Monday, December 17, 2007

Mount Hood climbers' families celebrate lives lived passionately

07:05 AM CST on Monday, December 17, 2007

By BRANDON FORMBY / The Dallas Morning News

Hope that Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke would be found alive disappeared a long time ago. It's been more than a year since the two Dallas residents and the Brooklyn man vanished while climbing Mount Hood in Oregon.

"We feel very blessed that we haven't lost hope that we will see them again," Mr. James' wife, Karen James, said Sunday. "You just kind of muddle through your time on Earth until you get to be with them again in heaven."

Ms. James, church leaders and friends of the three climbers spoke often of faith, passion and the importance of living life to the fullest during a candlelight remembrance for the men held Sunday. The service marked the anniversary of their disappearance and the subsequent rescue efforts that garnered national attention. More than 75 people attended the tranquil ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church in University Park.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Hall's family gathered more than 2,000 miles away at their own candlelit observance – at the foot of the 11,239-foot mountain where Mr. Hall was last seen.

"Today I stand where Brian, Kelly and Nikko's journey began," Mr. Hall's sister Angela wrote in a letter read by a family friend at the ceremony here.

Mr. James and Mr. Hall, both of Dallas, and Mr. Cooke, of Brooklyn, went to the summit of the mountain in early December 2006. Bad weather closed in and 48-year-old Mr. James became injured. Mr. Hall, 38, and Mr. Cooke, 36, apparently left Mr. James in a snow cave to seek help. Mr. James later made a short cellphone call to his family, which fueled hope that he would be rescued. But he died of hypothermia while waiting for rescue teams slowed by severe storms. His body was airlifted off the mountain.

Mr. Hall and Mr. Cooke were never seen again. Subsequent searches for their bodies, including one exploration as recent as September, turned up nothing.

Dr. Jack Martin, a minister at Park Cities Baptist, read a letter from Mr. Cooke's wife, Michaela, during Sunday's service. In it, she described the three men as inspirations who brought "joy, passion and love into the lives they touched."

"Please continue to keep Jerry and Brian in your prayers and hope that someday they will be found," her letter said.

Messages from relatives, friends and church leaders focused less on grief and more on the strength gained from spiritual faith. Mr. James' daughter Katie said she had the words from Philippians 4:13 – "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" – tattooed on her arm after her father died.

"When I lost my dad, this verse came back to me, not for physical strength but for emotional strength," she said.

Many also praised the brave, adventurous and risk-taking natures of the men.

"They knew life is like the weather – it is unpredictable. But still, they climbed," said Gary Brandenburg, senior pastor of Fellowship Bible Church of Dallas, where the James family worships.

"They remind me that life is a gift. Each day is a package that should be opened immediately."

Mary Leslie Wells, a friend of Mr. Hall and his family, described the man known for rescuing stray animals and helping the homeless as a beloved personal trainer and soccer coach.

"He was a real gift from God," she said. "He was a true natural athlete."

Mrs. James said the loss of her husband was made more difficult because it happened so close to Christmas. But she also said she was thankful for the time she had with the man who proposed to her on Mount Rainier. During the service, she described Mr. James as a talented landscape architect and romantic, tender husband. She said he would often write her letters before going on climbs. In one, he said he would dream of coming home to her.

Mrs. James said, "Now I'm the one dreaming of coming home."

Siblings Katie and Ford James embrace at a remembrance ceremony at Park Cities Baptist Church for their father, Kelly James, and Jerry 'Nikko' Cooke and Brian Hall.
Karen James is pictured to the right.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Remembering—A Year Later

Sunday, December 16, 2007
Candlelight Ceremony
Remembering the Three Climbers:
Kelly James, Brian Hall, Nikko Cooke

4:00-5:00 p.m.
Park Cities Baptist Church
3933 NW Highway
Dallas, Texas

On December 12, CBS 11 in Dallas conducted an exclusive interview with Karen James and her family. To view the interview, along with television coverage of other events from this time last year, go to:

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Landscape Has Changed

Recently I heard author Donald Miller (a fellow-Oregonian) describe the perfect arrival by air into the Portland International Airport. It always includes a sighting of Mount Hood—breathtakingly beautiful as she towers above the forest covered Cascades. She dominates the landscape. I can't count the times I have peered out the window of a home-bound plane hoping to catch a glimpse of her. A warm almost-home feeling comes over me whenever I do.

This past August, when I flew home to visit my parents in Portland, Mount Hood didn't disappoint. The skies were clear, and she was all a-glow in the late afternoon sun. Other passengers in the plane were completely enthralled. But for me, this time the sight of her was painful.

We flew past the north face, the site of Kelly's snow cave, and instead of admiring her beauty along with everyone else, I could only think of how treacherous she can be, the grief she represents, and the fact that even now, somewhere in her snowy skirts, she still is hiding Brian and Nikko.

Years ago, my mother gave me a book by Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India. Carmichael was a forerunner of those today who are rescuing women from sex trafficking. She devoted her life to the rescue of little girls who were being sold into temple prostitution by their destitute families. Her activities were permanently curtailed (taken up by others) when a tragic accident rendered her an invalid for the rest of her life. It was a terrible grief. From a bed of pain, she reflected on a spring landscape—a photograph of an old ruin on a hillside that was covered with cherry blossom trees. Her words mean a lot more to me now.

The trouble which grieved the night has not floated off on the wings of the morning. There has been a turning of the captivity and the hard weather has passed, but there is still something stark in our landscape, like the ruin in the midst of the white cherry. There is a fact, a memory . . . that strikes up and faces us wherever we look. That knot of painful circumstances . . . These things still are; it would be a kind of falsehood to act as though they were not.

—Amy Carmichael, Gold By Moonlight, (36).

Today marks a year since we first learned that Kelly was in trouble on Mount Hood. Some things will never be the same. Even the landscape is different now.

We are amazed that so many still visit this website—that so many are still praying for the families and for the unfinished search for Brian and Nikko. Thank you for your friendship and for remembering what we cannot forget.