Royal Robbins


Royal Robbins, 75, owned Yosemite’s big walls in the 1960s, and his list of FAs is longer than this page. He was the first to solo El Capitan, was a pioneering free climber, was instrumental in promoting clean climbing during the piton era, wrote soulful stories and superb instructional books (and has just published the first volume of an autobiography through Pink Moment Press), started a clothing company, and had an entire second adventure-sports career in extreme kayaking. But what really defines Royal Robbins is style. His ethical code has always been paramount, even back in the age when getting to the top by any means was enough for most. Respect.

The valley has the best [big walls], and that’s where my heart is. Final Exam and Athlete’s Feat [in Colorado, both 5.10+/11-, two of the hardest free climbs anywhere when Robbins did them in 1964] don’t stand out in my mind, maybe because I was climbing so much.

I don’t know for sure how many Basic Rockcrafts sold, but it and Advanced Rockcraft sold over 400,000 copies.

Swami belts were at one time considered a luxury. We started by just tying the rope to our waists. The swamis gave us extra rope and provided a convenient place to anchor, so we favored them. Nowadays, I would choose a harness.

Our ascent of the Washington Column East Face fades in my mind because of Peter Croft’s magnificent free solo of that route.

My broken arm at Stoney Point was my worst climbing accident until 1997, when I dislodged a rock (weighing about 150 pounds) that hit me in the right shoulder, breaking five bones, and in the ribs, breaking four. Everything healed up fine.

I have to consider arthritis a blessing. It came at the practical end of my climbing career and got me into kayaking.

I should be as well regarded in the boating world as the climbing world, but I am not. At least I am never asked to talk about my boating.

We started Mountain Paraphernalia in 1967 to import and distribute mountain climbing equipment. It became Royal Robbins, the outdoor and travel clothing company, and was sold in 2003 to a Modesto restaurateur, Dan Costa. It is a great adventure to have a business, but it is nice to wake up in the morning without that sword hanging over your neck.

My top five climbing routes are Open Book, Nutcracker, Cenotaph Corner (in North Wales), The Line, and Salathe Wall.

These days, I spend most of my time writing and speaking. I am still married. We have a son, 30, and a daughter, 38. Neither of them climb, but they love the out-of-doors, especially skiing and boating.