GREENLAND / by Angela Payne

The mail was full of firsts this week--first bug net, first ascender, first big wall harness, first helmet, first global rescue insurance card, and first serious realization that I am going to Greenland very soon.

“Think LIGHT, only what you need!” Mike Libecki, the trip organizer, told the team in a recent email. I was definitely on the right track with my two crashpads, three pairs of shoes, and chalk pot. Buuuuuut, then things started arriving in the mail. And that is when I realized that “light” is a relative term in the climbing world.


First I received the two duffle bags from Libecki. Sixty-nine and a half pounds each. Apparently going over that weight limit will require me to promise my first born child to the baggage check people, or something along those lines. He sent the bags to me so he didn’t have to lug them on his solo big wall climbing trip to Russia that falls just before the Greenland adventure. If for any reason Mike gets delayed in Russia and doesn’t show up in Iceland on time, we are supposed to go on without him. So, I sure hope he sent me the bags that contain the coffee, the chocolate….and the pack mules.

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This all began back in October 2011. Mike Libecki, Ethan Pringle and myself met in California to discuss a potential trip to some far away land. No location had been decided, but Mike promised it would be somewhere with unexplored boulders and beautiful landscapes. I like boulders and beautiful things, and I like beautiful boulders most of all, so I was into this idea. During the discussion, Mike brought up a recent news story to illustrate a point. The story goes something like this: man gets thumb cut off by aid sling on El Cap, man’s thumb lands on ledge next to man’s climbing partner, rescue helicopter plucks man from El Cap, man’s thumb is successfully reattached. Mike posed a question to the group: Should the man have been rescued or should he and his partner have descended on their own? Personally, I think that if you lose your thumb on a big wall and are so fortunate as to find it again and have the opportunity to have it reattached, you had best take full advantage of this gift from the god of opposable digits. For all I know, Mike and I might be on the same page on this one, but the discussion prompted me to make a mental note to self: before leaving on this trip, make it clear to the group that if any situation arises where I lose an appendage and have even the slightest chance of reclaiming it, I’d like for them to do everything in their power to help me seize that opportunity.

Mike Libecki navigating the icy waters in Greenland (Libecki photo)

Mike Libecki navigating the icy waters in Greenland (Libecki photo)

I first met Mike Libecki a year or two ago at a trade show. He gave me one of his “Year of the Rabbit” shirts and a bottle of carrot beer he had brewed. I didn’t know much about him, probably because we inhabit completely different realms of the climbing world. Since then, I have learned a bit more about Mike. He likes to travel alone to the last frontiers of the earth and he climbs things that are gigantic. I have not traveled alone for more than a day at a time and I climb glorified pebbles. But, thanks to Mike’s incredible optimism and willingness to go out on a limb, we are traveling as part of the same team. Ethan Pringle is also part of the team and is what I would refer to as the “middle ground” between myself and Mike. Ethan climbs some small things and some big things, some plastic things and some rock things. Our photographer is Keith Ladzinski, who, as far as I can tell, climbs whatever needs to be climbed to get amazing photos and video.

As planning for the trip progressed, locations were crossed off the list based on the trip’s timing (summer) and failure to cater to our main interest (unclimbed rocks). Greenland remained as one of the last locations standing. So, Greenland it is. Where in Greenland? A good question for which I have only a sort-of-good answer. We fly into Iceland, then go on to Kulusuk in Greenland. From there we take a 20-something hour boat ride to another place in Greenland. (Told you it was only a sort-of-good answer.) Our crew is a great mix of personalities. Libecki has already proven to be an awesome trip organizer, and I am looking forward to hearing some of his crazy stories. This trip will certainly be like a beach vacation for him, but I’m sure it will be one of the most adventurous things I’ve ever done.

Greenland!  (Libecki photo)

Greenland!  (Libecki photo)

I have ridden quite the roller coaster of emotions in the months leading up to this trip. At first I was really excited, then the timing of the trip changed slightly, causing it to conflict with some things I had planned, leaving me feeling conflicted. As I began to feel better about that, the possibility of climbing a big wall was mentioned, and then I just felt scared. I have climbed 0 big walls in my life. The number of pitches I have climbed might not even add up to one “big” wall. My last trad climbing adventure was a Citibank commercial gone horribly wrong (seriously, it was the same climb as that commercial, except instead of walking across that awesome little “sidewalk” in the sun like Katie does, I crawled across it in the hail and had a complete breakdown in the middle). Sooooo…..I admit that I'm still apprehensive about the big wall possibility. But mostly I’m just getting excited now. I can’t wait to see how beautiful it is. I can’t wait to see an iceberg. And I really can’t wait to see a polar bear.

So now I am beginning to frantically prepare for my imminent departure. Last week I spent many hours trying to track down a rogue package that just happens to contain my tent for the trip. If my life plans A-F don’t pan out, plan G is to go into forensics, so part of me actually enjoyed the scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, I believe the package ended up moving elsewhere with the neighbors, so I wasn't able to track it down. Hopefully I have better luck finding my tent when I'm in Greenland.

The pieces are beginning to come together and my room is full of items that are mostly foreign to me. Mountain Hardwear has me fully decked out in everything I need to keep me warm and dry, Organic sent me a beautiful new pad to save my ankles, Five Ten has my approach and climbing shoe needs completely covered, and my Natives will be along for the ride to shade me from the 24 hours of sunlight. Plus, Petzl came through on short notice and took care my entire “oh my I’ve never needed that before” list.
Now, I just have to pack it all. Let the adventure begin.