Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy by Karen James
In December of 2006, three mountain climbers went missing on Mount Hood and were trapped in the worst storm to hit the region in over a decade. In this book, Karen James, wife of one of the climbers, sets out to tell the story of what happened on the mountain during the days of the search.
The first nine pages of the book are a dramatic read, placing you in the snow cave with Kelly James and allowing the reader to hear what ended up being the final conversation between a man and his family. After such a dramatic beginning, the book rewinds the clock and walks you through Karen and Kelly’s relationship from their unlikely beginning to their engagement on a mountain and works its way up to the point of Kelly leaving on the plane bound for Mount Hood. With the relationship background set, Karen then begins the journey of her ordeal from the first phone call telling her husband was missing up through the final television interview.
While the book is an easy read, I feel that it fails to deliver the story of the climbers in a way that is clearly defined and well thought out. While there is the chapter at the beginning to entice the reader, the actual details of the rescue attempt and the clues they found to help tell the story of the climbers are relegated to the final few chapters over 150 pages into the book. The few sections that do talk about the climbers and their actions are almost entirely devoted to her husband Kelly James, to the neglect of the other two climbers. Essentially, this book is the story of Karen James and what she and her family lived through at the base of the mountain and after the came back home.
While Karen states throughout the book that she had her faith tested through the ordeal, there is very little more than brief prayers prayed to God in desperation and the searching of God’s reason for the tragedy to define what her faith is based on and how it helped her through the event. With the exception of a few sparse verses of Scripture scattered throughout the pages, there is very little that would suggest that there is any attempt within the book to promote conversion to Christ. With that being said, I believe that there are a couple of portions of this book that are uplifting and could be a source of encouragement to Christians.
One distraction that I found quite annoying was the fact that every time a curse word was used, the author chose to simply type the first letter and underline the rest of the empty space. In my opinion, this editing practice did not make the book “more Christian”, it just made you realize and focus on those words all the more. While I understand that this book is published by a Christian publisher and I would assume is geared mostly toward a Christian audience, I cannot understand why the author would not either change the word or use it as a true reflection of her frustration and panic in a time of distress. I feel that by editing a curse word out of a sentence in such a way not only cheapened the attitude and emotion of the moment but also damaged the credibility of the book and its publisher in my mind.
While I wouldn’t discourage anyone from the reading this book, I would have to state the disclaimer that while this book has everything to do with the climbers who died on Mount Hood, it seemingly has very little to do with them and is focused almost entirely on Karen James.