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The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier Hardcover – July 26, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 111 customer reviews

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Guest Reviewer: James M. Tabor
James M. Tabor earned an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and is a former Contributing Editor to Outside and SKI Magazines. His writing has also appeared in TIME, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Smithsonian, Barron's, and many other national magazines. He was the writer and host of the national PBS series, The Great Outdoors and in 2007 was the co-creator and Executive Producer for the History Channel Special, Journey to the Center of the World. His first book was the international-award-winning Forever on the Mountain (2007) and his most recent was Blind Descent. A former Washington, DC police officer, Tabor now lives in Vermont where he is at work on his first novel, The Deep Zone.

On June 21, 1992, Jim Davidson, 29, and his best friend and climbing partner, Mike Price, 34, summited 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier via the challenging Liberty Ridge route. While descending, Davidson plunged into an 80-foot-deep crevasse and pulled his rope-partner Price in, too. Price died, Davidson survived, and The Ledge is Davidson’s painstakingly detailed account of their accident, written 19 years post facto.

Hundreds of books have described climbing tragedies in such detail. Two things set the best apart. One is the attempt to look beyond obvious vagaries of gear, weather, and happenstance to discover tragedy’s true, dark roots. The other is an equally strong determination to bring something of value back from the brink. These are much harder quests and, to his credit, Davidson tackles both.

That detail, first. Davidson recreates the fatal fall and aftermath as though they happened yesterday, thanks to hours of recollections tape-recorded shortly after the event. That’s important, because on one level, such the success of such narratives depends on details as sharp as ice shards. An example will suffice. After he hit bottom, buried beneath and completely immobilized by cascading snow and ice, Davidson could not breathe.

I suck in hard, trying to grab a breath, but my mouth is half-filled with crunchy snow, so I pull in only a small gulp of air. I try chewing the snow to clear it away, but it is too much, as if someone has stuffed a Popsicle into my mouth. I work my jaw and tongue, struggling to push out the rapidly hardening snow clump. But it turns into a dense lump the size of a plum. When I rest for a second, the snowball settles back in my throat and gags me.

Having had no chance to save his friend, Davidson had to save himself by climbing out of the crevasse, and the odds against him were long. Davidson was injured, exhausted, and probably in shock. He lacked both the requisite technical aid-climbing experience and most of the proper gear. But he drew strength from recollections of Joe Simpson’s against-all-odds self-rescue in Touching the Void. After many hours of struggle, Davidson finally climbed back to the surface. Even then, the ordeal was far from over. It was late and getting dark. He was hurt and had no gear and was alone on a glacier riddled with more crevasses. “I’m out, but I’m not safe,” Davidson acknowledged.

That turned out to be true in more ways than one. Though he survived and eventually recovered physically, Davidson continued to suffer from psychic injuries, survivor’s guilt chief among them. In his journal, he wrote, “How am I to carry this load alone--the self-doubt, the endless questioning? How can I hope to carry it alone?” Mike Price haunted his thoughts and dreams and, laudably, Davidson eschewed the more common rites of exorcism: chemical, alcohol, and compensatory self-sacrifice. Instead, over the months, he went mano a mano with every painful “what if” and found his measure of solace:

Each decision, action, and bit of luck is a fork leading to different outcomes, different branches. Some are sturdy and hold fast, some creak under your weight, some fracture and drop you into unexpected turmoil.

Not perfect, perhaps, but certainly good enough to live with.

Making personal peace with the tragedy was good, but left missing one last arc in the circle of healing. Could something of value be distilled from all the loss and agony? As it turned out, yes. “While I was in the crevasse, Joe Simpson’s survival tale convinced me that there was a remote chance to escape, and that belief helped spur me to action. Perhaps I have an obligation to share my story...”

After securing permission from Mike Price’s parents, Davidson spoke to his first live audience in September, 2003 at the annual Rainier Mountain Festival. Afterward, among the many grateful listeners was a middle-aged mother with two daughters. “I wanted them to hear it,” she told Davidson. “Now if they’re in an accident...they’ll know how much people can do, that we can do incredible things if we try our hardest.” And with that, the circle was complete. Since then, according to his publisher, Davidson has delivered his message to more than 30,000 people. The Ledge is part of his ongoing commitment to Mike Price--and to himself--to find meaning in the heart of tragedy.

Someone once said that for true value, “a book must be about more than it is about.” Jim Davidson’s The Ledge is. You can read it as a thrilling, chilling tale of adventure and death in the mountains, but it is, ultimately, about more than that. As, come to think of it, are climbing and mountains themselves.


Winner of National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature - 2012

"The Ledge is storytelling at its finest." - National Outdoor Book Awards

"A modern Aristotelian tragedy." - Publishers Weekly

"The Ledge is a moving portrait of friendship and loss." - Wall Street Journal

"A gripping second-by-second tale." - New York Daily News

"A riveting account...of mental and physical strength." - The Coloradoan

[One of the] "Summer's Biggest, Juiciest Nonfiction Adventures" - National Public Radio


Advance praise for The Ledge
“Through spare, vivid, and honest storytelling, The Ledge plunges readers into a dark, icy chasm from which escape seems impossible. Then it reveals the strength it takes to look up, and to start climbing.”—Jim Sheeler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of the National Book Award finalist Final Salute
“Few can imagine the terror of falling eighty feet into a bottomless abyss or the horror of losing a climbing partner in the process; even fewer could survive. Jim Davidson not only survives, he lives to tell the tale and to honor his fallen friend.”—Jennifer Jordan, author The Last Man on the Mountain and Savage Summit
“A deeply personal account of friendship, adventure, and epic tragedy, of struggling for life against the toughest of mountaineering odds imaginable.”—Mike Gauthier, author of Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (July 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345523199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345523198
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Esteban Ess VINE VOICE on November 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I struggled through this book for the first third or so before it began to divulge the details of the crevasse fall and self extrication and thus started to hold my interest. The author chose to use a "fast grab" in the prologue by starting the book with his predicament of being trapped in the crevasse into which he and his climbing partner and friend have plunged. Then, he uses flashbacks - as if it were a film play - to earlier periods of time, all the way back to his childhood and how he climbed on roofs and power pylons while working with his father. There is too much fading out of one scene and into another which I found distracting. Also too much detail about his personal life and thoughts and family which detract from the flow of the story. He does describe some of the errors in judgement of both climbers that led his two person climbing team into a dangerous situation. Perhaps, they should have had a longer probe than an ice axe, with its short shaft, to test for soft ice bridges that might not hold their weight. I felt that - while he made a lot of statements about things he would have done differently - he never gave the true reason of how he and his partner got themselves into the crevasse. Was it failure to anchor securely, was it from taking crevasse travel for granted, or was it a poor choice of route? I came away from the book not knowing why exactly this crevasse fall happened. There are lessons learned here that need to be told to other climbers. A lot of this book treats upon on dealing with the aftermath of losing a friend. Sort of a self confessional in some places. Could have been better written, in my opinion. I gave it a three for the manner in which the author bares his soul and shares the terror of the entrapment in the packed snow, the claustrophobia and not knowing if he would be able to breathe long enough to survive. More mountaineering and practical advice and less personal grief analysis and I would have gone to 4 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a well-written story and the the parts of the book about the author's climb, and his self extraction from a deep crevasse on the Emmons Glacier are detailed and very interesting. Based only on those aspects I would give it five stars. But overall this book really bothers me - something is really missing. This was a tragedy, but a preventable one. I wish that he had written less about his personal pain and guilt and more about the decisions that led to the accident. The author apparently decided to take the commercial route, and make this book, and his subsequent career as a paid motivational speaker about overcoming difficulties.

The author never admits that falling into a crevasse was not just a matter of "fate" or "bad luck." He and his partner made some serious errors in judgement, and that the accident could have been avoided. I really don't recommend this book if if you are thinking about climbing Rainier - there is nothing helpful at all here. It is puzzling that the author, whose life revolved around mountaineering, doesn't seemed concerned even a tiny bit with the prevention of another tragic death of a young person in a similar situation. I guess that just doesn't sell well. In contrast, the American Alpine Club's annual "Accidents in North American Mountaineering" is "Published with the intention of informing climbers and preventing subsequent accidents... each report includes a detailed analysis of what went wrong and what precautions could be taken to avoid a similar accident."

The climbers' most serious judgement error was the decision to glissade down the Emmons Glacier because they were tired. This was a pretty big mistake - experienced and prudent mountaineers do not do this.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I feel that after reading this book, I owe Jim Davidson a hug. Nearly 20 years ago, he and his friend Mike Price climbed Mt. Rainier and tragedy instantly struck, killing Mike Price. Davidson had to climb to safety without proper equipment and faced with the loss of his friend, struggled to succeed in surviving.

The book is not so much about mountain climbing, it's about Davidson's survival guilt. It's honest and frank and very courageous for him to admit these feelings. The book is very emotional and is a great story and very compelling. Minor issues with the pacing of the book are overlooked because of the subject Matter. I felt nauseous over Davidson's gutwrenching decision to concentrate on surviving without falling into despair over the loss of his friend.

This book is very powerful, and you can tell how much this weighs on Davidson's soul even two decades on. And yet he prevails.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Resources in this world are not distributed evenly, especially the precious gift of time."

When you take risks, the consequences can be horrible and deadly. If you don't take risks, the consequences will eventually be deadly anyway, it just may take longer. Jim Davidson and Mike Price, climbing buddies and friends, took the risks and Mike paid with his early death. Jim, given the situation he was in, should have died. He didn't. This story tells how the two men came to be stuck on a tiny snow ledge 80 feet down a crevasse, with unknown depths left to fall should the ledge break or they fall off.

This is a story that will appeal to climbers and us less brave souls, the armchair adventure voyeurs. It is more than a climbing story. It is about friendship, challenge, survival guilt. It is about doing the impossible when you know it is impossible but it is your only choice. And it is about how others view you when two people set out and only one comes back.

I learned about things I don't even want to contemplate, especially "corking," a term new to me but one I'll never forget. Because I am not a climber (and, for the record, don't intend to become one), I had to pay close attention to the explanations of climbing and the equipment used, and the authors went to great lengths to help me understand. The bravery of the rangers and volunteers, people who are risking their own lives to save others, is inspiring. What courage that must take.

At the beginning of the book, there were too many time jumps for me to keep the time line straight. The writing was occasionally uneven, much better in some places than in others. I liked hearing about Mr. Davidson's early life, his summer jobs working with his dad, jobs that no sane person would undertake.
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