PARKERSBURG - Tom Riddle has yet to climb his last mountain, even after falling down one of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.
The 57-year-old math professor at West Virginia University at Parkersburg survived a fall of 450-600 feet during an excursion to the Tetons in July.
Riddle, of Parkersburg, walked away from Mount Teewinot with merely an elbow injury. While cascading down the side of the mountain, Riddle used his ice ax to slow his fall, twisting his elbow in the process. He will be six weeks in a cast and undergo six months of therapy, but that won't stop him from returning to the scene of the accident.
Parkersburg resident Tom Riddle stands on top of Mount Teewinot in Wyoming.
An avid climber of Seneca Rocks in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and a consistent climber of any mountain with a challenge, Riddle has his heart set on returning to the Grand Tetons and his most recent brush with danger.
Riddle's wife, Mary Beth, has a heart for climbing as well, although she hasn't participated in the activity for several years.
"I started climbing in ROTC at West Virginia University as well," she said. "I wouldn't mind climbing again, maybe just scrambling over the rocks."
The couple's second date was rappelling at Coopers Rock in West Virginia. When Mary Beth learned of her husband's accident she said she wasn't scared until after he had his surgery and was asleep in the hospital.
"I stayed all night in the room with him," she said. "It just hit me that 'wow' he could've hit his head, and I could be at his funeral right now."
With an exceptional resume, it's a wonder Riddle found time to have a hobby. He went to West Virginia University, is a veteran of the U.S. Army (27 years of service), and taught mathematics at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Riddle's passion for climbing stems from ROTC at West Virginia University in the 1970s. He attended a climbing camp at Seneca Rocks one summer and repeated the process for three years. By the fourth year, Riddle was an instructor for the camp. He also took advantage of being stationed around the world when he was in the Army. He climbed mountains in Italy and California, whenever he was near one. But his favorite mountain range is the Grand Tetons.
His first attempt at climbing the Tetons was in May, but he was unsuccessful because there was too much snow.
"I didn't have too much success," he said. "But I had fun."
Always optimistic, Riddle returned to the mountain in July with his wife.
While visiting his son, Sgt. First Class Joseph Hale Riddle, and grandchildren, stationed in Arizona at Fort Huachuca, Riddle was ready to prove to himself he could do it. He and his wife, Mary Beth, stopped at the Grand Tetons. The two were able to find a campground and rode their bicycles around the first day of their arrival. On the second day, the pair took about a "five mile float" along the Snake River. The third day was a day Riddle won't forget. He started his climb up Mount Teewinot before daylight and made two friends along the way.
"I met two guys," he said. "One of which had decided to carry up a panda suit."
Riddle said he helped the man put on his "panda suit" and even took some pictures for him. After doing so, they parted ways and Riddle was off to climb the rest of the mountain.
The mountain of choice, Mount Teewinot, is within 1,000 feet of being the height of the Grand Tetons, sitting in front of the largest portion. On Riddle's way up, he crossed one snow field, explaining it was "soft enough to sink in three or four inches," and was ideal for traveling in. He also noticed another patch of snow that was in the shade and didn't have as much of a chance to melt. On his way down, he picked that snow field to go through. But he slipped. He had an ice ax and used it to slow down, he dug at the ice, but it didn't slow him down enough. When all was said and done, Riddle had injured his elbow. The two men he had discovered upon his climb up were able to offer him assistance down the side of the mountain. It took about four hours for Riddle to rappel down and have his wife transport him to the hospital. Until then, his cast consisted of his long-sleeve thermal under shirt, wrapped around his elbow to try to stop the bleeding.
After arriving at the hospital, Riddle had to have emergency surgery that evening but was hospitalized for less than 20 hours.
"We were stuck in the tetons," he said. "It took us four days to get home."
It was the first time Mary Beth had driven the couple's truck with the camper and trailer attached. But according to her husband, she did very well.
Riddle's biggest concern now is he will be in a cast for the first two weeks of teaching.
"The doctors said I should regain mobility and use of my joints in about six weeks," said Riddle.
But he will have to endure about six months of healing and rebuilding his elbow.
When asked if he will ever climb again, Riddle only laughed.
"I'll be climbing again next summer," he said. "I've been doing it since I was 19, I'm 57 now so I'm not stopping at this point."
When asked if she would ever try to stop him from climbing, Riddle's wife only chuckled and said, "I'm not going to stop him, it's not something he's ever going to stop until he's feeble and unable to."