Imagine how it feels to tumble into an 80-foot crevasse.
Travel back 20 years. On June 21, 1992, climber Jim Davidson and his rope partner, Mike Price, were climbing Mt. Rainier, and they did just that.
Price died. Through steely will, Davidson survived and now gives talks on how to rally against adversity over at SpeakingOfAdventure. Here, the 49-year-old based in the Rocky Mountains’ foothills sheds light on life and survival.
The Adrenalist: How do you feel?
Jim: I feel great — my legs are a tad sore from hiking and running today, and that is a good thing.
A: How do you keep busy now?
J: Regarding work, I stay busy as a professional speaker and an adventure writer. On the personal side, I stay quite busy trying to juggle several forms of climbing, helping my wife raise our two teenagers, and other family commitments.
A: Cast your mind back to the Mount Rainier crevasse — what ran through your mind when the ground gave way?
J: For the first second, I thought I had merely stepped on a patch of deep and soft snow. When I started accelerating downward, I knew that a snowbridge was collapsing out from underneath me. I went into full alert mode — my climbing instincts fired off, and I tried lunging toward the far side of the snowbridge to slam my ice axe down into the snow surface. But the bridge was too wide, the snow was too soft, and so downward I went. When gravity pulled me through the snowbridge and into the dark, yawning crevasse, I was the most afraid I had ever been.
A: What kept you going?
J: I felt overwhelmed by the horror of losing my good friend, Mike Price, and very intimidated by the overhanging ice walls arching above my head. I was driven to keep going though by several strong forces: my obligation to my partner to get our team out of there, the perserverant role model that Mike had always been, the deep-rooted determination that my Dad had taught me, and my urge to see my wife, Gloria, at least one more time. Together, these allowed me to rally my resilience over and over again, after each new challenge and setback, even though I was filled with fear and doubt.
A: Recall your feelings on reaching the top.
J: After five hours of struggling to get out of that deep crevasse, when I emerged onto the sunlit surface, it seemed otherworldly. I thought so much about getting out and fought so hard to reach the crevasse lip that actually being there seemed surreal. As it sunk in that I was truly out of the slot, I felt emotion upwelling from within, but I had to choke it off until I could make sure the rope securing Mike was properly anchored, and that I was safely anchored on top, too.
Once I double-checked that we were both anchored, the emotions flooded over me.
A: What was the biggest lesson your ordeal taught you?
J: That human beings are far more resilient than we think. When put to the test, ordinary people can do amazing things. Knowing that is a powerful ally and can bring you calm even in the face of overwhelming adversity.
A: How did you feel about the reenactment of your fall?
J: The first time I saw the “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” episode was when it aired nationally in the USA. When they played the fast paced overview trailer at the start of the show, I said aloud “They got it right. Oh my goodness, they got it right!” It was very hard to see and hear some parts of the show, but the producer, Darlow Smithson, certainly did an excellent job of portraying the situation accurately.
A: Everything was filmed in Chile?
J: As you say, much of it was filmed in Chile – both in the mountains, and in a frozen food locker! I believe that some segments were filmed in England too, then they did their wonderful magic of stitching it all together.
A: How closely were you involved in film production?
J: I was extensively interviewed for nine hours so the production team could extract every detail possible from me. After that they ran mostly on their own, and I only provided occasional input about dialogue and some technical aspects of climbing.
A: How do you feel about icy landscapes now?
J: I have a deep reverence for the power and danger of glaciers, ice and snow. But, they are magical, mystical places that few people get to experience, so I still ice-climb every winter. On expeditions about every other year, I cross glaciers and scale high, snowy peaks. It is not logical – it is passion-driven.
A: Do you have nightmares about your ordeal?
J: Not very much. On the rare occasion that I have one, they are not specifically about crevasse falls on Rainier. Instead, some portion of my brain will poorly attempt to “disguise” them by having some elevated walkway collapse from underneath my feet in some kooky dream. Anyone with a high school psychology class could see right through the ruse though. It is kind of comical that my dreaming brain tries to do this silly trick.
A: What’s your top tip on overcoming adversity?
J: When you are facing a big challenge, look to your deepest core values to find your greatest strengths. Perhaps you are powered by a strong obligation to your family or community. Maybe religion or personal values taught to you by a loved one are a key part of who you are. By staying true to those revered beliefs, you can find the strength and resilience to get through almost anything.