Below is an entry I wrote when I was doing some very basic editing for Greg Child's Enclyclopedia. Many big heroes were left out of this book; unfortunately I did not have time (nor was I hired) to write entries for his work. But I couldn't let Royal be left out.
Royal Robbins is without question one of the most influential American climbers of the latter 20th century. Born in 1935 in West Virginia, he moved out to Los Angeles at age 5, and as a teenager in the boy scouts, Royal was introduced to the mountains on a two week camping trip in the High Sierra in YOSEMITE National Park, which began a lifelong commitment to the craft of mountaineering in particular, and outdoor adventure in general.
After cutting his teeth on the sandstone crops of San Fernando Valley in California, Royal spent his early years developing his skills at TAHQUITZ. He became one of the leading climbers in the area and made the FIRST FREE ASCENT of Open Book (5.9) which was identified at that time as the hardest free climb in the country. In 1957, he and Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick made the first ascent in five days of the northwest face of HALF DOME, the first Grade VI in the country.
After a stint in the army, Robbins made the decision to devote himself to a life of outdoor adventure. From 1960 to 1964 he worked at Sugar Bowl in California as a ski instructor in the winter, and spent the rest of the year traveling and climbing. During this period, he made the second ascent in 7 days of the Nose route on EL CAPITAN (the first ascent by Warren HARDING took 45 days spread over a year and a half). He also climbed two new BIG WALL routes on El Capitan, the SALATHE WALL and the North American Wall, the latter considered the hardest big wall route in the world at the time. In 1964, Robbins climbed the first ascent of the southeast face of Proboscis, in the CIRQUE OF THE UNCLIMBABLES, the first time a major Yosemite-type big wall had been done in a remote setting.
In 1963 Robbins married Elizabeth Burkner (Liz), and in1965 they moved to Leysin, Switzerland where Robbins established many difficult routes in Europe, including the now CLASSIC American Direct on the DRU, at the time considered the hardest rock climb in the western ALPS.
They returned to the US in 1967 where Royal and Liz set up a successful rock CLIMBING SCHOOL called Rockcraft located in Modesto, California, famous for its high level of instruction. In 1969, Robbins climbed Tis-sa-sack on Half Dome. In all Robbins climbed 5 new routes on Half Dome. He also made a solo ascent of the Muir route on El Capitan (named after John MUIR). This was the second ascent and the first ROPE SOLO of the great rock monolith, El Capitan. Robbins regards this as his most challenging climb.
In 1969, Robbins and Liz started the first of many successful business enterprises: Mountain Paraphernalia, which wholesaled and retailed imported climbing gear, many items of which helped to outfit the next generation of big wall climbers. In 1971 Royal wrote "Basic Rockcraft" and in 1973, "Advanced Rockcraft", two books which inspired a generation of climbers to climb using CLEAN PROTECTION. In 1979 Royal founded "Royal Robbins", a manufacturer which offered a complete line of color coordinated outdoor clothing and by 1988 had $10 million in sales. 10% of net profits are committed to projects saving the Earth, and have become a model company in organizational recycling.
Royal learned to kayak in 1975 and has since kayaked down some of the most challenging rivers of the world, including many "first descents" (a term used by river runners to indicate the first time a particular section a river has been run) in California and Chile.
His biography, Royal Robbins-Spirit of the Age, by climbing author Pat Ament, was published in October 1992.
by John Middendorf
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