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Iqaluit resident scaling Mount Everest

Malcolm Gorrill
Northern News Services

Iqaluit ( May 22/00) - For most people, a broken zipper is a minor inconvenience.

For Gabriel Filippi recently, it led to a brush with death.

Filippi, who is hoping to become the first Nunavut resident to scale Mount Everest, was forced to spend the night at camp 2 (6,400 metres up the mountain) after the zipper on his sleeping bag broke.

"Next morning, I radioed base camp to send me my second sleeping bag," Filippi told News/North recently via e-mail.

"When the Sherpas arrived at camp 2, they didn't have my bag because they left base camp before my call. So I had two options: spend one more night at camp 2 or go to base camp," explained Filippi, who is site manager with the Nav Canada centre in Iqaluit.

"Going to base camp meant crossing the Khumbu Icefall during the afternoon and that is totally unrecommended, because huge blocks of ice are melting and falling everywhere."

Filippi stayed one more night at camp 2 and got hypothermia.

"On the next morning, April 12, I left camp 2 for base camp. I was weak but had no choice. I was close to camp 1 when a Spanish climber told me to stop at their tent at camp 1, a doctor was there.

"She gave me a shot of decadron, kind of (an) adrenalin booster, and she gave me oxygen. After half an hour in the tent I left to base camp," Filippi said.

"It was a do-or-die situation. When I arrived at base camp around 4:15 p.m. I was totally exhausted, dehydrated but mostly, my oxygenation in the blood was at 23 per cent. Usually climbers at base camp are at 80 per cent."

Filippi was put on oxygen and took a few days off before resuming his trek.

"Climbing is as much a part of my life as breathing. Climbing is part of the sacred balance that every human being is searching for.

"For me the mountain is the call of nature that we all need," he said.

"For me climbing is having fun with the mountain. I always say that if I do not have fun with the mountain, I go back home. It is not the conquest of a mountain, it is not a trophy.

"You and the mountain are becoming one."

Filippi is carrying a Nav Canada flag.

"The employees and the company are participating. The employees can buy T-shirts, posters, and baseball caps in order to fund the expedition," Filippi said.

"At the same time, the employer will match the donation of the employee to a charity organization that I choose: CCFF (Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation).

Filippi has a nine-year-old daughter, Alexandra.

"She knows all the danger associated, but I think it is in the approach that you have with your child.

"I show her that in life you can do whatever you want, realize your dream and never forget that the only person that can stop you is yourself," Filippi said.

(Filippi's brother, Bernard, spoke over the phone with his mountain-climbing sibling on Wednesday. Bernard said his brother was going to try to reach the summit of Mount Everest Sunday, May 21.

Bernard said that, whether he reaches the top or not, his brother was planning to head for home May 25.)