Our Heritage | Mountain Travel Sobek

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Our Heritage

Mountain Travel Sobek began with the belief that there is a little bit of adventure in everyone. The early days were fueled by the simple passions of three outdoor enthusiasts and world travelers who loved exploring remote wilderness environments. 46 years later, we offer almost 200 adventures to destinations worldwide. The three—Leo Le Bon, Allen Steck, and Barry Bishop—officially founded the company in January 1969 with the hope of indulging their incurable wanderlust while doing business at the same time. This was the true start of "adventure travel" and the travel industry hasn't been the same since.

On a parallel track, Richard Bangs, Lew Greenwald, and John Yost founded Sobek in 1973 after leading an expedition on the Awash, a little-known African river filled with crocodiles. The trip, meant to be a last fling before the three recent college graduates entered the routine working world, instead inspired them to form a commercial international rafting company, naming it after the ancient Egyptian god of crocodiles.

In 1991 the two companies joined forces to become Mountain Travel Sobek, offering the broadest range of active adventure travel trips to far-flung corners of the planet ever provided by a single company.


  • 1969 Leo Le Bon, Allen Steck, and Barry Bishop found Mountain Travel. MT's first-ever trek to Nepal takes place in October.
  • 1970 MT organizes the first sailing cruise to the Galápagos Island (for the Sierra Club).
  • 1971 MT leads the first circular trek of the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. MT has author Colin Fletcher scout the first "pure" walking safari in the Tanzanian Serengeti.
  • 1972 Leo Le Bon takes the first group of Sahara camel enthusiasts to explore the high ramparts of the famous Tassili N'Ajjer in Algeria. The summit of Aconcagua, highest peak in the Western Hemisphere is attained on the first commercial climb, operated by MT.
  • 1973 Allen Steck leads the first expedition to the USSR. This is also start of the company's relationship with the Soviet Mountaineering Federation. Richard Bangs, Lew Greenwald, and John Yost found Sobek Expeditions. The first commercial trip is on Ethiopia's Omo River.
  • 1974 Mountaineer and Sierra Club director Jules Eichorn leads MT's first climbing trip to Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro.
  • 1975 Allen Steck leads an MT trek into northern Pakistan and visits famous Concordia, base camp for the climb of K2, the world's second highest peak. 1978 Sobek makes the first decent of the Bío-Bío River in Chile.
  • 1979 MT offers the first US trek to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
  • 1980 MT organizes the first commercial US postwar expedition to climb Minya Konka, the highest peak in China outside of Tibet.
  • 1981 MT organizes a climb and ski decent of Muztagh Ata in Sinkiang, China. Sobek makes the first decent of the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe.
  • 1982 Sobek makes the first descent of the Dar Jung Guo River, China, the Luangwa, Zambia, and the Tambopata, Peru.
  • 1983 MT is the first US company to organize a trek through Sinkiang to the northern base of K2.
  • 1986 John Thune leads the first group of tourists to travel the Karakoram Highway over the Khunjerab Pass into China. The Silk Road tour goes on to become one of MT's most popular trips.
  • 1987 MT launches the first departures of the Wondrous Towers of Paine, a six-day circuit of the Paine massif.
  • 1988 MT initiates a new and innovative program in Continuing Medical Education.
  • 1989 MT fields the first commercial cross-country ski expedition to the South Pole, an epic ski traverse of the Antarctic continent which has the distinction of placing the first Americans–and the first women ever–at the Pole by an over–land route and by their own efforts.
  • 1990 Leo Le Bon, founder and president of MT retires from the company.
  • 1991 MT and Sobek Expeditions merge operations.
  • 1993 MTS makes first descents of the Kunar-Swat Rivers, Pakistan.
  • 1994 MTS makes the first descent of the Ghizar River in Pakistan. The first "Save the Tiger" trip is operated, which raises funds to prevent the tiger's extinction.
  • 1995 MTS completes the first exploratory sea kayaking expedition to remote Cenderawasi Bay in Irian Jaya.
  • 1996 MTS makes the first descent of the Tekeze River, Ethiopia, a 210-mile journal through the "Grand Canyon" of Africa. MTS operates first sea kayaking expedition to Scoresbysund, a 300-mile fjord system of Northeast Greenland National Park (largest national park in the world).
  • 1997 MTS offers the first ever sea kayaking trip to Panama's San Blas Islands.
  • 1998 Trip members from the first departure of the new African Golden Kingdoms trip return with glowing accounts of this exotic experience–an MTS exclusive!
  • 1999 MTS leads National Geographic Society on a 500-mile successful descent of the Blue Nile from the headwaters at Lake Tana to the Sudanese border. Sobek previously rafted sections of the river in the mid-1970s.
  • 2000 Mountain Travel Sobek acquires Alaska Discovery, the oldest and largest wilderness guiding company in Alaska. We also acquire a whitewater rafting permit for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.
  • 2001 Mountain Travel Sobek launches "In the Footsteps of the Explorers" program. Adventurous travelers joined in for adventures such as a Darwin's Galápagos, John Wesley Powell's Grand Canyon, Lawrence's Arabia, and Tilman's Everest Trek.
  • 2002 First commercial descent of the Puyango-Tumbes River on the border of Ecuador and Peru. Up until 2002 it wasn't possible to run this river due to a border dispute between Ecuador and Peru.
  • 2004 The U.S. lifted travel restrictions to Libya in February 2004, and in April, Mountain Travel Sobek is the first company to bring an American tour group into this long forbidden country.  
  • 2004 MTS embarks on a successful cross-country ski trip to the North Pole, led by well-known Arctic explorer Richard Weber.
  • 2006 MTS makes the first commercial descent of the Upper Mekong River in Yunnan, China. Led by longtime MTS guides Jim Norton, Wille Kern, Jed Weingarten, Ben Fadely, and Don Johnston, the trip wins Outside magazine’s Asia “Trip of the Year” award.
  • 2008 MTS becomes the first North American tour operator to offer hiking trips in Bosnia since the signing of the Dayton Agreement, which ended the nearly four-year-long Bosnian War.
  • 2009 MTS leads the first commercial tour in long-closed Guinea, including the rugged, forested highlands—an area untouched by Western tourists.
  • 2010 MTS is one of the few operators to run treks in the newly reopened Lagunas de Cocuy region of Colombia, exploring an area we pioneered 24 years earlier.
  • 2010 MTS is the only U.S. tour operator leading trips in Yemen’s Socotra Archipelago. 
  • 2010 MTS is one of the few U.S. tour operators to offer a trip to experience the “Festival au Desert,” an internationally renowned annual celebration of West African music held in Mali. 
  • 2010 MTS is selected by the National Geographic Society to operate its series of adventure-based journeys under the brand National Geographic Adventures. 
  • 2011 MTS’ “India’s Northeast Frontier—Nagaland and Assam” adventure is among the very first to offer guests the opportunity to meet with the Naga tribes of India’s eastern Himalayan foothills, including an audience with their king.
  • 2012 MTS leads the first commercial adventure tour in secretive North Korea.
  • 2013 MTS runs the audacious “Six Continent Whitewater Adventure,” a grand tour of great rivers on all the continents but Antarctica. The brainchild of MTS co-founder John Yost and years in the making, the journey included the Kings and Kern Rives in California, Ecuador’s Toachi River, the Noguera Pallaresa in Spain’s Pyrenees, the Athi River through Kenya’s renowned Amboseli National Park, India’s Tons River, and finally the North Johnstone River in Australia.
  • 2016 MTS journeys to Papua New Guinea and offers guests a rare invitation to attend an authentic Duk Duk ceremony.
  • 2016 MTS and The North Face begin offering joint trips featuring The North Face's team of celebrity athletes.
  • 2018 MTS and Smithsonian Journeys announce Smithsonian Active Journeys by Mountain Travel Sobek, a collection of 11 small group journeys developed with the active traveler in mind