Royal Robbins, a pioneer of American rock climbing who passionately advocated low-impact climbing technique, passed away on March 14, at his home in Modesto, Calif., after battling a long illness. He was 82.
Royal and his wife Liz founded Royal Robbins in 1968 as an active lifestyle apparel company for rock climbers, adventurers and travelers. He was a leading figure in the Golden Age of Yosemite Valley climbing, was known for his climbing first ascents and adventure kayaking first descents and was one of the first and most vocal proponents of clean climbing. His first ascents include El Capitan’s Salathe Wall and North American Wall and Chamonix’s American Direct on the Dru.
In 1967, Royal and Liz made the first ascent of “Nutcracker” in the Yosemite Valley using only removable gear for protection. It was the first climb of its kind in the United States. Afterward, Royal published a seminal article in Summit magazine where he advocated using removable protection rather than damaging pitons into the granite cracks. Royal’s advocacy of clean climbing influenced generations of climbers since.
Royal’s instruction manuals “Rockcraft” and “Advanced Rockcraft” 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 was known for its emotional spirituality.
He met his future wife, Liz, at Camp 4 when she worked as a concierge at the famous Ahwahnee Hotel. They 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.
A Remembrance by Michael Millenacker, CEO of Royal Robbins (who got his first job in the outdoor industry by stalking Royal Robbins and repeatedly asking him for a job):
“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.”
[Robbins’ portrait by Tom Frost]