The vast majority of visitors to Antarctica set off from Ushuaia, Argentina, on a cruise ship. Not Mike Libecki. In November 2012, he and three other climbers—Freddie Wilkinson, Cory Richards, and Keith Ladzinski—set off from Cape Town, South Africa, for Queen Maud Land on the eastern side of the continent to ascend virgin peaks.
"It’s a place that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet, even other parts of Antarctica," says Libecki. "It’s a climbing destination, but it’s also skiing, trekking, penguins, the whole Antarctica experience. It’s so remote and very few people go there; you really feel like you’re going to another planet without leaving the Earth’s orbit."
Of course, it’s not cheap and is only reachable with the help of a Russian charter company from Cape Town. But the landscape is as rare as the opportunity to get there. Arguably the most spectacular aspect of it—besides the summer’s 24 hours of daylight and the unbroken blue of the Antarctic sky—is the mountains themselves.
"There really are no other mountains that look like them on the planet," says Libecki. "They’re just these giant teeth and daggers and spear tips. There are no foothills. They just explode right out of the ice. For me, it’s been an obsession to go there."
Plan This Trip: The Antarctica Company organizes trips to Queen Maud Land for climbers, skiers, and other travelers.
Mike Libecki lives to push the boundaries of 21st-century exploration, ticking off over 45 major expeditions in his storied career. Just in 2012, he completed a first ascent of a tower in Borneo, first ski descents in Afghanistan, and solo climbs of virgin peaks in the Arctic. Arguably the most exciting came late in the year: With three other all-star climbers, he notched new ascents in one of the world’s great frontiers: Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land. By sheer volume—and audacity—he is one of the world’s top contemporary explorers.
- Nat Geo Expeditions