David Nyman and his injured friend Jim endure terrible conditions on an Alaskan mountain before finally being rescued.
Do you think it was largely mental attitude that got you and Jim out of there alive?
It was really a combination of mental and physical stamina that helped us to survive. The mental stress on me (as I can't speak for Jim) was that of the huge responsibility of caring for and transporting safely my partner. The mind is a beautiful thing in how it works to protect you from despair by allowing you to believe things that you may normally discard as impossibility. If you talk to anyone that knows me they would probably tell you that I have a 'can do' attitude. I can and will figure out a way to get things done. I will try to do my best regardless of the odds in most situations.
Being responsible for Jim in his disabled state, while somewhat of a mental weight, propelled me to achievements that went beyond what I would think possible. It also pushed me towards conservative thought processes. Taking short cuts in the mountains or moving away from accepted 'safe' mountaineering methods of travel often leads to tragedy. As we were deprived of a great deal of our gear and normal methods we adapted as best we could to keep some degree of relative safety. The adaptations we made required a lot of physical effort on my part. I lost about 25 pounds during that trip.
How long did it take for you to recover, physically and mentally?
I was out of the hospital the same day I was admitted. I think three to six months later I was feeling like my old self physically. I got off pretty easy actually. A little frostbite, some bumps and bruises. I have a harder time evaluating the mental impacts. A couple of nightmares and without going over it too much I put the episode in the back of my mind. I didn't dwell too much on the 'why did I survive?' type thoughts. I know why we survived. We were damn lucky, we had lots of help, and we gave ourselves every chance possible through our grit and determination.
In the years following the event, I have for the most part avoided talking too much about it. In some ways my decision to not discuss this too much was my homage to the beauty of our survival. In other ways, I found discussing the near fantastical experience charged me up too much and seemed a distraction from the real lesson - live life fully, don't look back, make every move as if it may be your last, seek integrity in yourself and those you choose to share your life with.
Has the experience changed you?
This is also a tough question to answer. I would hope to god it has. It certainly renewed my empathy for all those fellow humans that struggle daily with challenges great and small. I think it may have reinforced my general attitude to not accept mediocrity in myself and others. I did learn that we are all capable, each and every one of us, of achievements beyond what we for the most part allow ourselves to conceive.
How often do you think about it?
I did not think about the experience a great deal until the last few years when Jim began to write about our story from his perspective. We talked quite a lot and I found myself not wanting to really delve deeply into the history as it does tend to excite me. But as we have reviewed this event as a part of the TV production, I have been reminded or asked about the experience seemingly every other day. Indeed, I cherish the experience as part of my life. I view it as a great lesson, although at times I am not always sure of what that lesson is. I try to keep it real and not let it solely define me as a person.
How has the experience affected your relationship with Jim?
Jim and I continued on many adventures after the 1989 Mount Johnson event. Our trips were less after I married in 1996, had my first child shortly thereafter, and focussed on my engineering and skiing more than vertical climbing. Over the years, Jim has thanked me for my efforts as many times as humanly possible. He has also assisted me with many matters of familial and personal nature. He has been there for me when I needed someone to help and kicked me in the ass when I my own thought process or own limitations threatened to undo me. He has truly acted heroically to me, my family and our mutual friends on a great number of occasions.
As with any story there are as many versions as there are people in the story or as there are writers willing to pull the pieces together into their version. It appears that some of the different points of view between me and Jim are of concern to Jim and this seems to have erected a little barrier that we both will probably climb over some day. The deep set emotions that linger within each of us as a result of the experience seem to be mixing it up a little.
Do you two still climb together?
Not for the last two years of so. I know we will again. Hopefully sooner than later. I mostly climb and ski with my kids. I have aspirations and dreams.
Have you been back to Alaska since then?
I was born and raised and still live in Alaska (one of the several points in the documentary that were a little off the mark). My wife, kids and I enjoy the Alaskan experience every day of our lives. The place we live is fabulous, yet day by day the mystery and beauty is threatened by the onset of 'progress'. I am deeply involved in efforts to conserve the wildness of this great land and steward development towards sustainable approaches that respect the landscape, with clean air and clean water for the entire world to revere and enjoy.
Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to climb in the wilder parts of the world?
Pick a good partner like I did!