Out in the Open

A man who escaped death: How mountain climber Gabriel Filippi deals with loss

Mountain climber Gabriel Filippi has seen more deaths than most climbers. Why does he keep putting himself in emotional harm's way?
Gabriel Filippi is the only Canadian to have climbed both faces of Mount Everest. But it came at a high cost. (Twitter/gabrieleverest)

When climber Gabriel Filippi set a goal to conquer all seven summits of the world, he expected to face a few dangerous situations.

But he wasn't prepared for the deaths he would be witnessing around him.

The first time happened only six months into Gabriel's climbing career, during his first high-altitude climb.

"We heard people screaming and I looked up and saw someone just falling down… he passed next to us," Gabriel told CBC's Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Gabriel didn't know the climber and he said that at that point, he didn't fully realize the impact other people's deaths would have on him.

This would be tested much later in Gabriel's life: in the span of the same year, friends in his climbing group in Pakistan were killed by Taliban fighters, and a derailed train killed over 40 people in his hometown of Lac-Mégantic.

Gabriel said it took a while to process the tragedy happening around him. The experience has caused him to seek treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

"That's something that people will have to remember is that when you're kind of lost, when you're dealing with something bigger than nature, you need to find some help."

Beyond grieving, Gabriel said that the tragedy has helped him put his own life in perspective.

"When I see my friends… dying, it tells me to stay on track, keep living your life to the fullest and just appreciate every moment in your life. Not every day, not every hour, not every minute, but every second of it."

Gabriel Filippi shares his story in his memoir, The Escapist. It will be out this fall.