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Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto’s Royal Robbins, dies at 82

Royal Robbins interview

Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto's Royal Robbins, died on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. This is an interview with Robbins from 2007.
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Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto's Royal Robbins, died on Tuesday, March 14, 2017. This is an interview with Robbins from 2007.

Modesto’s Royal Robbins, one of the icons of American rock climbing and founder of the outdoor clothing company that bore his name, died Tuesday. He was 82.

According to the company website, Robbins died “after a long illness.” His death also was reported by rockclimbing.com.

Attempts to reach Robbins’ family in Modesto Tuesday night were unsuccessful. His son, Damon Robbins, at his Camp 4 Wine Cafe near downtown Modesto, declined comment through an employee.

The website stated:

“We are deeply saddened to report that our founder and legendary rock climber Royal Robbins’ passed away Tuesday, March 14 after a long illness.

“Royal was extremely special to us. He and his wife, Liz, founded Royal Robbins in 1968 as an active lifestyle apparel company for rock climbers, adventurers and travelers. Royal was a leading figure in the Golden Age of Yosemite Valley climbing and was one of the first and most vocal proponents of clean climbing. In 1967, Royal and Liz Robbins made the first ascent of Nutcracker in the Yosemite Valley using only removable nuts for protection. It was the first climb of its kind in the United States and it started a clean climbing revolution.

“His environmental advocacy and his love for adventure provide direction for everything we do. Royal was an inspiration to us all and will be greatly missed. ...”

While Robbins used his name to forward his popular outdoor clothing company – a company that he started with his wife, Liz, in 1968, and sold in 2007 – it’s his love of climbing that he’ll forever be remembered.

“The rock was the only place where I thought I could get out and grow and do things and use my full potential,” Robbins told The Bee years ago. “I could apply myself on the rock. But in town, I was a mess. I didn’t have the power that I had on the rock.”

His climbing career was full of firsts:

1950: First climb, Stony Point in San Fernando Valley.

1952: First ascent Tahquitz Open Book (First 5.9 climb in U.S.)

1957: First ascent Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite.

1961: First ascent Salathe Wall of El Capitan, Yosemite

1962: First ascent North Wall of Sentinel Rock, Yosemite

1963: First ascent Direct Northwest Face Half Dome, Yosemite

1967: First new route in Yosemite using only chocks and natural runner (Nutcracker)

1967: Liz Robbins first woman to climb NW Face of Half Dome.

1968: First solo ascent of El Capitan.

Later in life, in his 40s, he took up kayaking and made the first descents of several rivers in the Sierra.

“Robbins ushered in the development of many modern free- and aid-climbing techniques and standards.” wrote James Lucas of climbing.com on Tuesday night.

Robbins was born on Feb. 3, 1935, in West Virginia. Word of his death – and tributes – spread quickly on social media.

We will have more at modbee.com on the life of Robbins.

More stories on Royal Robbins

The Bee’s 1993 profile by Rick Weber

Film about legendary Yosemite climbers come to Modesto

Royal Robbins is sold for $40 million

The Bee’s John Holland contributed to this report.

Related stories from Modesto Bee

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