SALT LAKE CITY — It just didn't feel right.
Climbing partners did not abandon each other. But Jim Davidson knew that if he didn't leave the body of his friend and climbing partner, Mike Price, on that icy ledge in June of 1992, he would have perished with him.
"I don't want to go, Mike," Davidson said in his mind as he knelt next to Mike. "I'm not supposed to go … I'm supposed to stay with you. …We're partners, and we stick together. … But you're gone now, and I'm the only one left. … If I'm going to keep living, I've got to get out of here. …That means I have to leave you. … I'm sorry. I don't want to leave you, but I've got to. …If I'm going to get us found, I've got to get myself out of here, but that means I've got to go and I can't take you with me. … So you're going to have to stay here for now. …"
"I know leaving is the right thing to do, but it feels so wrong."
Despite being consumed with grief, guilt and fear, Davidson managed to climb 80 feet of ice — vertical and overhanging — with minimal gear and physical pain to escape the glacial crevasse that had swallowed him and Price hours earlier on the decent of their climb on Mt. Rainier.
Ironically, as he tried to summon the courage and energy to make the climb — something he'd never done before, let alone by himself — it was Mike who inspired him.
"My commitment to him is what drove me up the wall," said Davidson, who is in Salt Lake City promoting the release of his book "The Ledge." which he co-wrote with journalist Kevin Vaughan.
"I thought if I make it to the lip of the crevasse, collapse and die, I've fulfilled my obligation as a partner. "That was what saved me."
Davidson was in Salt Lake for the Outdoor Retailers Convention, where he read from his new book, published by Random House.
The book, he said, isn't just about climbing or the tragic accident that took Price's life
"This is not even a story about climbing," said Davidson, who gave up a career as an environmental geologist to travel the country speaking on the lessons he's learned from 27 years of climbing — namely teamwork, resilience, commitment and perseverance.
"Whatever you pull strength from, that's what gets you through those terrible moments."
It took him years before he could even share the story with more than a select few members of his family and close friends. Once he started talking about the accident and how it changed him, he realized he had an obligation to share the story.
"I had never seen an audience reaction like that," he said. "It continued to fill my heart and my head."
Davidson said he needed to heal as a climber, as well as understand the experience, before he could share it with others. He called Price, whom he met in graduate school in Colorado, both a friend and a mentor. Despite being unable to share the story immediately after the accident, he said "somehow it seemed important to share it with others. … But I didn't know what to do."
He wrote a detailed account of the climb and the accident four days after Price died but didn't share the experience in any detail for nearly a decade.
The first time he shared the story in any detail was during a festival at Mt. Rainier.
"I was terrified," he said. "But I felt like it was so important that I had to be brave. … I actually started thinking that maybe it is part of the reason I'm still on the planet."