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National Geographic explorer Mike Libecki coming to campus for presentation, panel discussion

Mike Libecki pauses to check his rock climbing equipment during an expedition on Socotra Island in Yemen. (Photo by Josh Helling)

Renowned explorer Mike Libecki, National Geographic’s 2013 “Adventurer of the Year,” is coming to the campus of Western Carolina University on Thursday, Aug. 22, to deliver a presentation and take part in a panel discussion, with both centered around the topic “Wilderness and Its Connection to Wellness.”

The free presentation begins at 7 p.m. in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center and will be followed by the discussion featuring Libecki and five current and former members of the university’s faculty and staff. The event is part of WCU’s Outdoor Adventure Speaker Series and kicks off a new “Wilderness as Wellness” programming series that will offer outings across the mountains for students, faculty and staff throughout the fall semester.

A native of Clovis, California, Libecki was introduced to the sport of climbing at age 17 in what he describes as “the center of the climbing universe” – the nearby Yosemite National Park. Over the years, he has climbed big rock walls and alpine summits with multiple first ascents while successfully completing more than 80 expeditions ranging from Africa and Afghanistan to Guyana and Greenland. In 2012, Libecki led a National Geographic-sponsored trip to Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land, where he and his partners battled extreme cold in an epic 10-day climb to the summit of the then-untouched Bertha’s Tower.

Mike Libecki

Libecki says he has two major passions in his life – exploring the most remote and exotic locations on Earth, and being a good father for Lilliana, his 16-year-old daughter. She already has accompanied him to 25 countries and all seven continents, including two expeditions to Antarctica, an ascent of Africa’s Kilimanjaro and a trek through the Himalaya of Nepal – all of which focused on humanitarian and conservation work. The father and daughter also have joined together to start a nonprofit organization that is working on conservation and humanitarian efforts around the globe. They live in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

Mike Libecki has received numerous awards for his commitment to climbing and exploring the world’s wild places, including the Sharp End Award from the Access Fund and the Mountaineering Fellowship Award from the American Alpine Club. He also has been the recipient of “father of the year” honors at his daughter’s school multiple times.

Faculty and staff from a variety of WCU’s units will join Libecki in the panel discussion. The moderator will be Jeremiah Haas, an associate director for campus recreation and wellness who oversees Base Camp Cullowhee, the university’s outdoor programming organization. Panelists include Dale Brotherton, retired professor of school counseling; Paula Demonet, a counselor from the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services office; Dr. Jessica Ange, a physician with university Health Services; Debby Singleton, an instructor in the Parks and Recreation Management Program; and Brett Riggs, the university’s Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies.

Organized through Base Camp Cullowhee, the Aug. 22 event is being supported through WCU’s interdisciplinary learning theme for the 2019-20 academic year, “Sustainability and the Environment,” and offers DegreePlus credit for students.

The “Wilderness as Wellness” series, the result of a partnership between WCU’s Campus Recreation and Wellness, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Health Services, will continue with three other programs on the agenda this fall. A “Yoga and Mindfulness Summit Hike” is planned to Sam’s Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday, Sept. 28, and “Optimizing Physical Wellness and Fueling the Body for Performance in the Outdoors” will be offered at Panthertown Valley in southern Jackson County on Sunday, Nov. 3. The fall schedule concludes Wednesday, Dec. 4, with a “Finals Week De-Stressor Hike” on the university trail system. More information about those outings is available by going to and checking the schedule of trips, clinics and events.

For more information about the Aug. 22 presentation and discussion, and the “Wilderness as Wellness” series, contact Jeremiah Haas at or 828-227-8805.

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