In Rarefied Air | Nat Geo Traveller India

In Rarefied Air

Mountaineer and geologist Jim Davidson’s recent book explores the deadliest day on Everest and his life as a climber  
In Rarefied Air
Camp One, looking up the Western Cwm at Lhotse Face, where the 2015 earthquake first stranded Jim Davidson. Photo By: Jim Davidson

On April 25th, 2015, each snow boot-laden step Jim Davidson took, put him a few inches closer to his dream of summiting Everest—a goal his then 33 years of mountaineering experience had led up to since his first climb in 1982. The public speaker and geologist, in his early fifties, reached Camp One in good shape. He tucked himself inside a little yellow tent, resting on the western shoulder of Everest at 19,700 feet, and drifted off into well-deserved slumber. Then came trouble. Engulfed in a hellacious avalanche caused by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, his dream turned into a drawn-out nightmare. He was stranded in a remote region overwhelmed with death, destruction, and uncertainty.

Davidson’s autobiographical book, The Next Everest, revisits this tragedy that shook Nepal to its core. While looking back on the horror, the Colorado-based American also poignantly assesses his life as a climber, the aftermath of his trauma, and other enlightening journeys all over the world.

Can you take us through your origin story as a mountaineer?

As a child, I was not athletic and was terrible at team sports. I worked for my father’s painting company, painting high buildings, roofs, and electric towers. That taught me to work with a small team in a dangerous setting and got me in better physical shape.

It also gave me the mental fortitude required for dangerous jobs. When I was a teenager, I discovered backpacking through the wilderness, which, in turn, got me into rock climbing and later, ice climbing. By the time I was 20, I was dedicated to mountain climbing. Going to school in Massachusetts and the Rocky Mountains, I got very involved with climbing. I spent the next 15-16 years climbing peaks around the United States ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 metres, and getting on more difficult, technical terrain with both rocks and ice, and combining them into alpine climbing. But I always dreamed about the big peaks, and about going on expeditions. After those 15-16 years, I got on my first expedition and then I started hanging around with people who knew more about the greater ranges, to try and work my way up to the big peaks.

 

This feature appeared in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India November-December 2021.

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  • Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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