Makivik to fund Everest trek
Nunavimmiut invited to compete for spot on expedition team
For thousands of years, Inuit have survived the starkest of environments. In the North, winter cold freezes bare skin in seconds. Arctic winds can reduce visibility to the hand in front of your face.
So climbing the world’s tallest mountain may not have been so much a question of how but when.
Makivik Corp. is betting on 2005.
This summer, Nunavik’s Inuit birthright organization began a search for an Inuit beneficiary to join a University of Ottawa research team and make a historic trek to Mt. Everest’s base camp in 2005.
The base camp is 18,000 ft above sea level.
If the participant successfully climbs to the mountain’s base camp, he or she will then have a chance to return to the Himalayas and try for the summit. The feat would make the person the first Inuk to do so.
But Sammy Kudluk, the associate editor of Makivik Magazine who is publicizing the challenge, said Makivik’s involvement is more than a chance to garner international attention for Nunavik. It is an opportunity to inspire Nunavimmiut.
“Anything to do with Mount Everest is always interesting. It will be a challenge for an Inuk to do that. Also, it’s a role model for young people and Inuit. It would be something for Inuit to gain recognition to say they’ve gone there. It does motivate people even if they themselves are not going to go there,” he said.
The idea to have an Inuk participate in the expedition was the brainchild of Sean Egan, a professor of sports psychology at the Ontario university.
Egan has already been on two expeditions to Everest base camp and plans to climb the mountain summit when he returns in 2005.
He has also spent the past 12 years teaching part-time with Nunavut Arctic College and worked with aboriginal communities in the James Bay area of Quebec.
The idea to open up the expedition to aboriginal communities was a natural blending of his interests.
“I’ve spent years up North involved with the teacher-training program, and there are numerous health and social problems, like suicide, that I became aware of,” Egan said. “Everest is not only a mountain, it’s a demonstration of leadership, courage and good living…. We need young leaders.”
Egan approached several Inuit and southern aboriginal organizations in May asking if they would be interested in sponsoring an individual on the trek.
So far, Egan has received applications from 18 interested participants across Canada. Makivik is the only Inuit group to agree to pay the participant’s $10,000 fee.
But though Makivik may give the participant a free ride, it’s not going to be an easy one.
There are many challenges both mental and physical to scaling the mountain, Egan said, including the ability to adjust to extreme altitude.
“Generally speaking, few natives make it up to high altitudes easily,” he said. “The altitude does strange things to your body…. Normally, some people fly into 9,000 feet [to begin their trek] but to be safe we will start from the bottom.”
Everest is 8,850 metres high. By comparison, the highest mountain in Quebec, Mount D’Iberville in the Torngat Mountain range, is only 1,646 metres high.
Any Nunavimmiut applying for a chance to scale the mountain must first prove to Makivik and Egan that he or she is a healthy candidate.
They must submit a letter of intention to Makivik with three personal references and a doctor’s certificate of physical and mental health.
Applicants will preferably be non-smokers and be free of heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, diabetes, serious arthritis, mental health problems, and even dental cavities.
After Makivik has approved a list of possible candidates, each will embark on a one-year training plan to prepare for the trek.
Then after all applicants complete the year’s training they must compete in a marathon to win the one spot Makivik is sponsoring on Egan’s team.
They will have to walk 42 kilometres, with men carrying 50 pounds and women carrying 30 pounds on their backs.
Egan said the person who finishes the marathon in the best time will be Everest-bound.
In the meantime, Kudluk said he has received so far three serious inquiries so far. But there is still plenty of time for interested Nunavimmiut to apply before the Dec. 1 application deadline.
Kudluk has also been busy drumming up interest, speaking on CBC’s Kuujjuaq and Iqaluit radio stations.
However, he has ruled out competing as a participant himself.
“Well, I’m in my 40s,” he said. “My attitude’s more why go over the mountain when you can go around it.”