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The Escapist: Lessons on fear and challenge

by Ashley Fish Robertson September 15, 2020
The Escapist: Lessons on fear and challenge

Climber and author Gabriel Filippi discusses the danger of comfort zones

As the first Canadian to climb Mount Everest three times, Gabriel Filippi has experienced both remarkable achievements and unbounded loss. Born in Lac-Mégantic, the undeterred mountaineer has been to over 40 countries and scaled six of the seven highest summits in the world, which he details in his book, The Escapist.

In 2013, Filippi, a team of 10 climbers and one guide were set to climb Pakistan’s Nanga Parbat. Recognizing the peril that lay ahead, Filippi eventually made the gut decision not to pursue the climb, keeping his daughter in mind. It was only after he returned to Montreal that he received the harrowing news: his climbing team, all 11 members, had been massacred by the Taliban.

Two years later, while at the Everest base camp, Filippi experienced Nepal’s worst disaster in history: a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that ended up killing nearly 9,000 citizens.

After jumping to the rescue of those around him and witnessing overwhelming death, he inevitably found himself heading home with the burden of survivor’s guilt. After seeking treatment for PTSD, he returned back to climbing, now with the recognition that “no climber returns from a summit the same person as when they began their ascent.”

Although he has experienced more adversity than one person could ever be prepared for, the ineffable allure of reaching a summit has been enough to steer him away from resuming the normal nine-to-five work week.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Filippi has had to put off another Everest climb, but has been busy hosting virtual conferences and motivational talks. He hopes that the anecdotes and lessons he shares can inspire others to address their own challenges, especially those struggling with the conditions brought on by COVID-19.

“I see this situation like any obstacle that comes my way: let’s adapt,” he said. 

In terms of loss, Filippi knows he has no control over what the future holds, only how he can react to the circumstances that await him.

“On expeditions I have to let go of things I do not have control of. This will help me relax, be more confident and not make stupid mistakes under stress I shouldn’t have,” he explained.

As explored in both his book and through his motivational talks, Filippi has managed to reframe his position on fear and translate challenging moments into opportunities for resilience.

“I can’t say [my] expeditions are difficult. I prefer to say challenging,” he said. “For example, spending four nights in an ice cave at 17,000 feet on Denali with only two days of food and no tent wasn’t difficult, but instead challenging.”

Filippi has realized that in the face of dread, the best — and undoubtedly most difficult — thing a person can do is to confront the fears that plague them.

“On Everest we have to cross crevasses with ladders,” he explained. “The fear is present when you show up in front of the ladder, but to conquer that fear you need to take that first step.” 

He’s noticed that people tend to remain in their comfort zone because they’re so familiar with the security, without realizing how harmful a life of predictability can be.

“My comfort zone is my enemy,” Filippi said. “I don’t want to stay there too long because nothing happens.”

To learn more about Filippi and his adventures, visit his website or pick up a copy of his book The Escapist.

 

Photo by Gabriel Filippi.

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