Royal Robbins (RIP)


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Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Apr 4, 2017 - 10:30pm PT

"I don't think Royal Robbins could be Royal Robbins in today's climbing world"

spot on. The words epitomize and defined come to mind of his climbing world. by definition he could only be Royal in that time that was defined by Royal Robbin's actions.


Social climber
Southern Arizona
Apr 4, 2017 - 11:43pm PT

How can I say this kindly? You’re getting old. Every generation makes the same assessment--they tend to be relative.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Apr 5, 2017 - 12:19am PT
Mr. Muir,

Tamara says it's being worked on.

Apr 5, 2017 - 01:30pm PT
In this regard, Pat Ament's assessment says it all:

The Spirit of the Age

That is to say:

The Spirit of Royal's age


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Apr 5, 2017 - 06:46pm PT

How can I say this kindly? You’re getting old.

What? Holy Crap! I had no idea!

Every generation makes the same assessment--they tend to be relative.

Only if you view the generations through the back end of the telescope, which is to say staying so far away as to be unable to make any distinctions.

If you had said that every generation grumbles about the "transgressions" of the next generation, I'd agree. But with respect to my assessment of
Royal's ability to be influential, relative to his generation's receptiveness to his message, I'd say his was a unique moment in American climbing, and his life brackets that moment, which has now given way to a different culture, both in climbing and in society at large. Generations before may have been grumbling, as is their right and privilege, but they were most certainly not making the assessment I described, at least not in this country, because there really wasn't such a thing as climbing "ethics" in the US.

Before 1950, there was very little in American climbing culture that celebrated means over ends and embraced the risk associated with the voluntary renunciation of available technology as a positive and even desirable aspect of climbing. Previous generations, perhaps too much under the sway of the big climbing clubs, promoted mediocrity in the mistaken view that it would increase safety, which was their main concern. (Perhaps not paradoxically, this attitude resulted in one of the worst accidents in American mountaineering.)

Robbins' period of influence also coincided with the sixties youth revolution, which, among other things, rejected establishment thinking, elevated idealism, and made it seem, briefly, that ethical ideals might be attainable. In other words, the sociological matrix in which the climbing community was embedded already predisposed climbers to an idealistic approach to their pursuits.

So if indeed Robbins was the spirit of the age, it was a very particular age, an age capable of having an identifiable spirit, and of being broadly responsive to Royal's idealism. I think this age is passing along with Royal, I think climbing has lost something of value, and this was my original point. But this is not to deprecate (as some posters have implied) the astonishing accomplishments of today's young climbers, and of course Royal, in his dotage, was generous in his praise of what the younger generation has wrought.

right here, right now
Apr 5, 2017 - 07:33pm PT
Yes, Rich, without need of entertaining any sort of value judgments, (and not to point to any such judgments) this is it, in a nutshell:
I'd say his was a unique moment in American climbing, and his life brackets that moment, which has now given way to a different culture, both in climbing and in society at large.
Not just the end of an era, but the beginning and the end of an era, all embodied in one man, and this belongs to all of us.
A much appreciated perspective!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 5, 2017 - 08:50pm PT
Dingus- that isn't Royal's anything but whatever...I agree that it is funny but I doubt that it is authentic in any way.
Todd Eastman

Bellingham, WA
Apr 5, 2017 - 09:23pm PT
Interesting to compare two differing influences in climbing during the 1960s and 1970s.

RR carried the sport into the deeper realms of gamesmanship and serious considerations as obvious extensions of his personality.

The Vulgarians brought a rather different aspect to the sport, that of the fun and craziness they refined at the Gunks.

As a climber learning during those years, both influences were valid and contributed to making climbing such an amazing pursuit.

Some days you feel like a nut... some days you don't!

Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Apr 5, 2017 - 09:25pm PT
I think rgold's thoughts on RR are very appropriate. Let's remember to be kind here, for our fallen mentor & hero.

Apr 4, 2017 - 07:45pm PT
There is no question that Robbins was enormously influential, and that he cared about the means of ascent as much as the end result. Robbins was larger than life, which means, among other things, that there was an entire generation of climbers who were receptive to and moved by his message. He was influential because he had an audience capable of understanding where he was coming from and willing to embark on the journey with him.

For me, part of the sadness of his passing is that it is also the passing of a time when a visionary like Robbins could rise above the cacophony of competing individual perspectives and entitlements and embue the activity with a commonly if not universally shared set of values, based on principles and not exigencies. I don't think Royal Robbins could be Royal Robbins in today's climbing world, and I do not find us richer for the loss.
Tamara Robbins

not a climber, just related...
Apr 9, 2017 - 03:00am PT
Jim Brennan, your post brought me to sharing a bit of joy that came our way a few days after Dad died.

On the doorstep were some flowers, a note, and a lot of love from a 12 year old girl who lives nearby - part of her note said, "I love how he did not want to crack Half Dome" - turns out, she and her family had watched Valley Uprising a week or so before.....

;) for the Memorial, there will indeed be one - likely in the Modesto vicinity and sometime later than June 1 and before Dec 1 ;)

Will post something here when it's sorted out. Meantime, if anyone hears of anything informal in the Valley or elsewhere, we'd love to know about it -


Apr 9, 2017 - 01:49pm PT
Royal Robbins...RIP

We were stuck, stuck in the Southern San Joaquin Valley without a 'real' climbing shop with depth. So, in the early '70's, we made the pilgrimages to Royal Robbin's shop in Modesto and in Fresno. To be fair, we also made the journey to West Ridge Mountaineering or GPIW in SoCal as well; West Ridge sold bolts & hangers. However, I was more than impressed by Robbin's shop for its extensive climbing book selection and resources. They didn't sell bolts & hangers there, but they never had any employees that interrogated us for our intentions or abilities like at West Ridge; at Robbin's they gave out inspiration.

In the mid '80's, I eventually worked for a climbing shop, Sunrise Mountaineering (aka Sunrise Mountain Sports) in Livermore, CA. Through my association with Sunrise I met Royal at the trade shows and also at our store event, hosting Royal's 'Triple Crown' Slide Show. It was there I was able to 'grill' him for information. Royal was very forthcoming and helpful on his experiences in the Sierra. He had not climbed for a time due to arthritis, however I could tell that he had not left behind the spirit of adventure.

Back then, Sunrise was in an old Victorian building on 1st Street that had been a hardware store, BITD. It was a rustic old place, creaky wood floors and all. It was there that many a climber visited on the way to their adventures and we tried to offer-up that same kind of inspiration like we had received at the Robbin's shop.

In the office, I answered the phone with the Sunrise greeting, "Sunrise Mountaineering, can I help you?"

"Hello. This is Royal Robbins."

"Hi, Royal, this is Ed."

Royal, "I remember you."

Well, it was not a social call, but a sad announcement; Royal was closing his shop. It was the end of an 'era' so to say. Royal wanted to clean house and allowed Sunrise to purchase his remaining climbing inventory for cents on the dollar. Royal and some employees delivered the goods in person. I could sense that it was a bittersweet moment. Royal remarked that he had chosen Sunrise, to best represent what his store had been. Wow...

During those 'early' years at Sunrise, I would take employees out climbing. On one occasion, we arrived early in the morning at the base of The Nutcracker, on Manure Pile Buttress in Yosemite Valley.

As we were gearing-up, one employee asked me, "Who did the 1st ascent of this?"

"Royal Robbins."

At that moment, no sh*t, Royal walked from behind the rock!

"As a matter of fact," I said, "here he is."

"Hey, Royal, how's it going?"

"Good morning."

I introduced Royal to an astonished bunch of newbies, like it was NBD (I was just rolling with it...).

After the intros, Royal asks, "Hey, have you seen Kauk around? I'm supposed to meet him here to climb."

Royal explained that after his long hiatus he was going to climb again. Ron Kauk did show, and they did the 5.9 finger start to the route, while we did (us, a much slower party) the 5.8. That whole day was great because of that encounter. The employee who asked who did the FA, eventually worked for Royal as a designer...


Trad climber
Apr 9, 2017 - 09:00pm PT

Thanks for the share.

Apr 25, 2017 - 08:12am PT
Tamara Robbins

not a climber, just related...
May 12, 2017 - 03:18pm PT
Kingtut, you referenced "standing on the shoulders of giants".... I presume you knew/know that he titled a speech in Banff something similar - available to read here on Tom's site:

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Nov 26, 2017 - 01:33pm PT
I just got to thinking…

We haven't seen anything further about a planned Memorial/Celebration of Royal's life. Are there any plans afoot? Can I help out in any way to help bring an event to fruition?

He was, indeed, a great man. It seems a pity to not hold a more public memorial to his memory…
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 26, 2017 - 07:36pm PT
I have been working with Liz on all of this and there will be a memorial gathering in Modesto around the anniversary of Royal's passing.
I will post the details as soon as I get the green light from her to do so.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 26, 2017 - 09:02pm PT
Kevin-I am sure that you would be welcome despite the hubris of your youth.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Nov 27, 2017 - 09:15am PT
The anniversary of Royal's passing was March 14th. I'll put it on my calendar…

Please let us know if there's anything we can do to help.
ron gomez

Trad climber
Nov 27, 2017 - 02:22pm PT
Road trip worthy! Be glad to haul a couple of you geezers up. Let me know.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 27, 2017 - 03:02pm PT
Will do and thanks for the offer.
The event won't be exactly on the anniversary so don't mark it down just yet.
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