The Day I Almost Drowned Royal Robbins


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Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 8, 2009 - 02:03am PT

Dick—that little write up was an inspiration and opened up a plethora of memories about playing with RR.

It was the summer of 71, I had just graduated from grad school at UCLA, had a new and lovely girlfriend with a car, and the future was wide open.

After a three-week run down the Colorado River with a bunch of “old” Sierra Club-ers and their very old WW II amphibious landing boats, we were ready for some more fun.

Boche and I, who had never rowed a rapid in our lives, were the designated boat men and faked our way down the entire river with only one major flip. These were rotten boats and we spent more time sewing and patching than anything else.

Everybody seemed to have an upset stomach the night we camped above Crystal Rapid. Kind of reminded me of the mood at the base of a climb just before you blast off. Crystal is big and Crystal is loud.

The Park Service was a little upset with our group as they had received numerous complaints about nudity and aberrant behavior. Hell, we thought it was clothing optional.

We next headed to the Tetons where we met up with Royal and Liz and another old friend Jack Miller. Jack and I had guided together in Yosemite for Wayne Merry the first summer the Climbing School began. Jack had also been on the Colorado River with us, but we had split off to retrieve our cars at Royal’s house in Modesto.

Jeff Foott suggested that since we were such “experienced” boatmen he would loan us his canoe for a run down the Snake. Hell, why not?! Jack and I were veterans, we could teach the newbie Royal a thing or two about rapids, currents, eddies and possibly some awesome paddle techniques.

Since we were so comfortable with our talent and the mellowness of the Upper Snake we decided it was an excellent opportunity to play with a little mind alteration.

On arrival at the designated put-in spot we launched the canoe, jumped into our assigned positions with me as the head guide in the stern, Royal in the center and Jack in the bow, waved goodbye to our ladies-in-waiting and headed down the river.

200 feet down river, we hit a low overhanging branch, flipped the boat and scurried ashore. You might say our pride was a wee bit dampened but studiously oblivious to the laughter on shore, we continued on with our adventure.

Later, we were stopped by the River Rangers for not wearing our lifejackets. They were ready to write us a citation but upon discovering we were transporting RR on his first river trip they relented. Meanwhile, Jack and I were sitting on the beach rolling in uncontrollable laughter after hearing that one ranger’s name was “Rawhide.”

It was a memorable “trip” resplendent with chasing and being chased by a moose, a meteor that traversed across the Teton Range, and laughing more than I have ever laughed in my life.

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 8, 2009 - 02:10am PT
You guys keep this up, and Royal's never going to come back. :-)

Trad climber
los arbor
Dec 8, 2009 - 02:10am PT
Oh boy keep em coming! Thanks for sharing.

Dec 8, 2009 - 02:43am PT
Awesome! Thanks Guido.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Dec 8, 2009 - 04:53am PT
You did his first river trip eh?

That's wild. Perhaps not everybody knows Royal went on to get REALLY into kayaking. Doing epic kayak trips.

In fact, he'll get way more excited talking about boating than climbing, which is a bit more in the past for him



Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 8, 2009 - 08:12am PT
Ah Guido, those were the days!
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Dec 8, 2009 - 10:53am PT
Joe, it is interesting to hear that you had such a similar experience on the Snake River.
In 1967, "the summer of love"(as the hippies called it) I showed up at the Jenny Lake campground, and the very next day was off to the Snake River with Steve Roper, his girlfriend Jannie, and Rod Dornan. I was pleased to be invited on the inaugural voyage of a raft they had just built. It was a bunch of logs tied together with old climbing ropes. We climbed aboard and with skinny lodgepole trunks for poles and shoved off into the current. Ah, idyllically floating down stream on a warm summer day, until we saw the bigger sweeper ahead hanging down into the river. We were headed straight for it and our poles and techniques seemed useless as we were swept into it and sucked under by the current. Rod and I were able to grab branches and climb onto the tree, but Steve and Jannie disappeared into the river along with the raft. We anxiously waited for our two friends who finally popped up and looked quite shaken after a period of helplessness with their fate in the river's flow.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 8, 2009 - 11:27am PT
Hilarious stories! Did the ranger's badge say Rawhide or how did his name come up?

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Dec 8, 2009 - 11:34am PT
Great story Guido!
Both you and RR ended up becoming water dogs, just different kinds!

Trad climber
San Leandro, Ca
Dec 8, 2009 - 11:48am PT
Were you trying to run the whitewater canyon section of the Snake below Hoback Junction? In a canoe? That would've been pretty badass. I'm sure it's been done... but I didn't see a whole lot of canoes when the water was big...
Great story! I used to guide on that river. Love it.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Dec 8, 2009 - 01:00pm PT
Maybe "Rawhide" was just an after hours nickname,...

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 8, 2009 - 01:42pm PT
The ranger actually said his name was "Rawhide" that is what put Jack and I into a fit of first simple giggling and then uncontrollable laughter. That, and the fact on hearing RR was RR he stepped back into the river with his boots on.

God no, not below Hoback Junction. That was my first kayak run with Harry Frischman in Oct the same year without wetuits or any training. Terry King and I had to walk out due to hypothermia. I now set 80 degrees as minimum level to enter any water, be it fresh or salt.

The following spring Royal and Liz did their first "real" rafting trip with Rusty Baille and Hennek and I were to join them but never made it. Believe it was the Green River?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Dec 8, 2009 - 02:36pm PT
Thanks Joej. Great tale.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Dec 10, 2009 - 01:11am PT

Real rubber duckies!!!!

My old buddy Howard Doyle saved someone's life on the
Snake years ago. (Howard left us a few years ago with
a fatal heart attack, RIP). But he was something.
Great partner. Great man.
I miss him a lot.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 10, 2009 - 03:18am PT
Hoary tales. God love it. Or was that Glenlivet?

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Dec 10, 2009 - 11:14am PT
Guido & Dick: Here's to your cheating death on the mighty Snake! You were probably boating just above Moose. Looks casual, then the boat hits a logjam or a "sweeper."

From Gorp website:

Deadman's Bar to Moose Landing
Advanced. Most river accidents occur on this section, the most challenging stretch of the river in the park. The river drops more steeply, with faster flows than in other sections south of Pacific Creek, giving boaters very little time to maneuver their craft. Complex braiding obscures the main channel. Strong currents can sweep boaters into side channels blocked by logjams.


Dec 10, 2009 - 11:15pm PT
Guido -

Nice one.

How about that story about flying with Roper somewhere in the SW?

Pacing off the runway?

Got to get together sometime in the next decade!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 10, 2009 - 11:21pm PT
Yo Mr Tom

Found this the other day in a reload of #4000 plus scans that got "lost" from one computer to another. Appeared out of nowhere. Me thinks it be the Esprit Party that we crashed, or was it the one that crashed us?




Dec 11, 2009 - 01:53am PT
Guido -

That was a sensational day & party!!

Come on tell the story of Roper pacing off the yards and marking the spot where he would abort! abort! And you watching the marker go by at ?mph?

Wow those photos are something. Remember the Quilts?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 2, 2010 - 11:03am PT
Story Bump!
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