September 4, 2007
By Michael Pearlman, Jackson Hole News & Guide
Lifelong valley visitor comfortably tackles Owen-Spalding route
When Bob Riggs reached the summit of the Grand Teton on Aug. 14, the emotional phone call he made to Beverly, his wife of 59 years, was more overwhelming than the climb itself. “When her voice came on, I burst into tears,” Riggs said. “I was so excited that I had made it to the top. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky – that view is an emotional experience. It does things to your inner self.”
To celebrate his 80th birthday, Riggs and Exum Mountain Guide Molly Loomis successfully summitted the 13,770-foot Grand Teton via the Owen-Spalding route. While its not clear if Riggs is the oldest person to reach the summit of the Grand, Exum co-owner Al Read confirmed that Riggs is the oldest client the guide service has ever led to the top of the peak.
Riggs had taken two days of climbing instruction in 2005 and spent a third day refreshing his skills two days before beginning his climb. On summit day, Riggs and Loomis departed from the Lower Saddle at 3:15 am and reached the summit by 8:45 a.m. as clouds began closing in, spending only 10 minutes on the summit. Loomis reported that Riggs handled the technical aspects of the climb comfortably, and wasn’t intimidated by the exposure on the route. “Our strategy was to take it nice and slow and really emphasize maintenance throughout the climb, and that good self-care through pacing, eating and drinking would serve us in the long run,” Loomis said.
A retired oil industry executive, Riggs lives in University Park, Texas but has been traveling to Jackson Hole since the late 1940s, when he and his wife would vacation at the X Quarter-Circle X guest ranch, which was located near where the Climbers Ranch sits today. When the guest ranch closed, Riggs and his family stayed at Jenny Lake Lodge. Riggs said that he was never able to find the time to climb the Grand while vacationing with four children, but latched onto the idea two years ago as a way of showing off on his 80th birthday. Though he was never a hardcore athlete, Riggs at one time ran a mile or two each day after being diagnosed with a pulmonary disease in the early 1950s. “The doctor said I’d be a pulmonary cripple within 5 years and I said no way and started running,” Riggs recalled.
Loomis agreed that Riggs’ steady exercise regimen helped him move comfortably in the mountains, but added that Riggs’ determination played a big role in his success as well. “To me what was incredibly inspirational, was just his tenacity, Loomis said. “He just came into it with a tenacious attitude and was determined to do it.” Riggs said he was completely comfortable during the mandatory rappel on the descent, but balked when Loomis suggested they spend a second night on the peak before descending. Loomis granted his request, and after a long hike to the Lupine Meadows parking area, Riggs was able to enjoy a birthday cake at the Climber’s Ranch after his big day out.
“It’s a long walk to the parking lot from the saddle, I’ll tell you that,” Riggs said. “I was really tired for the last mile. I was extremely impressed with Molly’s guiding ability and the big heart she has for old people.” Riggs didn’t rule out another attempt on the peak if his health allows him to return, but said it might take news of another 80-year old climber to bring him back. For Loomis, the experience of guiding the spry senior citizen to the top gave her pause. “It makes me have to think twice about needing a rest day,” she said.