National Geographic Climber Showcases Death-Defying Explorations

Maria von Trapp and her gang of ne'er-do-wellers sang about the mountains, but Mike Libecki has spent a good chunk of his life exploring them.EXPAND
Maria von Trapp and her gang of ne'er-do-wellers sang about the mountains, but Mike Libecki has spent a good chunk of his life exploring them.
Keith Ladzinski

It’s no great shock to hear the Houston Symphony Chorus belt out “Climb Every Mountain” inside Jones Hall, yet this time around the auditorium will be filled with the stories of someone who has dedicated his life to exploring them.

Maria von Trapp, it's time to take a seat and let someone else crow about the hills. Next Tuesday, Mike Libecki will wrap up the symphony’s National Geographic Live series with Climbing Dreams, a talk that follows his adventures in three different areas of the planet — all backed by the vivid, stunning photos Libecki captured along the way.

“Essentially, I’m a climber, and I specialize in places where people haven’t been before," he says. "They’re untouched virgin Earth. Rescue can be almost impossible, despite technology. I climb, and I explore places no one has been to before."

For this talk, he’ll describe his experience tackling mud and mayhem on the massive Poumaka Tower in French Polynesia, encountering fear and friendship on the Bamiyan slopes of Afghanistan and dodging polar bears while exploring Greenland’s icy waters.

Between the politics, the arctic cold and the wild jungles, the stories and experiences abound. To add to the drama, one wrong decision can make the difference between life and death.

“If I’m in Siberia in the winter in minus 65 degrees, if I make a mistake or forget how to fix my stove, my life is over," Libecki says. "It’s a demanding choice of lifestyle when you’re out there."

Houston is known for its heat, but just try getting a Houstonian to survive in -65 degrees. Mike Libecki knows a little bit about that.EXPAND
Houston is known for its heat, but just try getting a Houstonian to survive in -65 degrees. Mike Libecki knows a little bit about that.
Keith Ladzinski

The payoff, though, is worth it. In fact, for Libecki it’s a thrill.

“The nucleus is I’m a climber, but the adventure and mystery and mayhem are what it’s about,” he says. “What that generates is adventure and mystery. Without mystery, there is no adventure, because you don’t know what’s next.”

Libecki has plenty to draw from. His explorations have taken him all across the planet and earned him plenty of attention from his peers. He is one of Men’s Journal’s “World’s 50 Most Adventurous Men” and one of National Geographic’s 2013 “Adventurers of the Year.”

Ultimately, Libecki says his love of exploration is really a celebration involving global community and giving back to others.

“If we’re not giving back to the planet or doing something to make this circle round and give back to Mother Earth, you can’t call yourself an explorer," he says. "We all need to be doing our part as humans on Earth to give back."

As the adage goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; or here the rock doesn’t tumble far from the mountain. Libecki’s daughter shares the same interest in expeditions and climbing. At only 14 years old, she’s been to all seven continents and is performing her own work in philanthropy.

“She’s kicking ass,” he proudly exclaims.

The father-daughter duo’s next adventure involves a trip to Peru to build computer centers and solar-energy devices. They plan to bring along socks to donate to the indigenous people.

“We all need to be doing our part as humans on Earth to give back,” says Libecki. “We have this beautiful planet, and we need to take care of each other.”

Climbing Dreams will conclude the Houston Symphony’s National Geographic Live series. The lavishly illustrated presentations have showcased photographers, climbers and engineers as they traverse some of the world’s most remote locations and perilous journeys — all while helping preserve our world’s natural beauty and expanding the frontiers of human knowledge and achievement.

The symphony’s web site says the organization has decided not to renew the series next year in order to focus on its symphonic programming. The series will continue to run in other cities, and enthusiasts wanting to take in further talks can find more information by visiting the National Geographic's web site.

“Climbing Dreams” takes place 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 23 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. Tickets range from $15 to $65; the Houston Symphony will not perform during this event.

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