Colorado Author Talks Training, Tragedy, Resilience, and Mount Everest

“I lunged toward the tent door and reached for the zipper, but I missed when our tent jumped violently. We, the tent, and the thousand-foot-thick glacier underneath us all lifted half a foot in the air…Then I got it. Earthquake!”

Anyone who’s been through an earthquake understands that feeling of uncertainty, then the knowing, then the fear. Imagine those feelings when you’re in a tent at 6,065 meters (19,900 feet) on the world’s highest mountain. That’s the story detailed in “The Next Everest” by Colorado author and speaker Jim Davidson, who was at Camp 1 on Mount Everest during the April 25, 2015, earthquake that took the lives of nearly 9,000 people in Nepal, including 22 climbers who perished in an avalanche on the mountain’s deadliest day.

I first met Jim in 2018 at the Pikes Peak Library District’s Mountain of Authors, an annual event where local authors and readers mingle to discuss new publications. I was showcasing my books alongside those of the few other nonfiction authors in attendance, including Jim and his first book, “The Ledge,” a New York Times bestseller. In that book, co-authored with Kevin Vaughan, Jim tells the story of another tragedy: how he barely survived a climbing accident on Mount Rainier that took the life of his climbing partner and best friend, Mike Price.

At Mountain of Authors, Jim and I hit it off immediately over our love for all things mountaineering. Since then, I’ve followed his adventures in the news and on social media and have had the pleasure to meet with him again at events such as the annual trade show Outdoor Retailer. I won’t spoil the book for you, but I will recommend it. Jim wrote this book in a style that makes it accessible to everyone, no matter how much or how little you know about high-altitude mountaineering. It’s intense, it’s human, and it’s much more than an adventure tale.

Jim Davidson at Camp Three (23,700 feet) on Mount Everest during his summit push in May 2017.

When I spoke with Jim recently, I asked him how he got started mountaineering. He told me, “In 1981 I went on a ten-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and that opened my eyes to wilderness travel. I soon took a rock-climbing class and did my first winter mountaineering trip on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Those early experiences filled me with awe, so I soon dropped all my other hobbies, and have focused on high, snowy mountains ever since.”

For training, Jim believes that multiple formats – including formal education, reading, practice, and mentors – are “all necessary to develop the broad skill set needed to be a safe and successful mountaineer.” He added, “I’ve taken many technical training classes during my 39 years of mountaineering: rock climbing, ice climbing, first aid, avalanche awareness, vertical rescue, and a dozen others. I believe that every climbing and survival book contains key lessons that could someday save your life, or help you get out of a jam.”

 Jim said, “I have been fortunate to be mentored by some excellent veteran climbers, and they really helped me develop my ‘mountain sense,’ which has been invaluable to me and my team many times. As an older climber now, I try to pay it back by sharing what I know with younger climbers.” In fact, he noted that sharing hard-won survival lessons that might help somebody else were one of his motivations for becoming an adventure writer.

I prodded Jim for his big mountain training plan. “Long before I went to Everest,” he said, “I worked out a plan to eventually get myself ready for the world’s tallest mountain. I did a decade of alpine climbing to build my technical skills and base fitness. Then I climbed higher peaks (14,000 to 22,000 feet tall) for another decade to understand how I function at ever higher altitudes, and to develop the judgment that becomes so critical when the air is thin and it’s hard to think straight. Then, I climbed the sixth-highest peak in the world (Cho Oyu, 26,906 feet) to get some extreme altitude experience under my harness. With that foundation, I spent an intense year doing a mapped-out fitness plan that focused on extreme endurance, functional strength, and good nutrition. For the last two months, I built up to stacking long mountain days one after the other, without any rest days in between.”

Jim is grateful for the opportunity to train close to his Fort Collins home. “Colorado is a fantastic place to train for 8,000-meter peaks (those higher than 26,000 feet),” he said. “Multi-peak days, high traverses, and winter fourteeners are excellent expedition training for people who must balance their mountaineering with a job, school, and daily life.” At the same time, he cautions would-be big mountain climbers to take their time. “Don’t be in a rush to try Mount Everest,” he said. “There are so many difficulties and dangers up that high, that you need very broad and deep mountaineering experience before climbing into the Death Zone. Spend years crafting yourself into the fittest, smartest climber and teammate that you can become, and then ask yourself if you’re ready for Everest.”

In addition to Asia’s Mount Everest, Jim’s summited other continental highpoints – known as the Seven Summits – Aconcagua (South America) and Kilimanjaro (Africa), and attempted US highpoint Denali. He shared, “My teammates and I were two hours from the top of Denali in good weather but gave up our summit to help rescue a very ill solo climber. I think that difficult rescue taught me far more about being a resilient team member than standing on top of Denali would have.” That story is included in “The Next Everest.”

Jim talked about his future peak plans. “I intend to keep climbing until injury or old age force me to stop,” he said. “My friends and I try to do an expedition about every other year. We climbed in Peru in 2019, and once international travel is safe for everyone, including the host country, I hope to climb some high peaks in South America.” He’s going to keep writing too. “I’m busy doing presentations and interviews about my current book and it will soon publish in five international editions,” he said, “but I’ve already started outlining some ideas for a third mountaineering book. We shall see.”

You can pick up “The Next Everest” at any bookstore and online. To catch Jim on the road, at a book signing or presentation, check out his site “Speaking of Adventure.” And be sure to attend next spring’s Mountain of Authors. You just never know who you might meet, where they have been, or what they’ve survived.

Davidson’s “The Next Everest” details his 2015 Everest attempt, when a 7.8 earthquake derailed his summit bid but strengthened his resilience to return to the world’s highest mountain in 2017.

This blog first appeared as a column in the June 22, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.

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