The Next Everest

by Jim Davidson, 2021

Excellent memoir by a mountain climber who lives in Fort Collins. The Library recommended this book on their monthly “Biographies” e-mail. It was about his two trips to Nepal to climb Mount Everest; the first in 2015 when the deadly 7.8 Gorkha earthquake struck Nepal and caused an avalanche on Mount Everest that killed 19 climbers, becoming the deadliest day on Mount Everest. He was in Camp 1 and the avalanche swept past them without causing any injuries, just horrific wind and noise. Most/All the injuries and deaths occurred in base camp which took a direct hit by the avalanche. Thousands upon thousands of Nepalese were killed and injured by the earthquake. He was airlifted off of the mountain by helicopter, a terrifying experience in and of itself. He decided to go back in 2017 and finally summitted Mount Everest, his life-long dream. This book takes you step-by-step on both of his journeys. It is an excellent book, hard to put down. I have no desire to ever climb a mountain, much less Mount Everest, but it is fascinating to be able to get into the head of an avid mountain-climber and take the journey with him. Well-written, suspenseful, thorough. It was almost like being there, really.

He was captivated by Everest since age 10. He describes climbing mountains as deep meditation, with a huge sense of accomplishment and exhilarating experiences in exotic locales along the way. Sounds like a healthy addiction to me – but very expensive and very dangerous. He lost a dear friend, Mike Price, in 1992, when he fell into a crevasse on Mount Rainier and pulled Mike in with him, and the fall killed Mike. He has never really overcome the survivor’s guilt.

When he chose to climb Everest in 2015, the last thing he was concerned about was an earthquake, yet that was exactly what happened, and he was fortunate to have survived and to have been airlifted off the mountain by helicopter to safety before any further aftershocks happened. They couldn’t climb back down because the earthquake had damaged all of the ladders and ropes in the Khumbu Icefall.

While trapped up there after the avalanche, he called his wife by satellite phone to let her know he was okay. She said their phone was ringing off the hook–journalists wanting to interview him.

People have been climbing Everest for 63 years and they haven’t found a route up that avoids the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Climbers have to get through it multiple times during acclimatization. The glacier moves about 3 feet per day. They climb over crevasses using ladders, sometimes strapped together. It sounds like torture.

In Camp 1, climbers poop in a five gallon bucket lined with a thick plastic bag. When the bucket is full, they remove the liner and throw it in a crevasse. There is no other way to deal with it.

Because of the devastating earthquake, 2015 became the first year since 1974 that no one summitted Mount Everest.

There have been 275 deaths on Mount Everest and most of the bodies are still up there. It’s almost impossible to remove them from the death zone.

Some of the climbers did not adjust well to not being able to continue to climb the mountain after the earthquake. They were distressed and created friction among teammates. Contrast that attitude with those who accepted the situation and looked for ways to help others.

Details on the Gorkha earthquake: April 25, 2015, 7.8 magnitude earthquake; May 12, 2015, 7.3 magnitude aftershock; 8,964 people died in Nepal; 22,000 injured; 3 million displaced from their homes; 500,000 homes destroyed; 269,000 damaged.

He addressed the idea that Mount Everest is covered in trash. He said it used to be pretty bad but since about 1976, base camp and Camp One have gotten cleaner and cleaner and they are now less trashy than nearby villages. There is a $4000 trash deposit required by the Nepalese government on each expedition. Expeditions are required to control their trash and carry it out for disposal locally. Now, workers are paid for trash they bring down from the mountain. Some residual trash is frozen into the mountain, though.

He gets asked about human poop on Everest. He does a calculation and determines that only .007 percent of the mountain has been pooped upon. When he was in Camp 4, he did double bag his waste and brought it down.

After he returned safely from Nepal in 2015, he struggled with the decision to go back and try again. At the age of 54, 2 years later, he decided to try again. He had the time, money, and energy. During his training he contracted diabetes, but his doctor told him that was nothing to worry about on Everest – he should eat whatever he could. Climbers lose many pounds climbing Everest and need to eat whatever they can.

The organization he climbs with, IMG, has a “closed amp” policy on Everest, meaning no outside visitors, because they bring in germs and illness. Getting sick on Everest can blow the whole trip for a climber.

While he was climbing in 2017, Ueli Steck was soloing the north face of Nuptse and fell to his death about 3000 vertical feet. They recovered his body and flew it out by helicopter.

Once climbers are acclimated, they then need a 7 day window of good weather to summit; 5 days up and 2 days down. In 2017, I think they had to wait 2 weeks for that window. Very trying time.

His sherpa (PK Sherpa) didn’t have much confidence in him; he said he was too slow, but that wasn’t true–his trial climbing times were all within the acceptable range. On the way up, his left foot went numb and PK Sherpa said he needed to go down. What he did was somehow fixed his electric foot warmer on the Balcony, a tiny area near the summit.

He did find Camp 4 to be covered in trash and it must be that everyone up there is in the Death Zone and can only think about survival. A lot of the trash is frozen into the mountain.

He finally summitted Everest on May 22, 2017, a life-long dream. Thanks for a fantastic book, Jim Davidson, allowing us to go with you vicariously.