Royal Robbins

Royal Robbins (February 3, 1935[1] – March 14, 2017)[2] was one of the pioneers of American rock climbing. After learning to climb at Tahquitz he went on to make first ascents of many big wall routes in Yosemite. As an early proponent of boltless, pitonless clean climbing, he, along with Yvon Chouinard, was instrumental in changing the climbing culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s by encouraging the use and preservation of the natural features of the rock. He went on to become a well-known kayaker.

Royal Robbins
Royal Robbins in the early 1960s.
Born(1935-02-03)February 3, 1935
DiedMarch 14, 2017(2017-03-14) (aged 82)
Occupationrock climber, author, CEO
Known forBig wall climbing, clean climbing
Spouse(s)Liz Robbins

Notable ascents

  • 1952 First free ascent (FFA) of Open Book (Tahquitz), the first route to be rated 5.9 in the Yosemite Decimal System.
  • 1957 Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. First grade VI climb in America. With Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas.[3]
  • 1961 Salathé Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. Hardest big wall grade VI climb in world at time of first ascent. With Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt.[3]
  • 1962 American Direct, Aiguille du Dru, Mont Blanc Range, France. With Gary Hemming.
  • 1963 Direct NW Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Dick McCracken.[3]
  • 1963 Robbins Route, Mount Proboscis, Logan Mountains, NWT, Canada. With Jim McCarthy, Layton Kor and Dick McCracken.[4]
  • 1964 North America Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard.[3]
  • 1964 North Face, Mount Hooker, Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA. With Dick McCracken and Charlie Raymond.
  • 1964 Danse Macabre, Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA.
  • 1964 Final Exam, Castle Rock, Boulder, CO, USA. With Pat Ament.
  • 1964 Athlete's Feat, Castle Rock, Boulder, CO, USA.[5]
  • 1965 American Direttissima, Aiguille du Dru, Mont Blanc Range, France. With John Harlin.[6]
  • 1967 Nutcracker, Yosemite, CA, USA. An early all-nut protected route, now a Yosemite classic.
  • 1967 West Face, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley - First ascent with TM Herbert.[7]
  • 1967 North Face, VI 5.9 A3, Mount Geikie, Canadian Rockies, first ascent with John Hudson.[8]
  • 1967 North Face, Mount Edith Cavell, Canadian Rockies - First solo ascent.[7]
  • 1968 Muir Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, CA - First Solo Ascent.
  • 1969 Mount Jeffers, Cathedral Spires, Kichatna Mountains, Alaska, USA. First ascent of peak with Fitschen and Raymond.[9]
  • 1969 The Prow, Washington Column, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Glen Denny.[3]
  • 1969 Tis-sa-ack, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Don Peterson.[3]
  • 1970 Arcturus, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Dick Dorworth.[3]

Dawn Wall

In 1971, Robbins completed the second ascent, with Don Lauria, of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan, with the (controversial) intention of erasing the route as they climbed it.

Their ascent closely followed the 1970 first ascent by Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell, completed with a heavy-handed reliance on bolts - a method that offended Robbins and other clean climbing advocates. Harding had left all his bolts in the rock; Robbins and Lauria used the bolts to repeat the climb; and Robbins then chopped the heads off the bolts behind them. After two pitches, Robbins stopped chopping the bolts because (according to Lauria) "the quality of the aid climbing was much higher than he had ever expected of Harding or Caldwell and, of course, it was also taking us an awful long time to chop all those goddam bolts."[10]

Royal Robbins Clothing

Following his success as a climber, Robbins founded an eponymous outdoor apparel company with his wife Liz Robbins.[11][12] Royal Robbins, LLC[13] In 2018 the company was bought by the Swiss company Fenix Outdoor International AG, WHO also owns brands like Fjällräven, Primus, Brunton, Tierra and Hanwag as well as the European outdoor retailers Globetrotter, Naturkompaniet, Friluftsland and Partioaitta. Liz Robbins rejoined the company in December 2015 as a senior advisor.[14]

Other climbing achievements

  • 1960 The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. Second ascent.
  • 1963 West Face, Leaning Tower, Yosemite, CA, USA. Second ascent and Yosemite's first wall done solo (Grade V).
  • 1968 Muir Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. First Grade VI solo (and therefore the first solo of El Capitan).

Climbing philosophy in Advanced Rockcraft

Advanced Rockcraft
Original Cover
AuthorRoyal Robbins
SubjectRock climbing
PublisherLa Siesta Press
Publication date
Pages96 pages
Preceded byBasic Rockcraft 

Robbins authored two seminal books, Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft,[15] which emphasized free climbing skills and a clean-climbing ethic. In a section of Advanced Rockcraft called Values, he described his climbing philosophy. He believes that "a first ascent is a creation in the same sense as is a painting or a song", and that choosing a climbing line may well be "an act of brilliant creativity".[15] Another creative aspect of a first ascent involves the aids that the leader of the climb rejects. With modern technology of aid climbing available, a first ascent is more artistic if it consciously rejects the use of certain climbing aids that are not essential to the success of the climb. He places emphasis on using equipment which is non-destructive to the mountain environment. He opposes climbs done outside the accepted mores of a given climbing center, or the prevailing style of an area. He favors what he calls "upward variations", or completing a climb using more stringent standards than used on the first ascent. In Robbins' view, the decision to place a single piton is a matter of "enormous importance" because "like a single word in a poem, it can affect the entire composition".[15]


In 1978, Robbins developed psoriatic arthritis, which prevented serious climbing. He took up adventure kayaking instead, completing first descents of challenging rivers from high mountain elevations. His early kayaking partners included Doug Tompkins and Reg Lake. In 1980, the three descended the San Joaquin River Gorge from Devil's Postpile to the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, 5000 feet lower and 32 miles away. In 1981, they carried their kayaks over Mount Whitney Pass at 13,777 foot elevation, into Sequoia National Park and descended 55 miles down the Kern Trench. In 1982, joined by Neusom Holmes, they descended the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park, the largest and steepest of these three High Sierra descents. In 1983, Robbins descended the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park from Tuolumne Meadows to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. He was accompanied by Reg Lake, Chuck Stanley, Lars Holbek, John Armstrong and Richard Montgomery.

He then developed an interest in descending smaller mountain creeks by kayak during their flood stage following heavy rains. His first such project in May, 1984 was the descent of Sespe Creek, which runs through the Los Padres National Forest. He was accompanied by Yvon Chouinard, Reg Lake, John Wasserman and Jackson Frischman. Robbins called this type of trip "flash boating", and later used the technique on the Fresno River, the Chowchilla River and the middle fork of the Mokelumne River.[16]


  • Robbins, Royal; Sheridan Anderson, illustrator (1971). Basic Rockcraft. Glendale, CA, USA: La Siesta Press. ISBN 9780910856348.
  • Robbins, Royal; Sheridan Anderson, illustrator (1973). Advanced Rockcraft. Glendale, CA, USA: La Siesta Press. ISBN 9780910856560.
  • Robbins, Royal (Sep 1, 2009). To Be Brave - My Life, Volume One. Ojai, CA, USA: Pink Moment Press. ISBN 9780982500019.
  • Robbins, Royal (2010). Fail Falling - My Life, Volume Two. Pink Moment Press. p. 188. ISBN 9780982500026.
  • Robbins, Royal (2012). The Golden Years - My Life, Volume Three. Royal Robbins Adventures, distributed by Giraffe Public Relations. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-615-66192-6.


  • Ament, Pat (1992). Royal Robbins: Spirit of the Age. Boulder, Colorado, USA.: Two Lights. ISBN 1-881663-02-7.
  • Robbins, Royal (Sep 1, 2009). To Be Brave - My Life, Volume One. Ojai, CA, USA: Pink Moment Press. ISBN 978-0-9825000-1-9.
  • Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen (Sep 1, 2014) Valley Uprising


  1. Robbins, Royal (2009), To Be Brave (My Life, Volume One), Ojai, CA, USA: Pink Moment Press. ISBN 978-0-9825000-1-9.
  2. Clark, Brian (March 14, 2017). "Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto's Royal Robbins, dies at 82". Modesto Bee. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  3. Reid, Don (1993). Yosemite Climbs: Big Walls. Evergreen, Colorado, USA.: Chockstone Press Press. ISBN 0-934641-54-4.
  4. Ament, Pat (1992). Royal Robbins - Spirit of the Age. Boulder CO, USA: Two Lights. pp. 125–127. ISBN 1-881663-02-7.
  5. Jones, Chris (1976). Climbing in North America. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California press (for the AAC). p. 297. ISBN 0-520-02976-3.
  6. Harlin, John (1966). "Petit Dru, West Face Direttissima" (PDF). American Alpine Journal. New York City, New York, USA: The American Alpine Club. 1966: 81–89. ISSN 0065-6925. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 19, 2008. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  7. "Jasper National Park - Edith Cavell, North Face, Chouinard, Becky, Doody 4/9/2009". Cascade Climbers. April 9, 2009. Archived from the original on July 8, 2011.
  8. Scott, Chic (2000). Pushing the Limits: the Story of Canadian Mountaineering. Calgary, Alberta Canada: Rocky Mountain Books. p. 196. ISBN 0-921102-59-3.
  9. Embick, Andy (1979). "Climbs and Expeditions - Cathedral Spires". American Alpine Journal. New York City, NY, USA: The American Alpine Club. 22 (53): 169.
  10. Harding, Warren (1990). Downward Bound: a Mad! guide to Rock Climbing. Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press. pp. 165–167. ISBN 0-89732-101-4.
  11. McGowan, Elizabeth (1985). "Royal Robbins". Backpacker. Active Interest Media, Inc. 13 (3): 17–18. ISSN 0277-867X.
  12. Woodward, Bob (1985). "Short Cuts". Backpacker. Active Interest Media, Inc. 13 (3): 38–39. ISSN 0277-867X.
  13. "Royal Robbins, Travel and Outdoor Clothing for Men and Women - 40% Off Select Styles". Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  14. "Royal Robbins® Taps Co-Founder Liz Robbins as Advisor". 2015-12-15. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  15. Robbins, Royal, Advanced Rockcraft (La Siesta Press, Glendale, CA, 1973) ISBN 0-910856-56-7
  16. Ament, Pat (1998). Royal Robbins - Spirit of the Age. Mechanicsburg, PA, USA: Stackpole Books. pp. 238–247. ISBN 0-8117-2913-3.
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