If you've ever been to Yosemite, you've probably seen Royal Robbins' work. Robbins shook up American climbing in the 1950s and 60s with his bold first ascents of Valley landmarks like Half Dome's Regular Northwest Face and El Capitan's North America and Salathé walls. In between, he found the time to build a multimillion-dollar clothing business with his wife, Liz, and make first descents around California as a whitewater kayaker.
It's a life story that could fill volumes, and that's exactly what Robbins, now 75, plans to do. In an in-progress series titled My Life, Robbins traces his trajectory as an adventurer from his early childhood in Los Angeles through his later career as a climber and boater. The first book in the series, To Be Brave, was released last September through Pink Moment Press, and pairs stories from Robbins' school days with an account of his 1963 solo of Yosemite's Leaning Tower.
Speaking by phone from his home in Modesto, California, Robbins told us about his memoirs, the climbers he admires today, and why he believes harder is better.
A: The second book in your memoirs is scheduled to be released this fall. What will it be about?
The second book is called Fail Falling. It's about climbing in southern California, mostly, in the 1950s, and it ends with the first ascent of the face of Half Dome.
A: It should be exciting, if your first book is any indication. Your adventures actually started way before you began climbing. We read about you as a child, jumping between trains and running into pedophiles while hitchhiking. It seems very different from the way children grow up now.
R: Well, Yvon Chouinard told me he encourages his children to eat off the floor, to build up immunities. I think there's a lot of concern about safety.