Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Ledge

The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan
Random House Publishing Group, July 26, 2011
Advanced Reading Copy, 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345523198
highly recommended

“My eyes travel up the frozen walls. I figure it is eighty feet up to the sunlight. The walls above me climb up at about eighty degrees, then they go dead vertical, and then, higher up, they overhang. It is as if I am looking out from the belly of a beast, its jagged white teeth interlocking above me.”   In June 1992, best friends Jim Davidson and Mike Price stood triumphantly atop Washington’s Mount Rainier, celebrating what they hoped would be the first of many milestones in their lives as passionate young mountaineers. Instead, their conquest gave way to catastrophe when a cave-in plunged them deep inside a glacial crevasse—the pitch-black, ice-walled hell that every climber’s nightmares are made of.
An avid adventurer from an early age, Davidson was already a seasoned climber at the time of the Rainier ascent, fully aware of the risks and hopelessly in love with the challenge. But in the blur of a harrowing free fall, he suddenly found himself challenged by nature’s grandeur at its most unforgiving. Trapped on a narrow, unstable frozen ledge, deep below daylight and high above a yawning chasm, he would desperately battle crumbling ice and snow that threatened to bury him alive, while struggling in vain to save his fatally injured companion.

My Thoughts:
In The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier, Jim Davidson, with the help of Kevin Vaughan, shares some of his life's experiences, especially with mountain climbing. The main focus of The Ledge is the climb of Mt. Rainer he and his friend Mike Price undertook almost 20 years ago, in June 1992. This challenging climb changed Jim Davidson's life forever and took Mike's life. During the climb, Jim and Mike broke through a snow bridge and fell 80 feet into a glacial crevasse, landing on a narrow ledge.
After opening with some background stories and foreshadowing the accident to come, the book jumps back and forth in time until the fall happens in the timeline. Then it details the event and Jim's struggle to get out of the crevasse. As a result of the accident, Jim suffered from survivor's guilt and had another hurdle to overcome. 
The book started out strong, but perhaps had a few too many details in the background stories. Once the climbing starts, anyone who has mountaineering and climbing experience will likely enjoy the detailed technical explanation of the climb(s). If you don't, the overwhelming number of details provided can become, well, overwhelming, and detract from the story.
What completes the story is not Jim's survival, but the determination it took to overcome adversity when the odds were not in his favor. He survived the tragic accident in more ways than one and was able to take the life lessons he learned from the event and use them to help him motivate others in their own personal growth. Jim Davidson is now a motivational speaker who has helped many other people.
While those who climb mountains or enjoy nonfiction accounts of adventures are going to appreciate this novel, others might be slightly put off by the amount of technical details. Yes, it's a solid nonfiction choice, however, the writing can be uneven in places. 
For me, it's highly recommended, with the admission that I didn't even try to follow the technical climbing information. 

Disclosure: I received this novel through the Goodreads First Reads program. 

Chapter 2
Holding the ice ax in my right hand, I probe the glacier ahead. The ax shaft sinks in six inches and the snow feels solid, so I step forward. My boot settles into the soft, wet slop up to my ankle. Probing before each step is exhausting but necessary as I check for hollow snow bridges that could conceal yawning glacial crevasses.
I probe again, feel firm snow, and sink to my ankle as I take another step.
The air is calm, and the midday sun is strong on this first day of summer, June 21, 1992. We can't see or hear any other climbers. The snow before me lies smooth and flat and blindingly white as we descend from the summit of Mount Rainier. I flip aside the rope that leads back fifty feet to Mike. Looking at the glacier in front of me, I see no cracks, sags, or aberrations.
I stab my ice ax shaft into the snow, and it sinks in the usual six inches before resisting. Stepping forward, I press down my right boot. I sink to my ankle, and then my shin.
Snow seems deep here.
Momentum pushes me forward, and more weight rocks onto my front foot. Oddly, my boot is still settling into the soft snow.
It should feel firm by now.
I sink almost to my knee.
What the . . . ?
The ground beneath my foot caves.
Snow's collapsing!
A burning electric shock of fear jolts my body. Before I can even say it or think it, my body knows what's happening: I'm on a snow bridge across a hidden crevasse, and it's giving way.
I'm falling . . . into . . . the mountain.
Instincts take over. As I scream a warning to Mike--"FALLING!"--my right leg locks to avoid stepping down any farther. But there's no stopping; inertia carries me forward, and I sink faster into the snow, up past my knee. My scream sounds like a scared shout from the other end of an empty house, and the confused terror in my own voice sends a second wave of adrenaline burning through my veins.
I dart my eyes sideways and think about scrambling to the solid ground behind me, but momentum and my backpack's weight drive me down face-first. There's no turning back. My left leg also crashes through the weak snow bridge, and in a heartbeat I'm in up to my thighs.
I vaguely hope the wide bottom of the backpack will spread my falling weight across the weak snow and somehow stop me; instead, with a muffled whompf the fragile bridge ruptures further, settling and sagging all around me.
I drop faster into the ever-widening hole, and I instinctively thrust my left arm to the side. Through an open crack, I see blackness underneath.
I'm going in!
I'm slithering downward, my chest above the snow, my belly encased in the disintegrating snow bridge. In the void below, my legs churn madly. There's nothing but air under me now. Only the side walls of the snow hole dragging against me hold me up.
Just a split second has passed, but my mind has slowed it all down. It's as if I'm watching a movie, and someone else is in it.
Gotta stop.
As I sink to my sternum, I slam my ax down hard. The pick bites deep into the snow surface in front of me.
My right arm snaps ramrod straight; I grip the ax shaft even tighter, preparing for the impact, expecting the 220 pounds of me and the pack to rip my shoulder joint. I don't care--anything's better than going into the crevasse.
But the pick tears through the wet, granular snow in a spray of slush. There's no resistance.
"FALL . . . !" I scream. My one last attempt to warn Mike ends abruptly as my face smashes into the crevasse lip, ramming ice crystals up my nose, into my mouth. Just one or two seconds after the collapse of the snow bridge started, my helmeted head vanishes below the surface.
Gravity yanks me from the warm world into the belly of the glacier, as though something evil has a deadly tentacle around my feet and is dragging me deeper. The monster has me.  pg.9-11

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