In Memoriam: Royal Robbins, LAS faculty 1965-1967
When Royal Robbins came to teach sports at LAS in 1965, he was arguably the best rock climber in the world. His pioneering ascents on the 1,000-meter big walls of Yosemite, California, could never be surpassed. To be sure, harder routes have been done since. But Robbins broke the mental barriers that everyone else followed. In many ways he invented the game, including its rules.
My father brought Royal and his wife Liz to LAS to fill Dad’s shoes as athletic director when Dad left to launch the International School of Mountaineering (also in Leysin) and to devote himself to the Eiger Direct, which killed him in 1966. The Robbins’ coached skiing more than climbing while at LAS, though later they would start a climbing school of their own, Mountaincraft, in California where they returned to in 1967 after their stint in Leysin. Later they founded the successful Royal Robbins clothing company, which still endures. He is also prominently featured in the popular film “Valley Uprising” on Netflix.
Every few years I climb the Harlin-Robbins Route on the Tour d’Aï above Leysin, each time marveling at Robbins’ boldness in leading the final rope length of difficult climbing, an ascent that was one of the most technically difficult in the world at that time. Royal Robbins passed last Tuesday at the age of 82 after a long illness. In the pantheon of legendary climbers, he’ll always transcend.
Director, LAS Alpine Institute