Royal Robbins: Highlights Of His High Life

In Climbing, Educational, Events, History, Local

Growing up in Modesto California you couldn’t help but be familiar with Royal Robbins, one of the innovators of big wall climbing in Yosemite. In fact, Royal and wife Liz’s clothing was for a long time a favorite among locals. I still have a couple of pair of Blue Water shorts. Those things last forever.

The Modesto Bee ran a great historical retrospective of Royal and his accomplishments, from big wall climbing to businessman selling fine outdoor clothing.

Modesto Bee: “During the early 1950s, Robbins and his friends began clambering about on Southern California boulders and rock walls, pushing themselves on harder sections, both with and without ropes.

After a stint in the Army and as a ski instructor, he became serious about climbing.

An early proponent of ‘clean climbing‘ (boltless, pitonless, use of natural features for protection) Robbins, along with Yvon Chouinard, was instrumental in changing the climbing culture to minimize overall human impact on the vertical wilderness.

By the spring of 1968, Robbins had made either the first or second ascents of all of El Capitan’s major faces and, most famously, made the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome.

Robbins invented the Yosemite Decimal System, still in use for grading climb difficulty. He has written many influential magazine articles emphasizing a philosophy of minimal climbing equipment and maximum climbing skill. His two books, ‘Basic Rockcraft’ and ‘Advanced Rockcraft,’ inspired a generation of climbers.”

If you’d like to find out more about Royal Robbins and the history of climbing in Yosemite be sure to check out the Yosemite Climbing Association at

Royal Robbins will also be appearing at the Yosemite Climbing Association’s Yosemite Facelift on September 26th where he and Tom Frost will host a showing of the 1960’s climbing epic Sentinel West Face. For more information visit

Special thanks to Ken Yager and the Yosemite Climbing Association for use of the photo.

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