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SunLit Interview: Jim Davidson’s harrowing experience led to tools for scaling “The Next Everest”

His experience on the mountain ultimately led the author to understand how surviving trauma can trigger personal growth

Jim Davidson is a climber and professional speaker with Speaking of Adventure. During his 40 years of mountaineering, he has ascended high mountains on six continents. He is a New York Times best-selling author who wrote “The Next Everest,” which is being published in five languages. Jim coauthored “The Ledge” with Kevin Vaughan which was selected one of the best books of the year by Amazon. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. For more information: www.speakingofadventure.com.


Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? 

When the largest earthquake in eighty-one years slammed into Nepal on April 25, 2015, I was hunkered inside a mountaineering tent at 19,700 feet on Mount Everest. That tragic day, and the traumatic ones that followed, gave birth to this book. 

As a geologist, I felt driven to uncover how 19 fellow climbers died in base camp from the quake-triggered avalanches. I also wanted to reveal how pursuing a huge goal can refine you into a better version of you. Finally, my work as a resilience speaker spurred me to reveal how post-traumatic growth can occur after life-changing mishaps like earthquakes and pandemics.  

Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? 

This excerpt puts the reader right in the tent with me as the 1,000-foot-thick glacier heaved up and down when the tremors rippled beneath us. A key principle of this book was to take the reader on an experiential journey to let them feel, see, and hear what it was like on Everest during the earthquake. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

The excerpt sets the stage for me and my teammates to escape from the upper mountain and encounter the quake’s terrible aftermath. All these intense experiences complicate the second half of the book where I share my 2017 return to the mountain to try climbing it again.

Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write the book? 

I’ve read many mountaineering and survival books during my 40 years as a climber. I think the best ones tell not only an enthralling adventure tale, but also shine a light on how people can face difficulties like illness and fiscal troubles, pandemics and family issues. 

Those scary tragedies must be faced by us all. So, throughout “The Next Everest” I revealed my fears and doubts as I struggled through change, challenge, and uncertainty. Learning how other people endure their challenges can provide a helpful model when the next big obstacle or opportunity — what I call, the next Everest — gets thrust into your life. 

Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions?  

Yes, I vowed to tell the unvarnished truth about how humans think and react  during dangerous and terrifying moments.  This made me delve deeper into how we endure tragedy and how we can find the resilience to continue with life. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

I learned how post-traumatic growth allows us over time to distill wisdom and strength from tragic events. That aspect of the book made me realize how enduring hardship builds hardiness. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced in completing this book? 

I sat down in earnest to write the book in late 2019 and was fully engaged with the manuscript when COVID-19 hit a few months later. Being locked down for more than a year allowed me to focus on the writing process, but limited my  interactions with other people. 

It felt like being stuck alone in a tent during a big mountain storm – trying to stay positive and take decent care of myself. Challenging times are often not very fun, but they teach us a lot about ourselves and the world around us.

Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? 

The feedback from those who have read “The Next Everest” has been very gratifying. A common response is: “I didn’t realize that climbing Everest was so brutally difficult.” I think that some dismissive media pieces give people the wrong impression that scaling Everest is a simple hike, or that it is no longer difficult. 

Even after 35 years of climbing, and even though I was a member of a strong team with great support from high altitude workers in Nepal, enduring 61 days of expedition life was tough. So, I am glad that came through to the readers.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write? 

I write in my upstairs office in Fort Collins, Colorado, with a nice view west toward the foothills. Those hills block my view of the high peaks just beyond, which I think helps spur my creativity while describing the mountains to the reader. 

I write with no music or distractions present. And I surround myself with photos and maps from the trip to saturate myself in small details that help bring the story to life. After creating a rough roadmap of the book, I then write from page one to the end. 

As a scientist, I strive to be as accurate as possible, so I consult all my journals, photos, videos, recorded GPS tracks, and other sources to make sure that I get the details right. When the manuscript is finished, then comes several dozen rounds of revisions.

What surprises will the reader find in “The Next Everest”?

That Mount Everest is not covered in trash or human waste, like some media reports would have you believe. By printing ugly photos of isolated trash piles from the mountain and then flamboyantly applying those images to the whole area, some publications decry: “The mountain is covered in trash and human waste.” 

While eye-catching and emotionally charged, these accusations are untrue. In this book, I integrated my first-hand experiences on Everest and my skills as an environmental geologist to objectively depict the waste problems. The truth is that while some select areas still have residual trash (namely, Camps Two and Four), this very large mountain is not covered in trash. 

There have been three dozen expeditions that included garbage removal in their trips since the 1970s. Stricter waste removal rules and increasing environmental awareness over the years mean the trash problem is better now than it has been in several decades. 

Human waste management is likewise better managed now than it was historically, though there is much room for improvement. My calculations demonstrate that less than 0.007% of the mountain has ever been exposed to human waste. And many climbers now bring down their own waste from the upper mountain in plastic bags, which helps. That is a far cry from what overstated headlines might have the reader believe. To be clear, we can, and should, do better at reducing and remediating waste on Everest, as well as on other natural wonders.

Tell us about your next project. 

My work-in-progress shares tips and techniques for enhancing personal resilience, resilient teamwork, and resilient leadership. As a member and leader of many international climbing teams over the decades, I’ve seen people display incredible resilience and courage when facing extreme challenges in the high peaks. I want to bring those transformative examples back from the mountain tops so readers can better endure, overcome, and, in time, even grow from the tough challenges they’ll inevitably encounter in life. 



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