MOUNT HOOD, Ore. – Karen James surrenders to the drumbeat of rain outside her motel room at night, to the darkness and cold. Mentally, she travels two miles high in the sky, up a forbidding mountain, into a snow cave where her husband suffers.

And she speaks to him.

“Hold on, baby. We’re coming to get you.”

Hope, Mrs. James believes, is on the other side of pain.

Three men have been trapped on Mount Hood for eight days. Mrs. James’ husband, Kelly, is almost certainly injured, lying in a dugout of snow near the mountain’s 11,239-foot summit. The two other climbers – Brian Hall, a 37-year-old former semi-pro soccer player who, like James, is from Dallas, and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, a 36-year-old lawyer from Brooklyn, N.Y. – are missing.

The search for the three began Sunday soon after James called his son’s cell phone.

“By the tone of his voice, I could tell something was really wrong,” said 25-year-old Jason James. “I went into 911 mode.”

No one knows what went wrong, but the possibilities are ominous – avalanche, blizzard, lost footing on a near-vertical chimney of ice with a 2,000-foot fall on each side.

Mrs. James said she tries to connect with her husband at night from her motel room in Hood River, at the base of the mountain.

“I feel so horrible,” she said. “I’m here in a warm bed, and I know he isn’t. He’s up there.”

James turned his cell phone off and on twice earlier this week, lifting his family’s hopes that he will be rescued. There have been no signals since early Tuesday.

Stranded climbers have lived a week or more in snow caves if they had adequate food and supplies. But James and his two companions planned a fast and light two-day trip up Mount Hood, according to notes they left behind. In e-mails detailing their packing lists, Cooke planned to carry a half sleeping bag – an insulated surface to sleep on – but it is unclear what gear the others took.

But some members of the Hood River search-and rescue-group, the Cragrats, called last week’s expedition up Mount Hood foolish and reckless.

“It really is risky,” said Devon Wells, an assistant fire chief and Cragrat, who first scaled Mount Hood at 8 years old, the youngest person on record. “It seems like if they would have looked into any resources . . . I doubt it would say, “Climb Mount Hood in the middle of a snowstorm in December.”‘


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