* Barely nine days into the climb, an avalanche triggered by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake cut his dream short and forced him to be evacuated by helicopter after two unsettling days on the mountain
* In spite of the harrowing experience of living through tragedy as he sees many climbers meet their fate on the mountain, he earnestly explains his reasons to return
* During his final push to the summit, Davidson encounters the body of Gautam Ghosh, who like him, had abandoned his first Everest attempt due to the same avalanche Davidson was hit by, but who met his fate when he tried again
When George Mallory, the famous mountaineer was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest for the third time after two failed attempts, he replied, ‘Because it’s there!’. While these famous three words may or may not have inspired mountaineers to climb the highest mountain in the world, many have found their own reasons to attempt it.
Jim Davidson is one such high-altitude climber. As a geologist with a good understanding of the Earth and environment, he has climbed many peaks over a period of 35 years. But it’s his quest to conquer the Everest, the biggest prize of them all, that led him up the peak in 2015, only to abandon the effort. Barely nine days into the climb, an avalanche triggered by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake cut his dream short and forced him to be evacuated by helicopter after two unsettling days on the mountain.
The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain’s Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again is the story of his survival and return to climb the Everest two years after that deathly day. Davidson provides an honest and well-written personal account of surviving the high-altitude avalanche, battling the anguish of being evacuated mid-way through his effort, finding the reasons and resilience to climb again, and finally, living to tell the tale.
The aftershock from the avalanche that buried his route to the top left him with thoughts of death, as he recorded on his camera the time spent waiting to be rescued. Strapped inside his sleeping bag with nowhere to go and nothing to do but wait, he described the enormous effort required just to stay alive on the mountain. The Everest, Davidson writes, is more dangerous than it looks with the daily snowfall altering the shape of the icy glaciers and camouflaging the deep crevasses, making every step uncertain.
In spite of the harrowing experience of living through tragedy as he saw many climbers meet their fate on the mountain, he earnestly explains his reasons to return in the book. He derived his motivations from his long fight to overcome personal loss, the death of his close friend and climbing partner, Mike, during an earlier climb up Mount Rainier, which has had a deep impact on him. He finally chose to return to that mountain in the belief that it will give him some sort of closure and because Mike would have wanted him to climb again. In an interesting analysis drawn from his experiences, Davidson details the impact a summit attempt can have on climbers, and how their successful, unsuccessful and tragic results can influence their post-return behaviour.
Davidson dwells in detail on the waxing and waning energies due to the altitude, exhaustion and emotions that he felt while climbing. Techniques of adjusting the body to the intense cold and heat on the mountain are captured vividly and the readers live those moments with him. The mountaineering skills needed for such a task are described well, interspersed with lessons on climbing tall ladders learnt from the time he spent with his father painting church spires. His family is mentioned at various points in the book as they show concern on how he’s doing and stand by him in his pursuit of his dream.
The chapters on his final attempt are rich in detail and provide the thrill of climbing with him. We learn how climbers need to commit climbing routines into muscle memory so bodies can perform tough tasks correctly on auto pilot, and how downtime and resting periods help grow red blood cells to carry more oxygen. We breathe with him as he describes the acclimatisation routine followed by climbing high and sleeping low to manage the sparse oxygen in the air closer to the summit. Davidson wonderfully describes his long-standing buddy partnership with PK, his Sherpa companion, who refers to the Everest as Chomolungma , the Goddess Mother of the World, as they help climbers navigate the treacherous terrain. We admire the incredible passion of the rescue teams who operate helicopters in rough weather to evacuate stranded climbers. The description of the death zone above 25,000 feet where the oxygen-starved brain struggles to protect the body from exertion fills the reader with fear. As the last mile rises 7,700 vertical feet into an icy peak, we travel with Davidson and feel the incredible effort and resilience needed to reach the summit.
At places however, the book lacks emotional depth. He dispassionately describes how a glacial snow bridge collapsed during his descent from Mount Rainier and how he dropped hundreds of feet into an enormous crevasse. There’s no expression of any emotion, no feelings that accompany such a fall. After the avalanche on the Everest, when Davidson learns from the news that the earthquake that triggered it claimed 8,500 lives, he doesn’t capture his reactions in the book, so we don’t feel the magnitude of the shock of what he and the survivors may have gone through.
Davidson makes a tragic Indian reference in the story. During his final push to the summit, Davidson encounters the body of Gautam Ghosh, who like him, had abandoned his first Everest attempt due to the same avalanche Davidson was hit by, but who met his fate when he tried again.
Unlike Mallory, Davidson doesn’t have a ‘Because it’s there’ reason to climb the Everest. Instead, he dreamt of climbing the tallest mountain in the world in the passionate quest for inspiration and for ‘awe’. As we turn the last page of the book, we know Davidson has found both.
The title of the book is derived from a question Davidson is frequently asked as he lectures around ‘What after Everest?’ He says the Everest in everyone’s life is like a metaphorical mountain depicting any unsurmountable challenge. You just have to find the grit and resilience to conquer it.
Whether you are an adventure climber or not, read the book to understand why you need an impossible dream and find the inspiration to do what it takes to get there.
Naveen Chandra runs a movie studio that produces regional language feature films