James Hall lived to rappel, or move down cliffs by means of a double rope.
As a member of the National Guard, the Severna Park resident had mastered the treacherous rock-climbing technique and even demonstrated it around the United States and in Canada and England.
Mr. Hall was in the middle of a rappelling demonstration Saturday for a group of Boy Scout Explorers when he fell to his death from a cliff in Ellicott City.
"Being in the Guard was the focus of his life, and his big interest was rappelling -- doing exactly what he was doing" when he died, said his father, George Hall of Bowie.
The accident is still being investigated to determine whether James Hall's safety harness, a standard piece of equipment for rappellers, was not securely attached because of human or mechanical error, said George Hall, who is retired from the Navy.
James Hall was born 26 years ago while his father was stationed at a Navy base in Yokosuka, Japan. He was the fifth of the five Hall children. The family eventually moved to Severna Park and he graduated from Severna Park High in 1984.
School sometimes was a struggle for James because he was dyslexic, his father said.
"For his three sisters and his brother, things came a lot easier," Mr. Hall said. "But the learning disability made Jim work a lot harder. In the Guard, though, he felt he was somebody. He was a success. He became a sharpshooter, and he showed his rock climbing all over the world."
James Hall joined the Guard in 1985 and was assigned to Company A, Second Battalion, 115th Infantry Division based in Linthicum, a Guard spokesman said.
Belonging to the National Guard was "his total avocation," said his mother, Patricia Hall of Severna Park. "His peers, his sergeants, his commanding officers were more than a surrogate family to him."
Company A sponsors the Explorers in a community program, and Mrs. Hall said her son took his involvement with the boys' group very seriously. "As a boy, Jim was in the Indian Guides with his father, and later he joined the Explorers when he was about 13," she said.
Other survivors include three sisters, Judy Greisz of Pocomoke, Theresa Smith of Severna Park, and Mary Schaeffer of Los Angeles; one brother, George Hall of Arnold; and one daughter, Latoya Truxton.
A funeral service has been tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Barranco and Sons Severna Park Funeral Home, 495 Governor Ritchie Highway.