Remembering Royal Robbins

Yosemite climbing pioneer Royal Robbins slicing salami on Mazatlan Ledge on the second exploration ascent of the North America Wall on El Capitan. End of pitch 4, Spring 1964.
Yosemite climbing pioneer Royal Robbins slicing salami on Mazatlan Ledge on the second exploration ascent of the North America Wall on El Capitan. Photograph by Tom Frost

When climbing legend Royal Robbins passed away in March, we asked several Aurora photographers who had known Royal, or been influenced by him, to share their thoughts and stories about the iconic climber.

Royal was, and still is, a great inspiration to me. He was a living example of how to do life well.  He led with kindness and wisdom.  He truly was a leader of man.
– Tom Frost

I started climbing in the 80’s when it was still a fringe sport and information was hard to come by.  Royal Robbins’ books Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft were the bibles that taught me the techniques that have kept me alive and safe to this day.
– Jonathan Kingston

I never met Royal and have only been to Yosemite once, very briefly 22 years ago. But as a young kid growing up in middle Tennessee who was rabid about rock climbing, Royal had a profound effect upon me through his books. Yosemite historical books were important, but nothing like the impact that his Rockcraft series had on me in my early teens. I must have read and re-read those two little paperbacks a 100 times. In the absence of real climbing instruction, they bridged a gulf on how to climb safely but even more importantly – they taught me how to climb from an ethical and spiritual point of view. Anyone can get up the rock, but Royal firmly planted the ethos in me that it was how you got up the rock and how you left it for others to enjoy that really mattered.
– Harrison Shull

My photo career began as a way to fund my own passion for climbing.  As an early Outward Bound instructor Royal’s books on rockcraft were on my mother’s bookshelf and he became an inspiration in the early 70’s, long before I understood how necessary and important his ethical stance was towards clean climbing.  As my generation of ’80’s climbers proliferated mass bolting and sport climbing I gravitated instead towards routes with natural and removable protection and wild places.  Royal’s books had influenced me well.  In the early 90’s Royal called to purchase a printed photograph I had taken of a silhouetted climber descending a steep cliff in front of El Capitan in Yosemite.  I knew then that my art of photography reflected a little of Royal’s art of climbing and I was happy.
-Kennan Harvey

Like many climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, I was sad to hear about the passing of Royal Robbins, one of the true pioneers and icons of our sport. Reading about Robbins’ adventures in Yosemite as a kid was hugely influential and inspirational to me. One time, my editor at Boy’s Life called and asked if I’d ever heard of some guy named “Royal Robbins” and if I wanted to shoot him taking a group of Boy Scouts from Modesto rock climbing. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity to shoot alongside the guy who virtually invented rock climbing as we know it. That night around the campfire, Royal opened up a bottle of wine, and poured himself a small glass. One of the father chaperones casually mentioned to Royal, “We don’t drink at Boy Scouts events,” to which Royal casually responded, “Oh, OK. Well, I do.” Royal and I shared a bottle of wine and we all sat around the campfire and listened to Royal’s stories. It was just an incredible experience — a testament to the fact that Royal was the ultimate climber’s climber. I’m also sure that he inspired at least one of those Boy Scouts that day to become a climber, or at the very least, to not be afraid to take risk and live adventurously.
– Corey Rich

For me, a boy living below sea level in the flatlands of Holland, reading the accounts of Royal Robinson forced me to go explore the three dimensional world. I waited anxiously for every American climbing magazine to drop in my mail box, so I could learn about adventures and dream about first ascents. It was not difficult to choose a location of my Wilderness EMT course at NOLS in 2010: Yosemite was the birth ground of modern big wall climbing. You can imagine how excited I was when I heard Royal Robins was visiting the valley. I think I even skipped some lessons from medic school, just to be sure to see and meet him and Tom Frost (I got two idols for the price of one) at a lecture in Curry village. Like a teenager at a rock concert I asked for their signatures and what I remember the most is that he impressed me with his friendliness. Today I am inspired and every time when I tie in to a rope I hear his wise words: “Climbing is not about reaching the top, it is all about the style you do it in.”
– Menno Boermans

To view more photos of Royal Robbins click here.

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