Jim Davidson knows what it’s like to shelter in place after a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe. His introduction to this type of resilience did not come through the Covid-19 pandemic, but six years earlier, on Mount Everest.
Davidson, a veteran mountaineer, was making his first attempt to reach the top of the world’s highest peak in 2015. On the morning of April 25, he and his team were at 19,700 feet on the site of Camp One, a strait glacier located between two very high ledges. Then they heard a louder and louder roar coming from the west shoulder of Everest, several hundred meters away. Then came a second crash, from the opposite direction.
“Two major avalanches at the same time, that was not good,” Davidson tells The Guardian in a telephone interview. “[The second rumble] got stronger and stronger too. We wanted to get out of there. “
Davidson knew the situation was dire when his tent began to float eight inches off the ground. “It came back down and then it came back up,” he recalls. “I knew it was an earthquake. We would be in extremely serious trouble at some point. “
After five minutes, the initial tremors stopped and Davidson and the other 180 climbers camping on the glacier found that they were all unharmed. However, they learned at base camp that others on Everest needed urgent medical attention. As for Davidson and the others at Camp One, the tremors had blocked their only escape route.
The next morning, a snowstorm occurred that temporarily ruled out helicopter evacuation. They had enough food, but fuel was running out, making it impossible to melt snow into water, a necessity against dehydration at high altitudes. Davidson, a trained geologist, also feared the effects of life-threatening aftershocks.
“We were in the crosshairs,” he says. “We couldn’t go anywhere.” All they could do was “accept the uncertainty, stay calm, take care of us.”
Davidson pays tribute to Nepalese Sherpas who “tried to be reassuring.”
“They, like all of us, were surprised by the earthquake,” he says. “They were not expecting this scale.”
Only after Davidson was finally evacuated by helicopter, 40 hours after the earthquake, did he begin to understand what had happened. It was the deadliest day in Everest history: 18 killed that night, and 19 killed later. In Nepal overall, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake was the worst in more than 80 years, killing about 9,000 people. Davidson revisits the tragedy in his new book, The next Everest, before the sexennium of the tragedy.
Marked by the experience of his first climb, Davidson struggled with the decision to return to the mountain.
“Mentally, I knew how serious it was to climb Everest, having survived [the first attempt]”Davidson says.
He notes, “He had been through a tragedy before,” referring to a devastating loss at Mount Rainier in 1992 when he and his climbing partner Mike Price fell into a crevasse in a glacier. The accident killed Price and seriously injured Davidson, as recounted in Davidson’s first book. The ledge.
In the months after his first attempt at Everest, he doubted he would try again. “I definitely had to arm myself a bit to get back in the arena,” says Davidson. However, he adds, “difficult challenges make you more resilient.”
He had the support of his wife Gloria and their two children. He also recalled the lessons he had learned as a teenager working for his father’s painting company in Massachusetts, where the future mountaineer climbed ladders to paint church steeples and electrical towers.
“I was inspired by what my father told me about big goals; do it with everything you have, “says Davidson.
Davidson was gradually encouraged by the idea of another opportunity on Everest. She felt a bond with Nepal and its people after raising funds for the earthquake recovery from her home in Colorado. Meanwhile, the 2016 climbing season on Everest continued. After that season, he thought, “maybe I should come back.”
He prepared by “stacking up” training days so that a tough day was followed by an even tougher one. He mixed trail running with weight lifting and box jumping while improving his diet, all with a view to avoiding Everest’s deadly ice falls and reaching its summit.
“Everything I had done was improved,” he says.
In the spring of 2017, at age 54, “I was in the best shape of my life,” he recalls, “the most mentally prepared for a serious climb. I felt like I was ready to go. “
As climbers gradually climbed the mountain, they discovered that debris from the 2015 earthquake still remained. Near the top, Davidson had to pass the corpses of fallen climbers. In another tragedy, renowned Swiss climber Ueli Steck died on a nearby peak at the same time Davidson was attempting to reach Everest.
Davidson was able to see his dream atop Everest after two months on the mountain. “I am very grateful to have been able to go this far,” he says. “I am very lucky to survive the kind of disaster I experienced on Everest … For me, it is a very humbling experience.” And, he says, “it is majestic to see the view with the sun rising over the plains of Tibet … sunrise on some of the highest, [most] majestic peaks of the world. “
Davidson encourages his readers to pursue big goals for themselves: their own “next Everest,” to quote the title of the book.
“I think the important thing is to choose a goal within your passion,” he says. “For me, they are mountains. Everyone can choose a goal that resonates with them. I think the key is [it being] big enough to scare you. “
As he explains, “If you are a casual runner who has done a 5K run, a four mile run is not going to scare you. You will not do more. You may never have run a 10-mile race or marathon. It will probably make you quite nervous: “I have to do more, become more, than I have ever done before.” If you don’t do more, you become more, you won’t grow. “
What’s Davidson’s own next challenge now that the world’s highest peak is off his schedule? He said that when the pandemic is over, he will look to tackle high peaks again, “probably Mexico and California with my regular climbing partner.”
“There is always a ‘next Everest’,” he says.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism