Interview with Author Jim Davidson
By Kimberlee Frederick
When Jim Davidson emerged from an 80-foot glacial crevasse in 1992, it was not with the expectation that his harrowing experience would inspire him to write his gripping, recently released book, “The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier.”
But inspire it did, and the result is an emotional, intricate and ultimately uplifting story about the resilience of the human spirit.
Released on July 26 and co-authored by “Denver Post” journalist Kevin Vaughan, “The Ledge” (Ballantine Books/Random House, 2011) details the perilous journey to the summit of Mount Rainier (southeast of Seattle, Wash.) made by Davidson and his climbing partner, Mike Price in July 1992. Beginning the descent after reaching the summit of Rainier, Davidson and Price fell 80 feet into an unseen crevasse. Price attempted to halt the fall but was unable to, and the partners fell and were buried by snow. Having taken the full force of the 80-foot drop, Price did not survive.
What proceeded for Davidson was a treacherous fight to complete a climb beyond the experience of some of the most seasoned climbers in the world, weighed down by grief over the loss of his friend and hindered by inadequate tools.
Although Davidson’s specific experience is not one most people can directly relate to, the emotional barriers he fought through and described in “The Ledge” have struck a chord with a variety of audiences.
“It certainly is an invigorating survival tale,” Davidson said of his book, “but the real lessons are not about climbing. It’s more about
realizing how resilient humans are. People can surpass what seem like insurmountable obstacles.”
With such a universal theme, “The Ledge” has been lauded as book that transcends the traditional climbing story elements and reaches a large scope of readers.
Davidson said, “We wanted to make it very accessible. We didn’t want it to be a book written just for climbers, per se. It’s for all people who can learn a lesson from their adventures.”
Since July, Davidson and Vaughan have been travelling and doing extensive interviews and readings of the book to publicize it, from Washington and Colorado to Utah and Oregon.
“It’s been a very exciting but extremely tiring ride,” said Davidson. And in terms of response to “The Ledge,” their travels have also been rewarding.
“We’ve been hearing back from folks after they’ve read it, which is the most exciting part,” Davidson said. “It’s been really uplifting, and such a great tribute to Mike Price.” And praise hasn’t just come from the general public; a variety of media have praised the book, and NPR put it on their list of “Summer’s Biggest, Juiciest Nonfiction Adventures.”
“NPR is highly revered, so that was exciting. It was very affirming,” said Davidson.
Though immersed in an ongoing schedule of publicity for “The Ledge,” the emotional aspects of sharing a deeply personal story have not gone unnoticed for Davidson.
“I was a bit nervous about releasing the book,” he said. “It’s a very personal story, so there was a bit of anxiety about what people would think. But we were really excited to roll it out and were happy with the response, which was very positive.”
The process of getting his story out to the public was an arduous one in many ways.
“In hindsight, several things needed to happen before I was ready to come forward publicly,” said Davidson.
This included coming to terms with the trauma on Mount Rainier, the loss of Price and reestablishing his relationship with climbing.
“Over the course of many years, I started to hike and climb again. In 1998 I was chosen to co-lead an expedition to Nepal. That was going to require a pretty serious commitment back to the climbing world,” Davidson said.
From there, he started teaching young people to climb, and his involvement with the climbing world branched out again.
A long-time public keynote speaker, Davidson began using his climbing stories to reach his audiences as he spoke about learning resilience through struggles in life.
“Going through these experiences is about learning to find a meaningful life afterwards,” Davidson said.
And that’s what he still works to convey when speaking to audiences of all types. For him, waiting until this year to share his story through a book had its value. “These are lessons that I couldn’t have seen a year or so after the accident,” said Davidson.
By 2005, Davidson was speaking full time as a professional motivational keynote speaker, using his experience with climbing—which came to include working on rescues, going on expeditions and scaling some of the largest mountains in the world—to further impact people.
“I was driven to share the stories of my 29 years of climbing, he said. “Climbing is a crucible for human interactions. I made a conscious decision to share the lessons I had learned with as many people as possible.”
The transition from being an environmental geologist to a professional speaker was a big one for Davidson at the time, but the payoff has been significant; signs of Davidson’s impact on his audiences come consistently.
“It doesn’t come in a singular moment. It comes repeatedly, in unpredictable frequencies. I’d give a presentation, and someone would say ‘That’s exactly what I needed to hear today.’ The feedback is proof to me that I’m doing what I need to be doing,” said Davidson.
Working with Vaughan to get “The Ledge” published was the next natural step for Davidson in getting his story told. Vaughan, who
had written about Davidson previously in “The Rocky Mountain News,” provided Davidson the push necessary to get the book out.
“I had written some chapters beforehand, but had a hard time finding time to work on it. I would make progress, then it would go back on the shelf for a time. I wasn’t making it a big enough priority,” he said. The solution was working with an experienced journalist who helped Davidson to create a compelling narrative.
Vaughan’s articles about Davidson’s Mount Rainier accident also piqued the interest of the Animal Planet show “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” who interviewed Davidson for the episode “Killer Crevasse,” which aired Jan. 19 this year and continues to play in reruns.
Doing the interview for the show was unexpectedly difficult for Davidson.
“I had spoken about [the accident] publicly before, so I thought it would be straightforward. I was in a dark room with very bright lights, and the interview went on for about nine hours. It was a very tough experience, but that’s what brings out the story,” he said.
Currently, Davidson is touring for “The Ledge” and continues to speak professionally. He has plans to write more in the future, “looking at lessons and pulling out human stories to share,” he said.
Still an active climber, Davidson is also an ambassador for LOWA, whose climbing boots he wore while stuck in the crevasse. In 2005, he wrote to them explaining how their exemplary gear kept him alive. Since then, he’s remained in communication with them and actively promoted their boots.
“I’m a fan of top-quality gear, especially when someone’s life is on the line,” said Davidson.
Davidson’s message is one that continues to reach the myriad groups he speaks to, from universities to corporations and a wide variety of associations, and is one that equally accessible to all:
“In this fast moving world, you’re short on time, resources and people, but you still have to find a way to get it done, which is directly parallel to alpine climbing. There are always unexpected difficulties and setbacks. You have to find a way to get through them and do what needs to be done.”
“The Ledge” is available in stores and online. Visit Davidson’s website at www.speakingofadventure.com for information about his speaking engagements, book tour dates, a special look at the prologue and much more.