Kelly James, the climber whose body has been the only one recovered of three friends lost on Oregon's Mount Hood, was remembered Wednesday as an adventure-craving and spiritual outdoorsman who died where he wanted.
"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."
More than 500 family members, friends and fellow climbers attended the service, held 10 days after rescuers found James' body in a snow cave near the peak of Oregon's highest 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.
Jessica Nunez, a friend and spokeswoman for the family, said she did not believe that family members of the other two missing climbers attended. The service and burial were held three weeks to the day 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.
Hall and Cooke have not been found and are presumed dead. Last week, rescue teams gave up hope of finding the two alive following a nine-day search.
Frank James told the story of meeting the rescuer who discovered his brother's body. He said he was told Kelly was found resting peacefully, with his eyes closed and his head resting on his backpack.
A last message
The only oddity was Kelly's ungloved right hand. The rescuer 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."
Kelly James' 20-year-old daughter, Katy, said her father had an "undying passion for adventure" and that memories of being outdoors with him were good ones.
"He left behind a beautiful legacy for us to tell people about," said Katy, one of Kelly's four children. "We will continue to tell his story for the rest of our lives."
The service was both 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, his ultramodern house he loved remodeling and his fondness for The Beatles.
Indeed, a slide show 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."
An autopsy report said James had been dead for several days when he was found. He died of hypothermia, and there was no evidence by X-ray 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.