The day I could have killed Royal Robbins


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Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 7, 2009 - 10:19pm PT
In the late 1950's I learned to climb with the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Section in southern California. I was only fourteen and eager to hear stories about the best climbers. The most awesome stories were about Royal Robbins. He had climbed the sheer and unrepeated face of Half Dome. When he started climbing his ability and audacity so exceeded that of his elders that predictions of his life expectancy ranged from two weeks to two years. I heard these and many more stories from elders I looked up to. At the time I was hearing this Royal was in the Army and was never around. He truly seemed to be a mythical figure.
One weekend day my friend Jim Crary and I hiked up the trail to Lunch Rock, a meeting place at the base of Tahquitz. There was Royal Robbins. It must have been like a teeny bopper meeting a rock star. He actually seemed quite friendly, and I mentioned hearing about a route he had done on the downhill face of Lunch Rock. Somehow I offered to belay him if he wanted to do it again. He was game and headed down to the bottom of the rock, while I grabbed a rope and went over to a ledge near the top. The edge of the ledge was rather exposed so I sat down about five away, back to the wall, and threw the end of the rope down. I had been through belay practice and had even held some practice falls, so I felt OK sitting there with no anchor. Royal started moving up, and I carefully took in the rope keeping my breaking hand on at all times as I had been taught, when all of a sudden I hear "Falling". There is a big jerk on the rope and I am sliding on my butt across the ledge. I dig in my heels and aim them at two knobs right on the lip. It worked. Everything stopped momentarily, and Royal calls up, "Climbing again". Now I'm sitting right at the edge taking up the rope but not so confidently. At last he pulls over the top and asks if I would like to try it. I declined.

Trad climber
los arbor
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:21pm PT
Fun read. Thanks for sharing. Wonder if RR would remember this?

Social climber
Salt Lake City
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:25pm PT
Erb - Great story.... and one I had not heard.

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:25pm PT
Dick: Thanks. I love stories like this.
rotten johnny

Social climber
mammoth lakes, ca
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:30pm PT should have yelled off belay and got the hell out of there.....
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:30pm PT
Great micro-tale, Dick, and thanks. RR was not a god but he was certainly his own person and climbed really well, and at times brilliantly. If nothing else, he was not as consistent as he would have liked but no one ever is. How about more of your interaction, you two? Can you fill us in or make mention? You went on to know him much more fully and even worked for him, Dick.


Social climber
Flatland, Ca
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:34pm PT

that's just friggin insane..

Giving a body belay at the edge of the precipice...

The abyss very near...

Way good that you and Robbins did not fall!!!

Trad climber
Pasadena, CA
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:35pm PT
Nice short and sweet tale for an after dinner desert... thanks!

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:39pm PT
Dick- Another great story! Did you ever have the nerve to tell the tale to Royal?

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:39pm PT
What a great tale Dick!

Almost as good as the one about the second ascent of S. face Mt. Watkins!!
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Dec 7, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
Too Funny

Makes me think of "Advanced Rockcraft" where Royal disses the use of belay devices as extraneous gear! If only he knew?


Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Dec 7, 2009 - 11:10pm PT
charming story Dick,
thanks for posting.
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 7, 2009 - 11:20pm PT
No, I never did tell that one to Royal. In fact I didn't tell it to many people at all. I mean you gotta be able to find climbing partners.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Dec 7, 2009 - 11:35pm PT
Great, Dick!
Thanks for sharing!!!!

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Dec 7, 2009 - 11:43pm PT
Where is this "Lunch Rock" Located?

Great story! Not many people can say they "Belayed" Robbins let alone Dropped him! HA!

Thank god for those knobs!


Dec 7, 2009 - 11:44pm PT
These kinds of things are why I love this site. Thanks Dick!

I never did tell that one to Royal. In fact I didn't tell it to many people at all. I mean you gotta be able to find climbing partners.


Dec 7, 2009 - 11:46pm PT
Props dude, you didn't let go. Team work.
ron gomez

Trad climber
Dec 7, 2009 - 11:54pm PT
Mucci I would venture to guess, this is Lunch Rock at Tahquitz, but I will hope this will be confirmed by the author of this thread. It's a great story!

Social climber
Across Town From Easy Street
Dec 7, 2009 - 11:58pm PT
Nice tell, Dick. I can tell that one really stayed with you through the years, it was told like it was just now.


Dec 8, 2009 - 12:01am PT
I wonder what estimates people may have made of your own life expectancy, Mr. Erb.

Great story.

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