The Royal Robbins Story
1952 - Present
Dress once, GO EVERYWHERE.
Royal first looked up at Yosemite when he was a teenager on a rock climbing trip with his scout troop. Standing at the base of El Capitan, he was told noone would ever climb it. He asked himself: “why not?"
To a 15-year-old, unsuccessful at school and seemingly everything else, this promise of the mountains being the anvil upon which the climber could forge his character was powerful and convincing. I saw my destiny: I would become a climber.
– Royal Robbins
Drawn to Yosemite
In the late 1950s, the vertical walls of Yosemite Valley were terra incognita, as seemingly remote and inaccessible as the moon. Royal Robbins was part of a new age in climbing, led by a handful of future-legends who shared a whole new way of seeing the Sierra Nevada granite: as one big invitation to climb it.
We need adventure. It’s in our blood. It will not go away. The mountains will continue to call because they uniquely fulfill our need for communion with nature, as well as our hunger for adventure.
Northwest Face of Half Dome
In the summer of 1957, Royal, Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick made the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, CA.
Mystique of the Vertical World
Watchers in the meadow. The golden age of climbing had begun.
Camp 4 was situated on the north side of the road just across from Yosemite Lodge. It is, and always was, a scruffy place. That’s one of the reasons we liked it so much: it wasn’t neat and orderly like other campgrounds in the Valley. When we first went there, in the early 1950’s, it was already the climbers’ camp, a spot dotted with large boulders and with campsites in irregular places. I guess the Park Service thought it was good enough for climbers. They were right.
We spent a lot of time in Camp 4, talking about literature, philosophy, girls, life in general, and of course, our next climb.
— Royal Robbins
The Nose Preparations
Royal having tea at the Camp 4 table, during final preparations for what would be the first continuous climb, and second ascent, of the massive Nose, on El Capitan. Most of the pitons seen here were handmade by Yvonne Chouinard, and were specially designed to be used and removed without harm to the rock. On this legendary climb, some of them would be placed 30 times. Not one was left behind. Royal was an early proponent of clean climbing, using hardware that protected the climber, without sacrificing the integrity of the rock.
We are made to be part of nature. Our connection to that world is our connection to sanity.
— Royal Robbins
Royal and Liz
Initially Royal Robbins reminded me of a Berkeley professor. After climbing with him on Cathedral Peak, I realized this aloof, quiet, contemplative demeanor concealed intensity and passion. Royal required unproven feats of his imagination, spiritual and physical tests not yet dreamed of – a need that would drive him to make ascents other people couldn’t comprehend. Climbing was new to me, but the integrity underlying Royal’s pursuits was something I knew I could rely upon in any circumstance. To the bewilderment of my family and friends back home, I adopted his eccentric-seeming way of life.
THE SALATHÉ WALL
Royal, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt attempt the first ascent of the iconic Salathé Wall, El Capitan, at the time considered the most difficult big wall grade 6 climb in the world.
Climbing as we know it would not exist without Royal Robbins. The way we move, behave, and even think, even 30 years after his Yosemite reign, shaped by Robbins. His competitive drive was the impetus for Yosemite ’s Golden Age, a period of such progress that it may never be matched. Robbins’ laundry list of firsts stretches around the globe, but most remarkable is the Salathé Wall in 1961, a serpentine, natural line that he, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt pioneered in semi-alpine style with just 13 bolts – a hole count that remains El Cap’s lowest.
EL CAP SPIRE
Half way up the Salathé Wall we discovered the ledge El Cap Spire, the most spectacular any of us had seen. As I followed Chuck’s lead, Royal reposed atop the Spire, waiting, before resuming the hauling of our supplies. We were amazed by the elegance and natural beauty of this place, and the accommodation to climbers traveling through that it represents. In fact, the whole route felt like the Creator made it just for traditional climbers who would feel the love and fall in love in return. It also felt like a world class route. To me (this picture) communicates attributes peculiar to big wall climbing, namely, the just being up there, and the extended partnership with Earth and Sky. Experience suggests that these associations connect us with our roots, with ourselves, with the Whole. No wonder big wall climbs are transformational.
– Tom Frost
EL CAP SUMMIT
We finished the climb in magnificent weather, surely the finest and most exhilaratingly beautiful Sierra day we had ever seen. The air was cool, but the direct sunlight was warm and friendly. All the high country was white with new snow and two or three inches had fallen along the rim of the Valley, on Half Dome, and on Clouds Rest. One could see for great distances and each peak was sharply etched against a dark blue sky. We were feeling spiritually very rich indeed as we hiked down through the grand Sierra forests to the Valley.
– Royal Robbins
AIGUILLE DU DRU, MONT BLANC RANGE, FRANCE1962
From July 24-26, 1962, Royal Robbins and Gary Hemming, made the first ascent of the American Direct route of the Aiguille du Dru, in the Mont Blanc Range in France.
The finest route [I’d] made under alpine conditions.
– Royal Robbins
DIRECT NORTHWEST FACE
HALF DOME, YOSEMITE, CA, USA
Richard (Dick) McCraken, who Royal climbed Yosemite’s Far West Face of Rixon’s Pinnacle with in 1963, was to become an important figure in Royal’s climbing and joined Royal for a new idea: a two thousand-foot line on the open expanse of unclimbed wall to the right of the Northwest Face route on Half Dome. This would be the “Direct” Northwest Face. Two other climbers – Ed Cooper, from Washington, and Californian Galen Rowell – had begun fixing ropes on this very route. As Royal felt, they were attempting to bring back the expeditionary themes that climbers had wished to transcend.
June 11, 1963, when Cooper and Rowell were taking a break from their efforts, Royal and McCracken rather impolitely stepped in and began their own attempt of the route. They did not care how Cooper and Rowell might respond.
[excerpted from Royal Robbins Spirit of the Age by Pat Ament]
THE NORTH AMERICA WALL
On October 22, 1964 in the midst of an Indian summer, Royal Robbins and his strong crew of Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard could not wait any longer as to climb the North America Wall of El Capitan. Storms would be coming with November, so it was time to tackle the wall. You can read Royal’s account of the climb in Rock and Ice.
Pictured here: Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Yvon Chouinard on the El Capitan summit, ten days after leaving Yosemite Valley floor.
The big four – Robbins, Pratt, Frost, and Chouinard – together seemed to exert a very strong moral force, Pratt silent and brilliant, Frost cheerful, humble,and friendly, Chouinard impish, quite sharp and critical yet skillful, a great trend-setter, and Robbins an almost Buddha-like presence, a supreme dignity tinged with courage to say and do controversial things, a sort of moral leadership in both words as well as deeds. There is little doubt that without the core of Yosemite activists in the early 1960s… America would have been a far less ethical place, climbing-wise, in the last thirty years.
BIVY IN THE BLACK CAVE
Scaling the North American wall, El Capitan, Royal with Yvonne Chouinard, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt.
The North America Wall was the climb of our lives. More difficult and more serious than anything we knew. It all came together for us here.
– Royal Robbins
Nutcracker First Ascent
Royal and Liz Robbins climbed the Nutcracker together, marking one of the first "clean" climbs in Yosemite, using removable nuts to secure the climb rather than driving pitons into the granite cracks. Royal and Liz became lifelong advocates of "clean" climbing.
Clothing Company Beginnings
When we got to the top of Half Dome, a tourist took our camera and agreed to take a photo of us as we stood there. When we looked at our picture, we said, maybe we'd better get in the clothing business.
- Liz Robbins
First Solo Ascent of El Capitan
Royal Robbins completed the first solo ascent of El Capitan via the second ascent of the Muir Wall.
Liz and Royal started with Mountain Paraphernalia - an early incarnation of what would later become Royal Robbins.
First Ascent of Tis-sa-ack, Half Dome, Yosemite
Royal Robbins and Don Peterson
World Class Kayaker
Royal recognised kayaking as uncharted territory akin to the unclimbed walls of Yosemite in the '50s. He was the first man to descend some of the most challenging rivers in California and beyond.
Photoshoot in Morocco
We did our photoshoot for 2018 in the cities of Fez and Chefchaouen in Morocco, as well as the Cascades d'Akchour.