Vertical impact

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In December 2006 three experienced mountain climbers ascended the north face of Mt. Hood for what they thought would be an easy two-day climb. They had no way of knowing that the worst storm in a decade was about to be unleashed and that all three of them would perish.

Widow Karen James recounts her experiences in Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy.

James reports that each year approximately 10,000 people attempt to climb Mt Hood. Most scale the south face near Timberline Lodge during spring and summer. Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke challenged the treacherous north face above Eliot Glacier, near Cooper Spur, just a few weeks before Christmas.

Sherriff Joseph Wampler told James that the men would have been able to have a safe return home had there been no problems, but a storm blew in that was too much for them to handle.

Holding Fast begins with a hypothetical version of what Kelly James’ last thoughts and actions were while he was trapped in the snow cave, waiting for his fellow climbers to bring help. James (the author) then flashes back to a brief synopsis of Kelly James’ childhood and their marriage.

The bulk of the book is Karen James’ day-by-day memories of waiting at the Emergency Operations Center in Hood River as she waited for search teams to locate her husband and his friends. She talks about the family, friends and strangers who hoped and prayed for a Christmas miracle. She boasts about how likeable her husband was and how many friends he had, but none of them contribute their thoughts and feelings to the narrative.

After her husband’s body was found, she narrates her battles with “the Grief Beast” as she adjusted to life without her husband by becoming a more devout Christian. With pictures from Kelly James’ camera and reports from the volunteers who found his body, the widow pieces together the last few fatal events of the three men’s lives. The combination of the two different writing styles gives the book a New York Times-article-meets-Chicken Soup for the Soul persona.

As a former news reporter and public relations consultant, Karen James is no stranger to the media. Still, it takes an admirable amount of strength and courage to put your grief between two book sleeves for the world to read. As a tribute to her husband, it would have been a more compelling read if there were stories from his children, mother and friends.

Different perspectives may have made it more believable that Kelly James was as perfect as his widow makes him seem. His only apparent flaw is his hatred for felines.

It’s typical for a man who dies in his prime during a sudden accident to have his memory glorified by his loved ones. Karen James doesn’t help her credibility either when she delves into third person as she writes about her husband’s last thoughts about her, even though he left no messages about his last few days in the snow cave. She also assumes the thoughts of other people as well, making the whole book seem biased by a grieving widow’s wishful thinking.

For Christians, this book would serve as an example of one woman’s journey toward discovering God and deciphering his reasons for taking these three “all-American” men.

But for non-Christians, the online news articles adequately sum up this horrible accident in a more concise and objective fashion. Still, it gives readers something to ponder before hitting the slopes this winter.

Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy225 pages$24.95**1/2

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