The Mountain Man Moves On
By Suzy Hamilton, The Nelson Daily
The mountains lost a kindred spirit recently. Or perhaps they gained one.
Husband, father, teacher and legendary mountaineer Robert “Kim” Kratky, born May 15, 1946, passed away from brain cancer in Nelson on March 12, with his family close beside.
Speakers at his memorial last Saturday, April 6, at Mary Hall stitched together a remarkable tapestry of a life full of adventures, love, curiosity and accomplishment.
Born an only child in Kansas City, Missouri, he cultivated lifelong friends — from his University of Kansas days as a Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother — to travelers he met on his life’s path.
And although he pursued an academic teaching career in Michigan after earning his Masters degree in English literature at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, travel to Europe and the Mid East beckoned.
That is where he met his life long partner Canadian Janice Isaac in 1971, a woman who would change his life and country, but not his love of teaching or travel. Together they moved to Nelson in 1973, to teach and travel the world.
And together they would adopt Karla and her sister Julia from Honduras in the 1980s to complete their family, now with the addition of grandson Joel. His fascination with Latin culture opened the doors to the Spanish language and its peoples.
This man was a born teacher. He loved to learn and to share his knowledge. Friend after friend at the memorial described the envelopes from Kim left in their mailboxes, filled with interesting clippings he had earmarked just for them. It was said he sent them so they could have a lively conversation.
He arduously catalogued the books he read from 1965 (some 850 in nearly every genre, from novels and poetry to classics in the French and Spanish languages) and kept daily journals, which he referred to on just about any apt occasion. Friends recounted his uncanny ability to remember and cite facts and statistics that astounded most people.
In 1990 he settled on Selkirk College, teaching literature, composition and related subjects until his retirement in 2010.
But it was Kim’s love of the mountains, and their love for him, that anchored him to the Kootenays. In 1973 he and Janice joined the Kootenay Mountaineering Club.
Kim made his first ascent, an easy slog up Ymir Mountain and became a volunteer rock and snow instructor for the KMC. That was the beginning of a lifelong adventure with not only every Kootenay peak, but many in BC and South America as well. His journals tell it all, a legacy of a life of love of the mountains.
In four decades he made nearly 1,200 ascents in the Selkirk, Purcell and Monashee ranges. Over 100 of these surpassed 10,000 feet.
There, far away from the hustle and bustle of the ordinary world, Kim could revel in the silence of the alpine.
The climb he was most proud of was an ascent of Amen-Ra, a peak of 9,550 feet overlooking Monica Meadows. The view across the creek drainage to Jumbo Mountain was unforgettable.
Turning to back country skiing with his wife and oft times with his mountain mate Howie Ridge, he was a four season mountaineer.
And a conservationist. For two decades as the chair of the Conservation Committee of the KMC, Kim was instrumental in the creation of the Valhalla Provincial Park, the West Arm Wilderness Park and was a stakeholder in numerous back country recreation agreements.
He, however, did not live long enough to see his beloved Jumbo Valley protected from development. Since 1990 Kim spent countless hours working to preserve the Jumbo Valley, a vision that he hoped fervently would be carried on by his fellow environmentalists.
Gardener, chef, linguist, English professor, activist, mountain climber, father, husband and friend, Kim said that he had no regrets.
But those who knew and loved him, if asked for an honest answer, will have regrets: that a man who lived life to the fullest for himself, his family and for those who shared his passions will not be with them to meet life’s challenge with the grace and courage that made him a true mountain man of the Kootenays.
With thanks to Eileen Delahanty Pearkes, For Love of Mountains.