Climbing all-stars Molly Bruce Higgins and Larry Bruce reflect on a lifetime of adventuring together.
Molly Bruce Higgins & Larry Bruce | “The most delightful badass couple we could ever hope to chat with.”
She was half of the first all-woman climbing team up The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite. He made the fourth American ascent of the north face of Eiger and free soloed 5.10s in Yosemite back when that was pure madness. Together, they’ve spent the last 45 years climbing all over the world. Not to mention Nordic skiing (Larry coached Glacier Nordic Club’s competitive team for years and Molly was the 20k world masters Nordic champion in 1983), mountain biking, and countless other outdoor pursuits. Earlier this spring, editor Katie Cantrell sat down with Molly Bruce Higgins and Larry Bruce, the most delightful badass couple we could ever hope to chat with.
First things first. How did you two meet?
MBH: I jumped in the car with two other girlfriends and did a cruise around the Rocky Mountains rock climbing and looking for cute boys [in 1975]. I had the good luck to go to Estes Park where Larry was a rock climbing guide. We had ice cream sodas with these three cute alpine guides and it was just fabulous. And Larry and I fell in love, and we’ve been together ever since.
What has it been like to climb as a couple?
MBH: Larry has always been really supportive and emotionally connected and I’ve always known if Larry says, “Molly, you can do it,” I can do it. I’ve been able to do things I never would have conceived of. Larry’s also got an eye for, “That isn’t good; we’re not going there,” and he’s always right.
LB: It certainly works for us. One thing that’s kind of fun, women climbers in general are just about as good as the guys. There isn’t a big discrepancy in abilities, which is really nice. That makes it so you can actually go do some pretty hard stuff.
“We really never got in a situation where we were two-stepping with the grim reaper. I think we were pretty conservative. If there was something that didn’t seem right, we didn’t bother with it.” Molly: “And we listened to each other.”
Did becoming parents change the way you climb?
LB: Totally. When we had Marti, we definitely started toning it down.
MBH: You know, I was 12 years old when my dad died. I have two older sisters and a younger brother and my mom. And they all came together and did fine, but the grief that caused my family, I could not put them through that again. And that has always been a goal of mine. Sometimes at the base of certain climbs I would, the night before, ponder through that, and think, “Okay, that can’t happen.” So between Marti and not leaving Larry with grief and not leaving my extended family with grief, I’ve tried my best not to do that.
How does losing friends in climbing and mountaineering accidents affect you?
MBH: The thing I came away with when I came back from the Pamirs was that I only wanted to climb with people who I loved and they loved me. Because you had to have this deep level of trust and friendship in order to be at your best in the mountains.
LB: I find that you see a lot of couples climbing together. I think the bonding you have with your mate, I think you’re a lot more conscious about taking care of each other than maybe a couple guys who are just like [Bruce roars; imagine an overactive ego come to life]. They just let the…whatever take over, and may not necessarily make the right decisions. But that’s why it’s important that you bond with whoever you go climbing with.
You’ve both been climbing—and adventuring in general —for over five decades. How have you dealt with aging?
LB: We’re talking about going to Stone Hill [along Lake Koocanusa] today, just notch it down a bit. Cool thing about climbing, it’s pretty geriatric-friendly. You can do it for a long time. You can climb pretty hard stuff until you’re pretty darn old.
MBH: The only reason we don’t climb more right now is that there just isn’t time for everything, and we love mountain biking so much. But the aging thing hangs over my head, I think I’m not training the kind of volumes—
LB: Oh, you are too! What do you mean, “I’m not training the kind of volumes”? She does an hour bike ride then skins Big Mountain the same day. I can’t keep up with her.
Any adventures on the horizon?
MBH: We just got an email from some of our old buddies in Aspen and they’re putting together a reunion at City Rocks in July and, “Molly and Larry, you HAVE to come!”
LB: We used to do it every year, we haven’t done it for about 10 years.
MBH: So it’s complicated: We’ve got the dog, we’ve got the grandson, we’ve got the other grandbaby who’s going to be 2 months old, we’re counted on for daycare, all this stuff. So we say to each other, okay, we’re not going to care if we’re in shape. Well, that’s probably a lie. We do care whether we’re in shape. So we’re just starting to put it together: “Okay, we have a sunny day, we’re going to make it up to Point of Rocks, we’re going to climb a couple of easy 5.10s and start breaking in,” because by the end of July we’ve got to be able to at least hold our heads up. That’s the kind of thing that happens, someone stirs the pot and you’re off again.
Photo by: Mandy Mohler
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