1990 Honorary Member Profile : Kim Momb
"It's hard to stay in Kansas once you've been to Oz"
This poster quote inscribed on Kim's gravestone is what he told a reporter via phone from Chang Du after scaling 29,028-foot Mt. Everest's unclimbed East Face October 8, 1983. He had been asked, "Why?"
"It's a magical thing with me. It's tough to stay in Kansas when you've been to Oz. I use that for doing all this madness, I guess." It was his seventh climbing season and third Everest try in 3 years-all in the company of Spokane Mountaineers.
"Kim was leading the way when we though we heard him yell," recalls Chris Kopczynksi, who topped the worlds's highest peak in 1981. "We were relieved to hear him yodeling. He had reached the top." (Chris and former member David Coombs were not among the six to summit.) Kim and John Roskelley abandoned a dangerous 1981 East Face attempt. In 1982, pulmonary edema felled John at 26,000 feet on the West Ridge and Kim helped him down.
"I owe my life to him," John said in an emotional tribute at the club's 75th anniversary banquet in 1990. Kim's parents, Joyce and Lyle Momb, were there to accept a special honorary membership plaque recognizing "outstanding mountaineering achievement, innovation and service in the tradition of alpinism" awarded to Kim, John, Chris, and Jim States.
The American Alpine Club gave Kim its David A. Swoles Award for rescue gallantry. The conferrer said, "His (John's) only companion, knowing every second counted, bundled up the cyanotic victim and, under perilous conditions, spent hours getting him down...."
Kim cut short another Himalayan attempt- again with John-to save a climber. In March 1985, he helped cerebral-edema-stricken Greg Cronn just prior to the final summit push on 28,208-foot Kanchenjunga, world's third highest.
Eleven months later, 16 days short of his 30th birthday, massive avalanches overtook Kim on the day's last run guiding heliskiers east of Nakusp, BC. Buried about 10 minutes next to a shattered tree, he died in Nakusp's hospital. It was his third guiding season.
More than 800 people gathered for the funeral. Spokesman-Review outdoor editor Rich Lander's explained:
"Given his skills and conquests alone, Kim Momb probably wouldn't have been so dear to Spokane, a city that's brimming with talent. But Kim stood out in his willingness to come down from Everest and share what he had, whether it was doing TV spots for the Girl Scouts or forfeiting a day of skiing to give a group of Spokane Mountaineers a free telemarking lesson. He was a macho man with a heart."
"You don't find many climbers with his combination of athletic skill, generosity, and community-mindedness," John pointed out. "He was a man who had the arms of Popeye, the hands of Beethoven, and a heart of gold," said Chris. "I don't think there was anybody in the world who didn't love Kimmer," said another climbing partner, Jeff Dwenwald.
Kim and his sister Kari grew up in the Spokane Valley in a close, supportive family with lots of camping, biking, etc. At 6, he was skiing Mt. Spokane, where his parents instructed. (Later, he was seriously considered for the U.S. ski team.) He pitched Little League no-hitters. Family scrapbooks show Kin and his 277 bike riding the national motocross race circuit. His dad was his mechanic.
"Kim tried everything," his mom says. Kayaking, wind surfing, karate, archery...A "mostly A and B" student at West Valley High School, Kim was so busy conditioning and working on his motorbike, "if he got into trouble, we didn't know about it."
The climbing began in 1976. "He was kind of at loose ends working with his Dad in construction," his mom recalls. His sister and her boyfriend were playing around on the Minnehaha Rocks then. "I can remember ropes laying all over the living room. One day Kim happened to be around. Kari said, 'Kim, go with us' and he did."
Kim sought out John, already an internationally recognized mountaineer. "John just took Kim under his wing," Mrs. Momb remembers. "John and Kim climbed Yosemite's El Capitan in one day." ("Kim and I got along just super, just like two brothers," John reflects.)
Kim joined the Spokane Mountaineers. He first instructed in the 1977 Mountain School. Three years later came Kim's Himalayan test: The 1980 all-Spokane, no-Sherpa, no-oxygen expedition that put John on the 27,790-foot summit of Makalu (world's fifth highest peak) via the West Pillar, and Chris and Jim a few hundred feet short. Kim was 24. He had walked over 100 miles across Nepal to Tibet.
Badly swollen , painful knees from an old injury forced him down. But not before making one last critical, 500-pound food carry with Jim back up to Chris and John at Camp 3 at nearly 25,000 feet.
"I felt like a zombie," Kim said. "I just kept thinking, 'They have to have it.'" It took 10 hours to climb the 3000 feet. Approaching darkness left no time for rest. Thirty rappels and 3 hours later, they were back at Camp 2.
"Kim kept a grueling training schedule." His mom recalls the hours and hours of rigorous home equipment workouts, runs and bike rides to Mt. Spokane, and disciplined eating habits. He was "Mr. Health Nut," she says.
Kim was modest. A stranger told Mrs. Momb of riding a ski lift with Kim (recognized later from a photo) and noting his telemark skis, asked "What else to you like to do?" "Fool around and climb rocks," Kim responded. Pressed for examples, Kim said, "Rainier and a couple things in California." This was after Kim topped Mt. Everest.
"Kim was good enough to go to the Himalayas before he had even climbed the highest peak in Washington. Yet as we stood on Rainier, he was just as excited as I was," said Tom Steiber of their summit 2 weeks after Kim's return from Makalu.
Just a few days after returning from Everest, Kim acted in a club annual banquet ski. His mom remembers how he made up songs on his guitar in the Nakusp lounge. "They named a ski run Candyman after him."
The "Everest: The East Face" show, where he jumared onto the Opera House stage, revealed a talent for public speaking. There was no script, his mom says. "He always ad libbed because he wanted to be fresh and exciting." Later, he addressed, 3,000 at the National Homebuilders Association meeting in Los Angeles, the Kodak board, IBM employees. He taught an EWU Elderhostel class, advocated a drug-free life to youths, and raised funds for United Way.
What might have been? "He had set a goal of climbing the world's five highest peaks, and I think he would have done it," said John. "He was going to be a forerunner on K2...he was going to pursue other endeavors. He had so much talent; he didn't know where to put it. He had doctors and businessmen offering to put him through school and help him with all sorts of opportunities." His parents had granted a Christmas 1985 wish for a new motorcycle helmet and parts. He had applied to Stanford University. And there was Everest, again, in 1989...a book...more motivational speaking...
Kim's name lives on. Memorial scholarships are awarded through the Home Builders Association and West Valley High School. The West Valley Career Center bears his name. United Way established a memorial fund.
"Once or twice a year," his mom says, "someone asks, 'Do you know that climber, Kim Momb?' It's kind of neat." A Troy, NY, man who Kim encouraged to climb still writes.
Images remain. Rich recalled a 1980 Stevens Peak Snow Practice. "We were looking over a huge cornice when I joked how neat it would be to snap a photo of someone jumping off...The next thing I knew, Kim was hurtling through the air, both hands on his ice ax, legs outstretched, calmly waiting for contact and a perfect, upright glissade on the steep slope some 30 feet below."
It's been said I was his mentor," says John, "but I learned a lot from Momb, like freely expressing feelings through crying, touching, and openly caring...Kim was a real American hero. Thanks, Kim, for giving us a few precious memories we can keep forever."
How did Kim feel about the Spokane Mountaineers? After Makalu, Kim wrote, "We couldn't have done it just for ourselves. In our hearts, all of you were right there with us. We all felt very proud to...represent our country and home town as well as the club that gave us our start..."