Book news: Off Belay: A Last Great Adventure by Jamie Shumway

A review by Dave Elkinton

“Isn’t that Jamie Shumway?” I said to my wife at the uppermost point at the top of Edinburgh Castle. It was 1992 and we were on our honeymoon in Scotland. We realized we both knew Jamie but from different worlds, she as his colleague at the WVU medical center and I as a fellow West Virginia conservationist. Indeed, it was Jamie and his wife, Betsy. They were just as surprised to see us as we were them, and it left a permanent memory for all four of us.

Dr. Jamie Shumway’s adult life had two parallel paths, the two Jan and I knew. From his first post-graduate life as a teacher, especially as he became a specialist in medical education, he had also been a very active outdoorsman. Whether living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Lexington, Kentucky or Morgantown, West Virginia, Jamie had spent many hours rock climbing, hiking and later, whitewater paddling. His West Virginia river adventures were the usual suspects: Shavers Fork, Cheat Canyon, the Smoke Hole Section of the South Branch, and the nearby Youghiogheny in Pennsylvania.

Jamie was also one of the founders, and an early chair, of the Morgantown Group of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. He was an organizer and early board chairman of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. Somewhere along the way, my Highlands Conservancy life crossed paths with his Sierra Club life, but it was well before we met again at Edinburgh Castle.

But Jamie’s greatest challenge was yet to come: In 2008 he was diagnosed with ALS. For a man who had lived such an outdoor life, at least as an avocation, such a diagnosis seemed so ironic. As his physical activity became more limited, ever the medical educator, he found opportunities to present his experiences to several waves of medical students, interns and residents. Finally, in his last years, he authored his memoirs (with the help of a co-writer) for those of us left behind to reflect on his experiences.

ReadingOff Belay(a rock climbing term he explains) brought back so many memories of places I knew, but also inspires me to carry on in his memory. Whether you knew Jamie, just knew of Jamie, or are just interested in preserving the beauty of West Virginia, Jamie’s life will touch you, both as one who enjoyed and helped preserve the outdoors and as a courageous champion of living life to its fullest.

Off Belay: A Last Great Adventureby Jamie Shumway with Renee K. Nicholson, 2017, available in soft cover at, or from