian archipelago just south of the North Pole, where he stand-up paddleboarded between islands and made solo first ascents of unclimbed peaks.
By August, he landed on Greenland's southeastern coast, where he put forth a marathon 60-hour effort to push a new climb up an untouched granite monolith with sport climber Ethan Pringle. Fall meant a quick trip to the Philippines's Cordillera Mountains for what Libecki refers to as "jungle mayhem" or bushwhacking up jungle-covered peaks.
Libecki's astonishing year is capped off this November with a National Geographic-sponsored trip (with the dream team of Freddie Wilkinson, Cory Richards, and Keith Ladzinski) to the eastern stretches of Antarctica's Queen Maud Land. They will find unclimbed horns of rock jutting thousands of feet upward from ancient ice. It will be the fourth time Libecki has ventured to the bottom of the world.
"The main components of my trips are remote, untouched, unexplored mystery," says Libecki, who lives just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. "An adventure for me can't be an adventure unless there is mystery, unless there is an unknown, something that hasn't been done before."
A Libecki trip is always unique and possibly dangerous-he's almost been killed by rock fall on a few occasions. Often done alone, his excursions to the remote edges of the world also have a touch of whimsy.
His stories are filled with joy-he's more likely to tell you about the time he stripped nude on top of a summit or the food he ate in a remote Chinese village than discuss the difficulties of his climbs. Since his first expedition, Libecki has paid homage to the Chinese calendar and brought along a mask to celebrate the year's namesake animal. For 2012, the Year of the Dragon, on each adventure he donned a dragon mask at some pivotal moment of each expedition.
Despite his creative expeditions, unwavering desire, and quirky demeanor, Libecki has remained on the fringe of the adventure world's conscience. Maybe it's because he is too busy planning his next adventure; he already has 22 new trips written down and ready to come to life.
"Sometimes I forget some of the moments, but I never forget a trip," says Libecki. "It's part of my DNA."
Cory Richards is a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for
becoming the first American to summit an 8000-meter peak in winter
(Pakistan's Gasherbrum II).