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Review of “Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy”

5 February 2009

image Karen James. Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy. Nelson, 2008. (Find it here: Holding Fast by Karen James)

This book was of initial interest to me because I live in Portland, OR and many of the events depicted happened on the mountain we see every day (at least when it isn’t covered up by clouds): Mount Hood. I have had friends and relatives climb Mt. Hood and know it is do-able if you are in good shape and have a good guide, but I also hear of the dangers. Those dangers came to be no more real than in December 2006 when three men were reported as lost on the mountain.

This book is the recounting of the story from the eyes of one of the wives of the three men (and the only one whose body ever was found): Karen James. Her husband, Kelly James, was a climber with 25 years experience. Karen gives a brief, but sufficient, relaying of highlights of Kelly’s life and of their marriage and life together, but she does not dawdle in getting to what the book is about: how God moved in the situation of the lost climbers. It is a heart wrenching book. It is a book of faith. It is an honest book…Karen shares her anger, her doubts, her fears. But in the end it is about God shaping one woman and using the worst experience of her life to do so. The recounting of the story is the familiar news story and a fascinating read. The events, the news reports and the once-in-a decade snow storm are things I remember well.  But that is not really the point of the book. The point of the book is what God was doing in Karen James’ life through this most tragic of events.

In a Bible study briefly before Kelly left for Mt. Hood, the subject was that of being open to being used by God. Karen had great fears, however, of being used by God. After the study, she prayed:

“’I really don’t want You to use me right now because I am very happy and thankful for my life. If You use me, I am afraid You will take something away.’ To this day that conversation haunts me. He would soon show me that as a loving parent, He decides how, when, and what we will face in life. God knew that my biggest fear was losing Kelly. It was what I feared most, and it happened…. In time I would understand that He wanted Kelly with Him and He wanted me to carry on in a new direction. It was a role I would be forced to have without Kelly.”

It is a book that is part adventure story, part love story, but mostly an inspirational story about one woman’s journey of faith through the valley of the shadow of her husband’s death. I would highly recommend it.

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