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Surviving Everest's deadliest day: A conversation with Jim Davidson

Jim in Camp 1 tent night of April 25 2015.JPG
Jim Davidson
While trapped at 19,800 feet on Mount Everest after the earthquakes and avalanches, Colorado climber Jim Davidson holds photos of his loved ones aloft.

April 25, 2015 was one of Mount Everest’s deadliest days. A 7.8-magnitude earthquake left 19 people dead at Everest’s base and nearly 9,000 people dead across Nepal. It was the worst earthquake in the country’s history in 80 years. Fort Collins author and climber Jim Davidson was on Everest that day. His book, The Next Everest is a finalist in this year’s Colorado Book Awards.

KUNC’s Samantha Coetzee spoke with Davidson about his book and moving forward after tragedies.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Samantha Coetzee: You detail a lot of your experience on Everest in the book. Your feelings, your dealings with the media, your background as a geologist analyzing the quake. Can you talk about how and why you decided to start writing The Next Everest?

Jim Davidson: Well, it was really twofold. Number one, of course, I was on Mount Everest when the earthquake hit. It was the biggest quake in 81 years and it became the deadliest day ever on Mount Everest. So I wanted to share that experience, especially because I was a geologist and I tried to study what happened there as far as not only the earthquake, but, of course, the avalanches that were so deadly. And I also wanted to share what I felt was the real experience of being on Everest, both during a quake when I was there in 2015 and when I went back in 2017 to try and climbing again, because there's a lot of overstated things in the media that the mountains covered in trash and that it's easy. And so I wanted to share my experience of being on the mountain, both the difficult moments and the really glorious moments of being in such a pretty place.

Jim Davidson
Mount Everest (29,035 feet) soars above base camp in Nepal.

In the book you mention The Ledge a few times, which details your experience on Mount Rainier where your partner, Mike Price, tragically lost his life. How did you pull from the resilience of that experience when you were on Everest during the quake? 

I think that enduring tough situations makes us more resilient for the next tough situation or the next big opportunity ahead. And that's why in the second book, The Next Everest, I referred to what happened in the first book that I wrote. My partner Mike and I, both from Fort Collins, were climbing on Mount Rainier and a giant snow bridge collapsed and dropped us 80 feet inside a glacial crevasse. I barely survived, and sadly, my good friend and partner Mike, did not. And I share that experience in The Ledge. I think what it taught me is to try to be a better partner. It taught me to try and think through difficult situations and to have some hope. Even during the darkest times, whether it's during an Everest earthquake, being in a crevasse on Mount Rainier or suffering a pandemic.

And that's always been a driver, both in my writing and in my work as a public speaker, is to try and share those difficult stories and distill out those lessons that can teach us to be more resilient and try to get through these tough times and know that even the tough times will make us a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser for the next set of challenges ahead.

Climbing Everest in the best of conditions is no easy feat. You returned in 2017 and ended up successfully summiting after the devastation in 2015. Briefly, could you talk about how you made the decision to go back?

I was reluctant after going through the scary and traumatic experience of being on Mount Everest and trying to help the Nepali people after the Everest earthquake in 2015. I wasn't sure I wanted to go back personally or take that risk because I'm a family man. I didn't know if I wanted to put my family through that again. But also, as a geologist, I knew there would be more earthquakes. That's why the Himalayas are there. So I was reluctant at first, but once things had settled in Nepal, they started rebuilding. They had a good season in 2016, and it kind of proved that the Nepali people not only could handle climbers and trekkers and tourists again, they wanted us to come back because they really need the business over there. But I also knew that to back away from the challenge of going back, that would probably not sit with me in the long run. I found that taking on difficult things refined you into a better version of you. So I thought that going back to Everest, even though it was scary, would probably have something to teach me and hopefully make me into a better version of myself. And so that's why I decided to go back. And that's what I shared in The Next Everest.

Jim Davidson Colorado Book Award photo 2022.jpg
Jim Davidson
Fort Collins author and speaker Jim Davidson with a copy of his nominated book, The Next Everest – Surviving the Mountain’s Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again.

The book is a finalist in this year’s Colorado Book Awards. Why do you think The Next Everest resonates with so many people, whether they’re climbers and mountaineers or not? 

I think it resonates with people because certainly, you know, trying to climb Everest and climbing during a quake are very big and dramatic things. But we've all got big challenges in our lives, whether it's the pandemic or personal problems. And really, what I try to share in the book is not just what happened on the mountain and how my teammates and I climbed the mountain in a subsequent year, but more so: How do you face that challenge when you're wracked with uncertainty and doubt and anxiety? How do you face a big challenge, get through it and most importantly, find a way to grow from it afterwards? It’s what psychiatrists call post-traumatic growth, which literally means growing from the trauma, because we're all going to face some kind of big challenge in our life. And I think that's part of our task as humans is to lift each other up through the traumatic times and try to grow from it afterwards. And I think that's what's really connecting with people in The Next Everest.

As the host of Morning Edition at KUNC, I have the privilege of delivering you the news in two ways — from behind the mic and behind the scenes. In addition to hosting Morning Edition, I’ll report on pressing news of the day and arts and culture on the Front Range.