SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. rock climbing icon Royal Robbins, who founded the outdoor clothing company bearing his name, has died after a long illness, the company’s chief executive officer said Wednesday.
He was 82.
Company CEO Michael Millenacker said Robbins died Tuesday at his home in Modesto, California surrounded by his family.
“Royal was a legendary pioneer who approached everything in life with a true spirit of adventure. He gave me my first break in the outdoor industry and set me on the path to meld a passion for the outdoors with a career,” Millenacker said. “He taught me to work with purpose — that the harder we worked, the more we could give back.”
Robbins was part of the Golden Age of Yosemite, a post-World Warr II time from roughly 1955 to 1970, when a vagabond group of climbers lived in Yosemite and devoted their lives to climbing. They claimed a number of first ascents that were once deemed impossible like El Capitan and Half Dome.
He was also a major promoter of clean climbing techniques and equipment to avoid rock damage.
“I think that he set the rules for the game of climbing and he believed in the rules of the game. The lives of those of us who climbed were enriched by Royal’s insistence on getting the rules right,” said Daniel Duane, who has written three books about climbing, including one on Robbins. “If it hadn’t been for Royal, all those cliffs would be a total mess.”
American rock climber Alex Honnold posted a message about Robbins’ death on Twitter. “Sad to hear about the passing of Royal Robbins. He was a big inspiration to me personally with his emphasis on adventure and his clean, simple climbing style. What a legend. He lived with grace all the way through a long and full life. Something we can all aspire to.”
In 1967, Robbins and his wife, Liz made the first ascent of the Nutcracker route in the Yosemite Valley using only removable gear for protection. It was the first climb of its kind in the United States. Afterward, Robbins published a seminal article in Summit magazine where he advocated using removable protection rather than damaging pitons into the granite cracks. His advocacy of clean climbing influenced generations of climbers since. It was the first climb of its kind in the U.S. and helped fuel the clean climbing movement.
Also that year, he and his wife climbed Half Dome on the 10th anniversary of his first ascent, making her the first woman to climb the famous formation and the first in the world to climb an aid route of that difficulty. His first ascents include El Capitan’s Salathe Wall and North American Wall and Chamonix’s American Direct on the Dru.
Royal Robbins climbed well into his 70s, friends said.
He was known for his adventure kayaking.
He was also a prolific writer. His instruction manuals “Rockcraft” and “Advanced Rockcraft” provided climbers with the only manual available to learn climbing ethics that respected the rock. His three-part autobiographical series, “My Life: Royal Robbins”, details his journey from rebellious youth in Los Angeles to Yosemite’s Camp 4.
In 1968, the couple founded Royal Robbins, an active lifestyle apparel company for climbers, adventurers and travelers.
Millenacker said his leadership style was unique and uncannily effective. On his first climb, Robbins began climbing and left him with a harness and the end of a rope.
“As with all outdoor and business pursuits, he led by bold examples,” Millenacker said.
“He also knew how to harness the power of perseverance and courage to influence so many lives — including mine. With tremendous class and a huge heart, he taught me so many the valuable lessons about conviction and grit. Every time I saw him walk into a room, you could feel a shift, as if everyone knew they were in the presence of greatness. Many like me, will always be inspired and guided by his leadership.”