Mount Hood climber remembered as committed believer


DALLAS, Texas — A mountain climber who friends said loved the sport because it got him closer to God was eulogized as a committed believer who loved the outdoors.

Kelly James was one of three friends who were lost atop Oregon's Mount Hood, after they were stranded by a strong winter storm. An extensive search of the mountain yielded James' body. His friends are still missing, but presumed dead.

More than 500 relatives, friends and fellow climbers attended the Dallas memorial service, held in late December, three weeks after Kelly, fellow Dallas resident Brian Hall, 37, and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of New York, started out to scale the 11,239-foot summit.

During the service James was remembered as a deeply committed Christian who loved the outdoors. The service was held 10 days after searchers found James' body in a snow cave near the peak of Oregon's highest mountain.

James was honored as an adventure-craving and spiritual outdoorsman who died where he wanted, according to an Associated Press report.

"He said when his time came, he wanted to go out on the mountain," said Frank James, eulogizing his younger brother. "He couldn't have choreographed a more glorious exit for him than to go out on the mountain."

His longtime love of climbing was a significant part of the service, down to the framed picture of James, 48, on a snowy mountain that rested atop his silver casket.

Hall and Cooke, the other two climbers on the mountain with James, have not been found and are presumed dead. Rescue teams gave up hope of finding the two alive after a nine-day search.

According to an AP report, Frank James told the story of meeting the searcher who discovered his brother's body. He said he was told that Kelly appeared to be resting peacefully, with his eyes closed and his head on his backpack.

The only oddity was Kelly's ungloved right hand. The searcher said Kelly's ring finger was sticking up in the air, clearly showing his signature ring engraved with his initials, JKJ.

"At first he thought (Kelly) was making an obscene gesture," Frank James said. "But he wanted people to identify him. He wanted to let his family know what became of him."

According to AP the service was a tribute to James' spirituality and his lively, unconventional personality. His brother and friends remarked how James loved climbing to get "closer to God," while also recalling his shoulder-length hair, the ultramodern house he loved remodeling and his fondness for the Beatles.

A slideshow during the service—many pictures were of James climbing—was accompanied by a soundtrack that included the songs "Yellow Submarine" and "Let it Be."

"I like to think of Kelly as having a little bit of Willie Nelson in him," Frank James said. "Independent, strong-minded and a proud Texan through and through."

The AP reported that an autopsy report said James had been dead for several days when he was found. He died of hypothermia, and X-rays showed no evidence of a disabling injury. On Dec. 10, James had made a four-minute cell phone call to his family, saying the climbing party was in trouble and his companions had gone for help.

Authorities believe Hall and Cooke may have fallen or been blown over a cliff, buried by an avalanche or died of hypothermia.