Robert Model Jr. 1973–2009
I have still not quite come to terms with the truth that Bobby Model is dead. I knew Bobby for almost 20 years, traveled five continents with him, and tied in with him for hundreds of climbs. Bobby saved my life on a couple of occasions and will forever rest in my mind as one of the finest men I’ve known.
Bobby was born in May, 1973. The son of Anne Young and Robert Model, he grew up on a ranch outside Cody, Wyoming. An athletic and outdoor-driven youth, he hunted, hiked, and adventured in the mountains near his home. In high school he discovered ski racing, which became his passion until climbing took over in his early years of college. While attending classes in Laramie, Bobby was also a student at the “University of Vedauwoo,” becoming a well-rounded, bold climber.
Already an accomplished ice and rock climber, at age 22 he joined fellow Wyoming climbers for an ascent of Trango Tower via the Cowboy Direct (VII 5.13a). A budding photographer, Bobby’s images from that trip were published in a story on the climb in National Geographic’s April 1996 issue. Over the next half-dozen years, he climbed and photographed routes on big walls, 8,000-meter peaks, seaside sport climbs, and boulders across the globe. At the same time Bobby contributed to his “local” climbing areas. From long ice climbs in the South Fork near Cody to sport routes in Tensleep, to hard cracks throughout Wyoming, he was a climber who gave something back to the sport.
Gradually Bobby’s photographic interests changed. Although he remained a dedicated climber and adventurer, his passion became capturing the peoples of the world on film. In 2003 he relocated to Nairobi, Kenya. From there he made frequent trips to countries of Africa and the Middle East, working on assignment for National Geographic Adventure and as a contributor to other publications. Bobby’s photography has received international recognition, including being exhibited at the Banff Centre for Mountain Culture. In 2006 he was selected as an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society Missions Program. For the past several years he worked documenting the lives of the Balti of northern Pakistan. On climbing in the area he said, “Expeditions are one thing, but I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life. It feels strange to enter a cultural environment—carrying tons of equipment, bags of money, and bright synthetic clothing—and then disappear without really getting to appreciate the people you meet along the way. I have this idealistic streak in me. I always hope I will get the shot that makes people understand what it’s like for people who live lives completely different from their own.”
Bobby’s climbing partners were lucky. He was a solid partner, had a wonderful sense of humor, and could be counted on to get great snapshots of every climbing day. Where many photographers rely on their subjects to help rig ropes for shots, Bobby often would lead a pitch first and then give his subjects beta as he shot from above.
Bobby’s memorial service, held in his hometown of Cody, drew over 500 people. Some knew him as a climber, some as a photographer, some as a friend from school, and some as a kid from a local ranch. Held in the Cody Auditorium, decorated with his photos, the service featured reflections of friends, talks by his sisters and parents, and a breathtaking slide and video show of his life created by his closest friend, Peter Mallamo.
Bobby is survived by his mother Anne Young and stepfather Jim Nielson, father Bob Model and stepmother Mona Model, sisters Faith and Austine Model, and an extraordinary collection of friends and extended family from around the world whose outpouring of love, humor, grace, and prayers was an enormous support for Bobby and his family.