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 Family
Royal 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.