Golden Age Climbing Legend Royal Robbins Dies, Aged 82

Climbing legend and progressive 'clean-climbing' advocate Royal Robbins has died aged 82.

By Harriet Ridley | March 15th, 2017

Royal Robbins at the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. He guided Royal Robbins employees on the classic, seven-day, self-supported kayak trip on an annual company retreat. Photo: Robbins FamilyRoyal Robbins, Golden Age pioneer of American rock climbing, who passionately advocated low-impact climbing techniques, died on Tuesday March 14th at his home in Modesto, California, after suffering a long-term illness. Robbins was 82. His influence on the history of climbing defies any easy encapsulation.

Robbins, perhaps best known for his presence in Yosemite during the Valley’s early years, was a driving force in the development of modern-day climbing techniques and standards, and was a determined pioneer of clean climbing techniques that exploited the natural features of the rock by using innovative pro for his time, such as nuts, as opposed to pitons and bolts. 

In 1952 Robbins established a new standard of free climbing with his ascent of the 5.9 route Open Book in Tahquitz, California. Later, in 1957, he made the first ascent of The Northwest Face of Half Dome with Jerry Galwas and Mike Sherrick over five days, and in 1961 he made the first ascent of the infamous Salathé Wall on El Capitan. Other notable first ascents include numerous routes on Mount Hooker, in the Wind River Range, Wyoming, and the first ascent of American Direct on the Dru in Chamonix.

In 1967, Robbins made the first ascent of The Nutcracker in Yosemite, using only removable protection, with his wife Liz. This was the first climb of its kind in the United States. After their ascent of The Nutcracker, Robbins published a seminal article in Summit magazine where he advocated using removable protection rather than inserting and removing pitons that damaged the granite cracks of Yosemite. Robbins’ continued advocacy of clean climbing has continued to influence generations of climbers and shape the sport to what it is today.

Robbins met Liz at Camp 4 when she was working as concierge at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel, and the couple married in 1963. Four years later, he and Liz climbed Half Dome on the 10th anniversary of his first ascent, making her the first woman to climb the famous formation and the first in the world to climb an aid route of that difficulty.

Royal and Liz at the top of Half Dome in June 1967 after Liz became the world‘s first woman to climb it, on the 10th anniversary of the first ascent of the wall by Royal. Photo: Unknown Tourist. Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard at the top of El Capitan‘s North American wall in September 1964.                                                                                                   Photo: Tom Frost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robbins’ instructional manuals Basic Rockcraft (1971) and Advanced Rockcraft (1973) provided climbers with the only manual available to learn climbing ethics that respected the rock. His three-part autobiographical series, “My Life: Royal Robbins,” details his journey from rebellious youth in Los Angeles to Yosemite’s Camp 4. His writing is known for its emotional spirituality and humor.

 

Royal Robbins. Photo: Tom Frost. Michael Millenacker, CEO of Royal Robbins, provided the following remembrance:

“Royal was a legendary pioneer who approached everything in life with a true spirit of adventure. He gave me my first break in the outdoor industry and set me on the path to meld a passion for the outdoors with a career. He taught me to work with purpose—that the harder we worked, the more we could give back.

His leadership style was unique and uncannily effective. On my very first climb, he tied in, started climbing, and left me with a harness and the end of a rope. As with all outdoor and business pursuits, he led by bold examples.

He also knew how to harness the power of perseverance and courage to influence so many lives – including mine. With tremendous class and a huge heart, he taught me so many the valuable lessons about conviction and grit. Every time I saw him walk into a room, you could feel a shift, as if everyone knew they were in the presence of greatness. Many like me, will always be inspired and guided by his leadership.”

 

One of Robbins’ most inspiring and humorous literary works, “Tis-sa-Ack,” will be reprinted in the 50th Anniversary edition of Ascent.

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