Mount Hood: 'It's no longer the icy monster that it was'

Mount Hood: 'It's no longer the icy monster that it was'

PORTLAND, Ore. – It has been nearly four years since three men lost their lives on Mount Hood.

On Thursday, the wife of one of them came to Oregon for the first time since her husband's body was recovered from the mountain.

In 2006, three men – Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry "Niko" Cooke – died after deciding to continue their attempt to reach Mount Hood's summit, even as a winter storm packing winds of up to 130 miles per hour began to move in. Only James' body was recovered. The bodies of Hall and Cooke remain somewhere on the mountain.

Kelly's wife, Karen James, defends the climbers' decisions, saying the weather must have still looked good as they inched up the face of Oregon's tallest mountain. In the end, however, the mountain and the storm would claim the men's lives.

Karen, who wrote a book about her experience titled Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy, is in Portland this week and will be speaking at the Women of Faith event at the Rose Garden.

This is the first time Karen has returned to Oregon since the tragedy and so far it has been an emotional experience for her. She has already met with Hood River County Sheriff Joe Wampler, who was one of the many people who helped bring her husband's body down the mountain after he was found dead in a snow cave.

Karen also collected some of her husband's belongings, all of which are filled with memories. Among the items she will be taking home with her are his climbing equipment, a fleece jacket and a sleeping bag that her husband had given her as a birthday gift.

And she went up to Mount Hood for the first time since the tragedy. She said she looks at the mountain differently now.

"It's no longer the icy monster that it was," she said. "It's now a place that Kelly absolutely loved and where he lifted off to heaven."

Karen is grateful for all of the rescuers who spent nearly two weeks searching Mount Hood for her husband and his climbing partners. And she said she is truly thankful that she had a chance to talk with Kelly on his cell phone before he died.

"(It's a) tremendous comfort because I got to tell my husband I love him," she said. "And you can't ask for anything more - to say those three powerful words to someone."

Karen said she still gets together with her four step-children every week. A couple of Kelly's boys are climbers too and they plan on using their father's gear when they go out.