I recently finished reading The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier by Jim Davidson and Kevin Vaughan (2011). It’s a very good story about, well, just what the subtitle says.
What it doesn’t say — and only climbers can appreciate it in these terms — is that it’s about a beautiful climb up the legendary Liberty Ridge route and a horrible, fluke accident on the descent that anyone that has crossed a glacier can, at a minimum identify with the fear.
The timing of the release of this book was impeccable for me because I’ve been obsessing over Mount Rainier this past few months. The key event in the book is about how Davidson and his friend and partner Mike Price fell into a deep crevasse and Davidson’s amazing self rescue. The rescue — or rather, the escape — is the central action part of the story and must be read to fully appreciate, so I will say no more. The Ledge‘s theme of friendship gets at the heart of a relationship that can only be forged through challenging adventures like mountaineering. Davidson and Vaughn really honor the memory of Mike Price in this tale.
Aside from themes, the book also provides ample fuel for a mountain daydream of a climb up Mount Rainier’s steep Liberty Ridge on its north face. This route was one that I hoped to climb one day. It has been called an alpine classic by Steve Roper and Allen Steck in Fifty Classic Climbs of North America (1996). Of course, I never thought of an accident happening after an ascent on this route, as happened in the book. It goes to show how many hazards there are up there.
The Liberty Ridge rises from the Carbon Glacier 5,500 feet, separates the 4,000-foot Willis Wall to its eastern flank and the nearly-as-large Liberty Wall to its west. It ascends sustained 55-degree slopes, not including brief steeper portions to get around Thumb Rock (10,760 ft.) The route turns to exclusively snow and hard ice up toward Black Pyramid (12,400). The ridge meets the Liberty Cap Glacier at 13,000 feet, where the summit (14,410 ft.), Colombia Crest, is reachable.
Davidson and Vaughn make the climb sound sublime and challenging for an experienced climber. I recommend reading the book for this part alone, and to learn about Davidson’s and Price’s surprise bivy location over the Liberty Wall — that’s actually something I’d like to duplicate, though I probably wouldn’t do so intentionally either.
Overall, The Ledge is a very good story to enjoy whether you’re a climber, an armchair mountaineer, or are fascinated by human perseverance. You can’t go wrong.
Sources: 1) Davidson, Jim and Kevin Vaughn, The Ledge: An Adventure Story of Friendship and Survival on Mount Rainier, Ballantine Books, 2011; 2) Roper, Steve and Allen Steck, Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, Sierra Club, 1996; and 3) Gauthier, Mike, Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide, The Mountaineers, 1999.