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A Climber We Lost: David Coombs

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.


You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

David Coombs, 70, February 5

Spokane, Washington, is a “great big little town” nestled in a semi-arid desert region of eastern Washington State. A beautiful river flows through the heart of the city and one of the most prominent architectural treasures of Spokane is the St. John’s Cathedral perched atop the basalt cliffs overlooking the city. It was at the Deanery of St. John’s Cathedral that David Coombs, “the Preacher’s Son,” was raised from age four through his teenage years. David found his first love and passion climbing the nearby cliffs surrounding the Cathedral and was inspired by reading adventure books.

In between weekend climbing expeditions, David attended St. Paul’s school in Concord, New Hampshire, from eighth grade through high school, then received a Bachelor’s Degree from Harvard College, with an emphasis in anthropology. Following college, he earned a Master of English from Washington State University. His extensive business career centered around improving product design and efficiency, whether it was with Boston Whaler, Safeway, or his own company, Coombs Manufacturing. Upon moving to Boulder, Colorado, he spent several years as a consultant assisting companies such as John Deere, Toyota, and large hospitals to implement new efficient systems in product design, manufacturing, and management.

David’s true love was mountain exploration in the wildest places on this planet, and his passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for climbing was contagious to his climbing partners. His contribution was teaching others about the mountains, whether it was in his high school English class or while guiding people in his business lectures. He was simply a walking, talking encyclopedia of mountain history and exploration knowledge. Physically, David was six feet tall and blessed with powerful legs and heart strength that took him to the highest places on this planet on five continents. His climbing resume would fill a book. Here are just a few: The fourth ascent of Mt. Fairweather starting at the Pacific Ocean and summiting via the Carpe Ridge. The complete traverse of the northern Selkirks starting near Rogers Pass and going south to Kootenay Lake. An ascent of the Cassin Ridge on Denali, the Nose of El Cap in Yosemite, Mera Peak in the Khumbu, The Hein Glacier on Kilimanjaro, Cho Oyu in Tibet, the Matterhorn, Mt. Blanc, and the Pillar of Fresnay in Chamonix. David made the first winter ascent of Mt. Ball in the Canadian Rockies, and spent three weeks traversing from Mt. Patterson in the Canadian Rockies to Yoho National Park—in winter!

David considered his “crowning achievement” being a climbing team member of the Kangshung Face (East Face) of Mt. Everest in 1983, an American Alpine Club sponsored expedition led by Dr. James Morrissey. The Kangshung Face was the route that Mallory looked at in 1921 and said “emphatically not for us.” The Kangshung Face route was successful in putting six men on the summit, and it has never been repeated. David was asked by a friend what it was like being on a pioneering Everest climb but not reaching the summit. He said it was “like being on the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey team but not scoring a goal.”

David died peacefully in his sleep on February 5 in Boulder, Colorado. David was preceded in death by his parents, the Very Reverend Richard and Barbara Coombs, and his sister, Margaret Coombs Farris (Mike). He is survived by his former wife Elizabeth Jewett (married in 1986 and divorced in 2002), their two children, Sarah Elizabeth Jewett Coombs and David Frederick Jewett Coombs, his sister Catherine Coombs Moye (Peter), his brother Peter Richard Coombs (Carrie) and numerous nieces and nephews.

Further reading adventures about David Coombs including the “forbidden” Kangshung Face of Everest are in the book Highest and Hardest: A Mountain Climber’s Lifetime Odyssey to the Top of the World, by Chris Kopczynski. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, most bookstores, and Kindle. One hundred percent of the profits of this book are donated to the Jess Roskelley Foundation, a gesture I know my friend David Coombs would approve of.

—Chris Kopczynski

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.