Jim Davidson: Friendship and Survival on Mt. Rainier
"Instead of remembering that day with sadness, I honour the good, the fun, the joy. I honour what Mike stood for - to live life to its fullest and enjoying nature and the ability to move through it." (Jim Davidson)
Mt. Rainier is the most prominent mountain in the United States, dominating everything around it. At 14,410 ft, Mt. Rainier has long been one of the most sought after summits in the lower 48 states. Every year, it attracts approx two million visitors along its base, and some 10,000 climbers who dare to climb it.
Experiencing Mt. Rainier up close and personal can be a daunting experience. I recall on one ascent via the Fuhrer Finger, as my partner and I worked our way up the face, a major avalanche came loose – the slide was so massive and close to us it literally sounded like a bomb exploded right next to us. We looked at each other, ghost white, partly because the avalanche was so close, partly because not long before we had actually deliberated climbing the route where the avalanche came down. How fast and fragile our lives can be! If there’s one thing I learned that day, it’s that no matter how prepared we think we are, it’s often the seemingly trivial decisions and a bit of timing that can drastically alter the course of our lives. So when I met Jim Davidson at the Banff Mountain Film Festival, and learned of his life changing story on Mt Rainier, it hit especially close to home.
What follows is a brief summary of Jim’s story, which he shares in his new book, The Ledge (published summer 2011) and a short interview of how climbing has changed his life. Thank you Jim for sharing your inspiring story, and of course for pursuing your ongoing and relentless quest to climb for change!
June 21, 1992, Jim Davidson and Mike Price, two friends and experienced climbing partners, summited Mount Rainier by the difficult Liberty Ridge route. As they descended the Emmons Glacier, without warning, a snowbridge collapsed beneath Jim’s feet and dropped him into a huge, hidden glacial crevasse.
As Jim plummeted, Mike tried to stop him but couldn’t. The two friends dropped 80 feet into the glacier and were buried by falling snow. Mike did not survive.
Buried in snow and trapped in the crevasse, Jim was alone. Devastated at the loss of his friend, Jim was surrounded by ice and fear. Jim had to climb the frozen, overhanging walls of the crevasse, or die trying.
CFC: What role did mountains/climbing play in your life, particularly in your youth and as you were finding your direction?
JD: Climbing taught me that if I were willing to learn, sweat, and make sacrifices, I would get rewarded with great experiences. This is important life knowledge for a young person, and over time it transferred to and benefitted my personal life, school, and career. The mountains themselves opened my eyes to world travel, language and culture.
CFC: What has climbing done for you and who has it helped you become? How has it helped you determine what is important to you in life?
JD: Climbing is a crucible that refines you into a better version of yourself. It has made me more fit and disciplined. Climbing has taught me to be fully engaged with whatever I am doing. The moving meditation of mountain travel calms my soul and my nerves. The wonderful beauty of the alpine environment urged me to protect the natural world, and contributed to me spending 20 years as an environmental geologist cleaning up contaminated soil and water.
CFC: Tell us about your passion for speaking and leading expeditions? Why are you doing it? What’s your purpose?
JD: As an environmental geologist, I spoke at hundreds of scientific conferences. One day, I gave a different talk, one that shared some stories and lessons I learned from my adventures. The powerful response from the audience revealed to me that people wanted to hear what 29 years of climbing could teach them about facing their own challenges. The wild stories, vivid photos and compelling videos from remote mountain tops are a great framework for sharing that wisdom. My expedition leadership for young climbers, my inspirational adventure presentations, and my writing all serve the same purpose: distil lessons about how people can rally their resilience to reach the summits in their personal lives and careers.
CFC: Your tragic story on Mt. Rainier was featured on “I shouldn’t be alive” on June 9 and in July, you will be publishing a book on what happened on Mt. Rainier. How has this experienced impacted your life? Are there any insights, and/or lessons learned that you would like to share with our community?
JD: When I barely survived a big fall into a glacial crevasse on Mount Rainier, and lost my good friend and partner, Mike Price, it profoundly affected my life. Initially I felt survivor guilt and wondered why I was still alive. In time, I determined that sharing what happened might inspire other people to not give up when things get tough for them. That drove me to tell the story and the lessons in the "Killer Crevasse" episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive, and through our new book, The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier (by Jim Davidson & Kevin Vaughan, published July 26, 2011 by Ballantine Books/Random House). In the book, we reveal how pulling perseverance from your past, and striving forcefully toward a hopeful vision of the future gives people the resilience to endure seemingly impossible situations.
CFC: Why do you believe in the importance of mountains and nature? If you could send a message to the rest of the world about the importance of getting out (esp youth), what would it be?
JD: Natural places, be they mountains or desert, ice caps or wetlands, provide critically needed habitat for the health of many species, including humans. They are low-cost filters for the air, water and food we need to survive. They also serve as inspirational places of refuge for the human soul. People often need to experience something before they value it, or can commit themselves to protect it. Thus, it is imperative that for the long-term health and existence of future generations, that we expose our youth to the natural world, and teach them to preserve it.