On April 25, 2015, Jim Davidson sent his wife, Gloria, a triumphant text message from Mount Everest: “Safe at Camp 1. Feel real good.”
Davidson had just successfully traversed the Khumbu Icefall, one of the notorious climb’s most treacherous sections, and slid into his sleeping bag for a rest. But hours later he and his fellow climbers awoke to a rumbling that grew louder and more intense. They were in the middle of what would turn out to be a magnitude 7.8 earthquake and surrounded by avalanches.
“Everyone in camp could be buried in another minute. Gloria and the kids flashed through my mind,” Davidson, now 58, writes. “Whatever it took, I had to get down to see Gloria and the kids again.”
Climbers at Camp 1 escaped serious injury, but down the mountain, base camp was devastated by an avalanche that would ultimately leave more than 18 dead. Across Nepal, nearly 9,000 people were killed — the worst single-day fatality count in Everest’s history.
Those up on Everest were left stranded, unable to climb back down because the route was severely damaged and climbers had to be evacuated, two by two, by helicopter, an extremely risky endeavor and what Davidson said was “the scariest two-minute ride of his life.”
Back at base camp after the rescue, Davidson tells his climbing partner that there’s only a 10 percent chance he will ever attempt the world’s tallest peak again. But ultimately, two years later, he does.
He writes about his endeavors in his new book “The Next Everest” (Macmillan), out Tuesday, documenting not only his adventures but also how he negotiates his mountaineering with being a good husband and father to Jess, now 27, and Nick, 24.
In early 2016, Davidson first began talking with Gloria about attempting Everest again. A geologist-turned-motivational speaker who lives in Colorado, he’d been giving a lot of presentations about Nepal and kept thinking about the country and people he loved.
Roughly one-third of people climbing the peak don’t successfully summit in their first attempt, and the majority of those do not try it again. But the challenge kept calling to Davidson. Gloria wasn’t thrilled with the idea of his return — the death rate on the mountain is roughly 1 percent — but she was also understanding.
“We’ve been married for 31-plus years,” Davidson said. “She knows how important climbing is to me.”
In the summer of 2016, after watching several friends summit and feeling as though he was missing the party, Davidson decided he would definitely try Everest again the following year. He and Gloria sat down with the kids to tell them the news.
His hockey-playing son, Nick, then 20, was enthusiastic, but his older daughter Jess, 22, was less exuberant, telling him “It seems like you were lucky to escape last time, and you’re putting your head back into the lion’s mouth.”
“She had a point,” Davidson writes.
A serious climber since his youth, Davidson said his approach to the sport changed when he had kids. He stopped climbing alone and became more cautious about conditions and more willing to turn back. He also became choosier about his climbing partners, avoiding daredevils in favor of people who would be willing to turn back if conditions were unfavorable.
To reduce his risk for his second Everest attempt, Davidson, then in his mid-50s, trained on average for four hours per day and sometimes as many as 12 hours, working out in the early mornings and late at night, so he could still have time with his family. And, for years, he had avoided other hobbies, so as to allow him more time for training and family.
“I never golfed, hunted, gambled, or watched sports on TV,” he writes. “The time saved was enormous.”
Gloria and the kids wrote personal notes for him to open at challenging points on his second ascent up Everest. Early in the expedition, he read the letter from his son.
“As I battled my way up, straining to ignore my body’s screaming instinct to stop, I repeated the mantra my son had written for me: ‘Keep your boots moving!’ ”
Further up the mountain, his morale plummeted amid bad weather conditions and a friend having to be evacuated because of a severe case of altitude sickness. He read his daughter’s letter to lift his spirits, and her words led him to tears: “One of the most important things you’ve ever taught me,” Jess wrote, is “to feel the fear, and do it anyway. I often don’t think in limits: I think of a lofty goal, and come up with a plan to achieve it. I thrive on it, and I think that’s because it is how you raised me.”
He saved Gloria’s letter for last, opening it at Camp 3, not long before summiting. “Go get your dream, enjoy this experience and summit Mt. Everest,” her letter read. “Just promise to come back.”
Two days later, Davidson achieved that long-held goal. From atop Everest, he texted his wife: “I’m standing on the roof of the world!”