The paddling (and rock climbing) world lost one of its most aren’t adventurers with the passing March 14 of Royal Robbins at age 82…
Founding his clothing company in 1968, which is still going strong today, Royal Robbins was a legendary pioneer of American rock climbing, notching first ascents of many big wall routes in Yosemite and a staunch advocate of boltless, pitonless climbing.
He was also a well-known kayaker of his era, pioneering countless new runs and completing multiple first descents, mostly in his beloved Sierra. His early kayaking partners included Doug Tompkins, Yvon Chouinard and Reg Lake. In 1980, Robins, Tompkins and Lake descended the San Joaquin River Gorge from Devil’s Postpile to the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, 5000 feet lower and 32 miles away.
In 1981, they carried their kayaks over Mount Whitney Pass at 13,777 foot elevation, into Sequoia National Park and descended 55 miles down the Kern Trench. In 1982, joined by Neusom Holmes, they descended the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park, the largest and steepest of these three High Sierra descents.
In 1983, Robbins descended the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park from Tuolumne Meadows to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. He was accompanied by Reg Lake, Chuck Stanley, Lars Holbek, John Armstrong and Richard Montgomery.
He also developed an interest in high water creek boating, descending such runs as California’s Sespe Creek along with Chouinard, Lake, John Wasserman and Jackson Frischman. He coined this type of trip “flash boating”, and later used the technique on the Fresno River, the Chowchilla River and the middle fork of the Mokelumne River.
“He was definitely one of the early pioneers of whitewater kayaking, who set the bar high,” says Eugene Buchanan, former editor and publisher of Paddler magazine. “A lot of today’s hair boaters owe it to legends like him and others.”