Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Everest's Deadliest Day: Earthquake, Avalanches. Author Jim Davidson Survived -- Summited!

June 22, 2021 Author/geologist/volunteer/high-altitude climber Jim Davidson exemplifies resilience -- reaching the top of the world's highest peak against all odds. Season 1 Episode 21
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Everest's Deadliest Day: Earthquake, Avalanches. Author Jim Davidson Survived -- Summited!
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Jim Davidson's story is hard to believe, but all too true. He survived mountain avalanches that took the life of his climbing partner and best friend. And later, while climbing Mt. Everest in Nepal, the highest mountain in the world, a severe earthquake hit.

--Many lost their lives, and Jim helped rescue many others.  He eventually returned to summit Everest.

-- Jim is the personification of resilience. He tells his story from the beginning, when as a child he used to climb on roofs! He is not only strong and brave, he's a really great guy. You'll love listening to his inspiring life, and learning about the thrills and realities of an adventurous life.
Jim Davidson is an accomplished high-altitude climber, motivational speaker, and  the author of The Next Everest, Surviving the Mountain's Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again. He is also co-author of the New York Times best-seller The Ledge. He has been commended by the U.S. National Park Service for volunteering on risky and remote mountain rescues.
Podcast host Lea Lane has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine travel books, including
Places I Remember, and contributed to dozens of guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter and  blogs at 
Please subscribe to Places I Remember with Lea Lane, and leave a quick review! New travel episodes every Tuesday, wherever you listen, or at

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Can you imagine climbing Mount Everest during an earthquake? Today's guest geologist Jim Davidson did just that. And two years later, he climbed Everest again to the summit. In his new book, The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain's Deadliest Day and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again, he provides a gripping account of a series of avalanches on Everest, April 25 2015, which fell that a powerful earthquake in Nepal. From his 36 years as a high altitude climber and expedition leader, Jim distills compelling stories and uplifting lessons about how to be resilient and reach high goals. This can help all of us learn how to recover from setbacks, adapt to change, and face uncertainty in travel situations. Welcome, Jim.


Jim Davidson  01:10

It's great to be with you, Leo. Thank you.


Lea Lane  01:12

Before we talk about Everest, let me ask a few background questions. What influenced you to become a mountain climber?


Jim Davidson  01:19

Well, I grew up in Massachusetts, so I wasn't all that sort of mountain oriented. But I started working for my dad's industrial painting business when I was about nine years old. And by time I was 12, I was climbing up on roofs with my dad. And by time I was 15, I could operate a crane before I could drive a car, literally. So I learned to work in a small team in a dangerous situation to get a task done. So I kind of grew up like that. And then when I discovered backpacking, and mountain climbing when I was 19, I realized I can take those same skills, but apply them in a much prettier setting of the mountains. And that was that, I fell in love with the mountains.


Lea Lane  01:53

Wow, that was not the story I expected. Fascinating. So where have you climbed around the world besides the Himalayas?


Jim Davidson  02:00

I've climbed all across the United States, probably 15 to 20 different states. And as far as countries go, I've been down to Bolivia and Ecuador, climbing volcanoes, Peru, Argentina, some great mountains in South America, a little bit of rock climbing in Australia, and then climbing both in Tibet and Nepal, in the Himalayas.


Lea Lane  02:20

Wow. Do you have any favorites among those?


Jim Davidson  02:23

Yeah, the there's always like little magical moments. There was a beautiful one on an unknown peak called Santo Zongo in Bolivia. And we climbed it, because I'm a geologist by training. And we were going to a different mountain. And we walked by, and I realized, this huge mountain on our left isn't on the map. And I checked several other maps and one of the maps had it 10 miles in the wrong location. And I realized that like nobody had climbed it. So it was a small peek, I believe was about 18,000 feet. A little nearby. But it was just an unknown thing. We just decided to just totally change our plans and climate and it was just a marvelous day. 


Lea Lane  03:00

Wow. And so now it's on the map? 


Jim Davidson  03:03

Well, yeah, I put a little submittal in to kind of correct where it is on  the wrong map.


Lea Lane  03:07

Well, what skills do you need? What would you say you really need to climb the highest mountains on earth?


Jim Davidson  03:13

Well, first of all, as you know, you have to be a good traveler, because you're going to have to do a lot of airports and trucks and llamas and donkeys and everything else. So being a wise and patient travelers a great foundation, then you start adding on the other skills, you know, being a good rock climber being a good camper, and there's a dozen different skills avalanches, and, and things like that you have to be able to understand all these because you're going to encounter them. And some people will jump into climbing and try and get to Mount Everest very quickly. I think it's much wiser to spend years, even decades acquiring all those skills. So when you're in a remote country with a lot of factors working against you, you can still take care of yourself and your teammates and function. 


Lea Lane  03:51

Well, I heard about a crevasse that you were in. Could you tell us a little about that?


Jim Davidson  03:55

Yeah, yeah, I've been a climber now for almost 39 years. And back in 1992. I've been climbing about 10 years. And my regular partner and I, my friend Mike Price,, we went up and climbed on Mount Rainier, up in the state of Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. And the climb went well, it was a difficult climb, but on the way down, things went very awry. We were descending a glacier, and there's so much snow piles up it makes temporary bridges called a snow bridge. And one of those snow bridges collapsed and dropped me and Mike into a hidden crevasse, and we fell 80 feet inside the glacier. And yeah, it was a tragic situation. I barely survived. And sadly my partner Mike did not survive. And I was trapped down inside that crevasse.


Lea Lane  04:36

And you kept going after that, as far as mountain climbing, getting back a little.


Jim Davidson  04:42

If I brought it back, it gave me pause. I lost my good friend. I barely survived the crevasse fall. So I took some time off and actually traveled with my wife and did some that was my first trip to the Himalayas as we went there to sort of honor my friend's passing and have a little ceremony for him at the base of Mount Everest, because Mike and I talked about going to Everest together So that's what got me to travel Asia for the first time. And eventually, I decided to go back to climbing. But of course, a little bit wiser, a little bit more careful, a little bit older as I went.


Lea Lane  05:09

Right. What do you think about the bucket list mountain climbers that are that are coming on crowding the mountains right now?


Jim Davidson  05:15

Well, I think it maybe starts from a good place, which is people want to travel, people want to experience things just like you and I have been fortunate to do. So I think it's great that they do that. But I think kind of what I talked about a moment ago, which is you jump on and you have this accelerated path, that you want to be climbing Everest in three years or five years, or I would say even 10 years is too soon. I would liken it to this, when you were 16 and a half, you probably got your driver's license, and you thought you were a good driver. But that didn't qualify you to compete in the Indy 500, you would be a danger to yourself and everybody else. So instead, it's a lot smarter to collect that one decade or in my case, three decades of experience. Before going to Everest, be patient, put yourself in some tough situations, work your way out of them. And you'll take that knowledge of the mountains in yourself onto the bigger peaks later.


Lea Lane  06:00

Wise. Now Mount Everest is in Nepal. Before we get to your amazing story about Mount Everest, can you share just a little bit about Nepal and about the capital of Katmandu.


Jim Davidson  06:12

It's a beautiful country, it's kind of sandwiched between India to the south and Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north. So it's a tiny little country. And they have the biggest mountains in the world and the Himalayas. And they also have these long, low flat planes called the terror planes that are very lush, and they have tigers and they have elephants down there. And rhinos. So it's a very diverse country. Sadly, it's a country without a lot of resources, you know, as far as trees and oil and gold, so they are a very economically strapped country. So what they do is smart, their their big business is tourism, to try and get all those tourists to come in and see this beautiful place. And it works for me because it's my favorite country. And I've been back there five times now.


Lea Lane  06:51

The people are, I'm sure are very lovely, in terms of what I've seen and read.


Jim Davidson  06:56

Yeah, they are there, their spirituality is very key to them. A lot of Hindu people download a lot of Buddhist people up high, among other religions, by our standards, they don't have much physical goods. But they're very, very generous. You know, they, they're always offering you a cup of tea, if you stop in, when you're when you're having a drink, especially if it has alcohol in it. If your cup falls a quarter inch below full mark, someone will race over and fill up your cup again, like the rest of the rest of the cup is not enough for you, you know. So yes, very generous people. And they really do get a spot in my heart and in the hearts of everybody else. I know that a bit over to Nepal.


Lea Lane  07:27

Are many of the younger people Sherpas, do they do they want to do that? Because that's what their living would be?


Jim Davidson  07:34

Well, they do it. I mean, when they're working in the tourism industry, of course, that's part of their job is to welcome a traveling guests like myself, but they also just the people you meet are not in the tourism. And so you might you might wander through their yard or wave to their kids, and there'll be offering you a cup of tea. So you know, they probably put an extra polish on it if they're in the tourism field. But it's just it comes innately from their heart because they're very giving people.


Lea Lane  07:54

That's lovely to hear that. Okay, so tell us about your first climb on Everest in 2015. And the incredible thing that happened while you were climbing.


Jim Davidson  08:04

Yeah, thanks, I went to 2015. I've been dreaming of climbing Mount Everest for almost four decades by then since I first started reading Evers books back in the 1970s. And a climber for 33 years. And it takes a long time to climb Everest. So it's a two month expedition. We climb a lot of lower peaks to get our bodies used to the thin thin air, because at 18,000 feet, there's half the amount of air that there is at sea level, so there's not much oxygen. But finally our time came after many weeks. And on April 25 of 2015. We moved from Basecamp 17,500 feet up to camp one and almost 20,000 feet. And we settled in our tents and took a little rest and at 11:56am Nepal Standard Time, the glacier started to move and Avalanche started pouring down as the biggest earthquake in 81 years slammed into Nepal.


Lea Lane  08:52

Unbelievable. And there you were on the mountain. What happened?


Jim Davidson  08:56

Yeah, we were in our tents. And we heard a one avalanche come down a 4000 foot vertical wall next to us. That really didn't give us much of a signal though, because that happens fairly often on Everest, and then we heard a second avalanche come down on the opposite wall 6000 vertical feet. And as we started to scramble out of the tent, because we didn't we knew we didn't want to be in the tent when the avalanches hit because the tent can help drag us further under the snow. As we started the race out of the tent, all of a sudden our tent shot up into the air about eight inches and dropped back down and then went back up again and back down. And that's when the waves of the earthquake were rippling through the Khumbu glacier. And being in the tent was like being on a life raft in the ocean going over ocean swells. And that's when I knew we were in the middle of a huge earthquake. And what happened, then we managed to survive those initial avalanches, partly due to luck because they ran out of speed before they hit us. And partly to do due because we listened to prior travelers, prior climbers and Sherpas over the decades it said don't camp too far over there and or too far over there. Right here in the middle is the safest spot. So we were in a favorable spot because we listened to you know, instead additional knowledge passed down by prior travelers and climbers. We managed to survive at my camp camp one. But sadly, there was an even bigger tragedy down in Basecamp. There they had a giant avalanche, except instead of being wind and snow like ours, their avalanche was rocks, lots and lots of rocks. And a wave or tsunami of rocks went right through the middle of Basecamp sadly wounded 70 people and killed 18 people that made it the deadliest day ever on Mount Everest.


Lea Lane  10:25

Oh, my goodness, how did you get off? 


Jim Davidson  10:29

Yeah, we were stuck for about two days, we wanted to get back down to base camp to try and help out the Everest community with the injuries and fatalities at Basecamp. But we were stuck at Camp one because a different avalanche had wiped out our rope and ladder system to go back down to Basecamp. So we were truly marooned temporarily at Camp one. We were stuck there for about two days, we had more aftershocks, we had more avalanches that didn't quite reach us. And after those two days of waiting, we flew down in helicopters. And we stepped in a base camp, we were so glad to be off the glacier. But immediately we're thrust into still the recovery from the from the fatalities the day before. So my teammates and I got involved in digging through rock at the one and only field hospital trying to recover medical equipment that had been overrun by rock and dirt, and then trying to help recover some of the bodies and fly them home to their family. So it was a very tragic situation on Everest, and an even more tragic situation from Nepal, where across the country, almost 8900 people lost their lives. 


Lea Lane  11:23

Oh my goodness. Yeah. Well, I know, I know. You went back to Everest two years later, did you hesitate about going back?


Jim Davidson  11:31

I hesitated a great deal about going back. Because it was a tragic circumstance for everyone. I was fortunate enough to be able to come home and be in a safe spot. But I still wanted to help Nepal. And so what I did for a couple months was I did a lot of public presentations and auctions. And we raised money for Nepal's recovery, and people would attend and bid on the items. We raised a lot of money and that people say what else can I do to support Nepal? And I said, Well, you know, they're a great country, really rely upon the tourism. Once they recover, and they get back on their feet, we need to let them know they haven't been forgotten. So we should go back there as tourists and trekkers and climbers, spend our dollars and our euros and support them and put them back to work. And after I said that many times I thought maybe I should be walking my talk and go back to but as a geologist, I looked at the situation to see if there were going to be more earthquakes. And in fact, the the way the plates tore means there will be more earthquakes and they will be bigger than the one that I managed to get through. So that gave me some hesitancy. But I watched carefully and in 2016, they had a good season. They did open up Nepal and the mountain and the climbers were safe and successful. So after all that I trained all over again and went back in 2017.


Lea Lane  12:38

And tell us what happened then.


Jim Davidson  12:40

Well it was you know, a little scary going back it was good to see the Katmandu had mostly rebuilt, they're still struggling now even, you know, a six years after the quake, they're still doing some repairs, but they're mostly back on their feet. And same thing in the Khumbu valley below Mount Everest there, they've done a lot of rebuilding. And the tourism industry is mostly open, you know, putting COVID aside, unfortunately for this past year, but we did all the training climbs, again climbing 18,000 footers, and 20,000 footers. And we went up and down the mountain for a total of about 55 days. And you have to do that to get your body used to the thin air. And finally, after 55 days, we're about ready to climb the mountain. But a storm came in and pinned to center base camp. And we were waiting for really good weather because we're going up above 26,000 feet, which is called the death zone. And it's called the death so not because somebody might die. But because everybody will die if we spent more than two or three or four days there. So we're waiting for perfect weather so we could climb fast. We had to sit out the storm, it really tried my patients it took all the patients I could muster, to sit in that tent for 11 days, camped on the ice waiting for the weather to clear.


Lea Lane  13:44



Jim Davidson  13:48

And then the weather cleared as it always did. You know as being a traveler, you're going to get bad weather, but if you wait it out, the storm will pass and you will get that Sunny, beautiful view eventually. And so after 11 days of waiting, the weather cleared, and we made our five day climb to the top, and everything went pretty smoothly. It was very difficult, but found myself on the summit ridge about 100 feet below the summit, just as the sun was breaking over the eastern plains of Tibet. And at about 490 in the morning with my trusted Sherpa PK. We managed to summit Mount Everest on a beautiful King gratulations.


Lea Lane  14:18

Thank you very much a magnificent, magnificent story. We have many travelers listening who have encountered difficulties as they travel although compared to your story, missing a plane or getting sick doesn't seem quite as bad as surviving earthquakes and escaping from a crevasse. what final advice would you give them about resilience?


Jim Davidson  14:42

I think we don't want, when bad things happen when you're traveling or at home when a pandemic hits or an economic thing goes wrong. You've got to look inside yourself and find your source of resilience. Is it your Is it your loved ones is it the person that race you your faith, whatever, you know, gives your resilience strength. Look to that and try and lift yourself up a little bit. As soon as you can pick your head up and look around, try and find somebody else to uplift as well. Because going on a trip going through life is challenging. And you may be having a bad day, and maybe I can help you out. And the next week on a trip, I'm having a tough day, and you'll need to help me out. So really what it is, is trying to be as resilient as you can in the moment, lift others up, and then later on, they'll help lift you up. And I think that's true, whether it's a tough situation like we're, you know, stuck in an airport, or whether we're all stuck in a pandemic, we have to try and add to each other's resilience, and try and make it through the tough times until things can get a little bit better again.


Lea Lane  15:31

Excellent. Are you planning any other summiting in the near future?


Jim Davidson  15:36

Well, you know, as I shared in my book, The Next Everest, I'm a lifelong climber. I've been at it for 39 years. I'm a little older now. And not quite as fast as I used to be, but it's hard to make me quit. So yes, I'm gonna keep on climbing for sure. I live in Colorado, so we climb peaks up to 14,000 feet nearby. And I still try and go on an expedition about every other year I went to Peru in 2019. This year, things clear out better with COVID. Once it's safe to travel, maybe the Mexican volcanoes or maybe back to a beautiful country like Ecuador.


Lea Lane  16:03

Sounds great. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember. I would guess that one of the places you remember most is the summit of Mount Everest. What do you remember about reaching the summit that can offer life lessons to help us all as we traveled the world?


Jim Davidson  16:18

Yeah, it really is burned into my memory standing on that ridge, 29,000 feet, watching the stars disappear in the sun coming over the plains. You know, it took me a long time to get there. And you know, I've been striving for it. And you know, you get those goals, and you want to do those goals. But it is really true that it's what the journey can do for you how the journey will refine you into a better version of you, the good days and the bad days. So I didn't have any huge celebration when I summon it. I just felt very humbled that I was able to take this journey and get there and very grateful for the people that have helped me and the things I've learned along the way. So it really is not so much about taking that thing off as going on the journey to learn what you what you're supposed to learn and becoming a better version of you. I think that's what travel does for us. And I think that spills over in a good way into our lives.


Lea Lane  17:01

Wonderfully said. Well, Jim's book is The Next Everest: Surviving the Mountain's Deadliest Day, and Finding the Resilience to Climb Again. I think we all learn more about the metaphorical mountains in our lives, especially useful in our current times and as we travel the world. Thank you so much, Jim Davidson, for sharing your testament to the resilience of the human spirit when faced with uncertainty and tragedy.


Jim Davidson  17:27

My pleasure, thanks for having me.


Lea Lane  17:34

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

What influenced Jim to become a mountain climber
Where in the world he's climbed
Favorite destination/mountain
Skills needed to be a good traveler
Tragedy at the crevasse
Time off from climbing to reflect
Advice for bucketlist climbers
About Nepal
First (disastrous) climb on Everest
Helping in Nepal
Training, climbing, summiting Everest!
Resilience,"hard to make me quit"
Life Lessons- Final memory