American climbing icon Royal Robbins dies at age 82

Royal Robbins — an American rock climbing legend and a pioneer in the sport — passed away Tuesday at his house in Modesto, California, as reported by The Washington Post. He was 82.

Royal Robbins climbing Royal Robbins death
Royal Robbins, pictured at a Salt Lake City trade show in his later years. Photo: Courtesy of Pat Ament/Wikimedia Commons

According to a statement on the Royal Robbins website, he died following a long battle with illness. The statement goes on to read:

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.

As his company stated, Robbins was a vocal proponent in the popularization of “clean climbing” techniques — not using pitons nor bolts, but rather using hexes — when climbing so as to not damage rock faces.

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His passing was greeted by messages of grief by members of the climbing community who took to Instagram to honor the icon’s legacy:

Per SnowBrains, beyond his environmental advocacy and influence in making eco-friendly practices commonplace, Robbins was one of the most technically skilled and fearless climbers of his time who was tirelessly devoted to his craft until arthritis made serious climbs impossible for him.

SnowBrains states that in 1957 Robbins put up the first grade VI climb in the USA on the Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Six years later, Robbins made the first ascent of the Salathé Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite — the hardest grade VI climb on Earth at the time.

“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 Modesto Bee years ago about his climbing obsession. “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.”