The Cleanest Line


Photo: Chuck Pratt
Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard (peeking out of the bottom), bivouacking in The Black Cave during the first ascent of the North America Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, California. 1964. Photo: Chuck Pratt

Remembering Royal Robbins 1935–2017

By Yvon Chouinard   |   Mar 20, 2017 March 20, 2017

Everyone in the Patagonia family is saddened to hear about the passing of Royal Robbins on March 14, 2017. Some in the company knew him personally, many of us did not. But we are, to this day, greatly inspired by his pioneering spirit and commitment to clean climbing. In honor of his friend, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has compiled the following memories.

Royal was the leading figure in the golden age of American rock climbing. I will remember him as a climbing partner and a dear friend. Everyone who knew him will recall his stubborn, lifelong integrity.

The climbing world will long remember him for promoting a clean climbing ethic that has influenced generations of climbers. But his greatest achievement was his creative intelligence. He would often conceive of routes on the great walls in Yosemite—and, later, many first descents in kayaking—and then assemble his friends to carry forth.

I was fortunate to have been asked by Royal to be on the first ascent of the North America Wall on El Cap, which turned out to be the most difficult big wall climb ever done. That climb was his idea and we all considered him to be “our icy commander.”

In the same spirit, he assembled us for river explorations and taught us how to kayak. Royal, the forerunner of adventure kayaking, influenced all of us to join him on first descents of the great rivers in South America and the United States.

Photo: Glen Denny
Royal Robbins after the first ascent of Tis-sa-ack, Yosemite, California. 1969. Photo: Glen Denny
Photo: Glen Denny
Royal Robbins beginning the first solo ascent of El Capitan, Yosemite, California. 1968. Photo: Glen Denny
Photo: Glen Denny
Royal Robbins on the first ascent of the Prow, Washington Column, Yosemite, California. 1969. Photo: Glen Denny
Photo: Patagonia Archives
Doug Tompkins (left) and Royal Robbins (middle) on one of their many kayaking trips. Photo: Patagonia Archives
Photo: Rob Lesser
Back: Royal Robbins, Ken Kerowitz, Doug Tompkins and Peter Buckley. Front: Yvon Chouinard and Tom Muncho. Tuolumne River, California. 1981. Photo: Rob Lesser
Photo: Karen Chamberlin
Royal Robbins (left) and Doug Tompkins circa 1979. Photo: Karen Chamberlin

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