by Karen James


In 2006, avid mountain climber Kelly James and two friends planned a climb of Mt. Hood outside Portland, Oregon just before Christmas. Holding Fast is the story of this ill-fated climb that only resulted in one body being recovered from the mountain after a “perfect storm” prevented rescuers from reaching James in time.

It’s a deeply moving story of a family that shifts overnight into emergency mode in order to try to bring a husband, dad, and friend safely off the peak of one of our nations most challenging summits. The author of the book is James’ wife, Karen, and she paints an incredible narrative in short, terse sentences that lead you through the book in 2-3 sittings.

Seeing the rescue effort from the families’ perspectives is a powerful reminder that behind the news and media saturation in events like the 2006 rescue effort are real people who are thrust into surreal events. Holding Fast reveals a humbling portrait of humble, God-trusting people who cast all their hopes on their Creator and are subsequently devastated.

Author Karen James opens her heart to the reader in rare form allowing one to experience the tragedy anew but with great insight and personal investment.

I vaguely remembered the series of events two years ago, but I found myself more engaged in the story. Knowing that Kelley and his friends didn’t make it off the mountain did not detract from the power of the story. Rather, the mysterious things revealed and “coincidences” that Karen shares during the story are enough to leave one shaking their head in at least curiosity, and at most, awe.

James also is candid about her grief process. I was uncomfortable at times with her deep absorption into her husband. At times, she came across as a person who had no life apart from him, whose identity was bound up solely in her husband. Even her faith seemed to be dependent on her husband’s.

I noticed throughout the book that although she referred several times to their home church – Fellowship Bible Church of Dallas, an excellent, biblically-centered church – she only referred to God as “God.” In fact, I grew increasingly bothered by that – not because it’s wrong, but I have always been disturbed by the generic use of “God” in our society. It’s safe. By using the word “God” you can refer to just about any vague deity and not offend anyone.

However, I was shocked when in the last paragraph of the book, she quoted 1 Peter 1.6-9 where Jesus Christ is revealed. Then, the last two words of her story are found in Part 4 of the two book – which encompasses two pages. Her last statement reveals more about her own faith journey than the failed rescue effort:

I am very proud to say that I was not the greatest love of his life. That honor belongs to Jesus Christ. 

In what I’m sure is her first book, Karen James has penned a spell-binding encounter that weaves sorrow and joy, soaring hope and crushing devastation into one tale.

I don’t know how much perspective a person can have only a year out of such a devastating and grievous event, but the author allows us to enter into her journey – up to August 2007. The final two pages, in my opinion, may show us that the God that was referred to throughout the book was bringing Karen up a mountain to meet Him while He was taking Kelley off of another to be with Him.

By the way, if you’d like to borrow the book for a pass-it-on plan, leave a comment. You can also pick it up at Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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