Robert F. Kamps 1931-2005
Having lived this long, I’ve found the most important measure of our climbing days is not what grades or climbs we achieve, but what we get from it all down deep, especially our times with others. On these counts, my friend and longtime climbing partner Bob Kamps got full measure. He loved moving well and precisely on rock. His footwork, finesse, intensity, devotion to good style, and winning smile told you joy was his. As well, he made scores of lasting friends across three generations, influencing both their climbing and their lives. Twenty-four spoke from the heart at his memorial at Stoney Point in L.A. and numerous others did the same at www.BobKamps.com. Listen to a few of those he met along the way (quotes edited to fit space):
“The climbing/bouldering ethos we had was primarily due to Mr. Kamps. Over the years I’ve by now seen various big names climb—at Camp 4, Stoney, Smith, but of all, two people stand out in terms of the control and precision of their climbing and presence on the rock: Bob Kamps and …”—John Reed
“In the course of 25 years of doing outdoor sports, I have only met a handful of beings that have had Bob’s blend of humility, core, and accomplishments. He set the high bar.” —Brett Valle
“His true legacy is his effect on other people and his ability to help them grow through his gentle encouragement and acceptance … that is his true legacy.”—Chris Wegener
“I found Bob did most of his talking about climbing through the act of climbing. He was a master of teaching by example. I don’t think he did it intentionally. It was what made Bob.”—Kevin Wright
“I knew how great Bob was not just for his climbing ability but for who he was as a person. People he had never met would see all this in just a few moments. Bob was many things to me, a climbing mentor, and most importantly, a true friend.”—Jim Wilson
Bob began climbing before how-to books or gyms. Captivated by the mountains while visiting Yellowstone National Park in 1955, he recruited anyone who could walk as a climbing partner and invented techniques on the fly. For example, he cut a U-shaped trough in a dirt hummock to rappel off Pilot Peak after a successful ascent. Later, he learned the basics through the UCLA Bruin Mountaineers and the Sierra Club.
The highly publicized first ascent of the Diamond of Longs Peak with Dave Rearick in 1960 was perhaps his best-known climb. He preferred challenging, shorter crags to big walls, with lots of sun and friends nearby. His personal favorite first ascent was Lucky Streaks in Tuolumne Meadows, a wispy, sweeping series of steep cracks on Fairview Dome.
Bob always climbed in good style. He never rested on the rope when he fell, but instead lowered to the last stance and started again. He placed bolts sparingly, by hand, often from difficult positions, and was one of the first to write about bolt ethics, in a 1966 article for Summit magazine.
As Bob got older, it was natural for climbers everywhere to stop to watch him: usually leading, craggy legs sticking from cutoffs, strong, sinewy arms poking from a frayed T-shirt; gray hair, leathery skin, gold-rim glasses, maybe fiddling with impossible protection. No wonder a post at Bob’s website says, “I think now … climbing … has less to do with age than … desire, preparation, experience, and vision”—J.W.
Bob’s passion for climbing is reflected in the sheer number of his ascents: more than 3,000 routes over 50 years; 162 first ascents (2/3 were 5.10 or higher); 25 first free ascents. He appeared regularly and recognizably at Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows, Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, southern deserts, southern states, Midwest, East Coast—just about every climbing area in the U.S. He climbed at his top standard to the end (age 73) when his heart stopped as he reached for a hold at the local climbing gym. A life to envy.
Both Bob and loving wife Bonnie of 46 years were elementary school teachers, enabling them to enjoy summers in the mountains. He left teaching to deal in antiques and collectibles, calling himself “Entrecrapeur.” He did well in his chosen pursuit, allowing him to help out many a young climber in a pinch.
I can’t say goodbye to Bob Kamps. He and I climbed together since the early ’60s. He gave me my climbing technique and mentality. He was father to me when my parents died early in my life. He fought well with me over politics and religion. He ranted with me in the days when climbing styles made big changes. He maddened me in his stubborn way of carrying too little hardware. He gave me things out of the blue. He saved my life at least once, as I did his. For me, Bob lives on, climbing a remembered pitch, sharing a summit and later the tale, smiling, punning, loving the days.
My thanks to Bonnie Kamps, Steve Roper, Jim Fulmis, and Kevin Wright for assistance in preparing this obituary and to all quoted here. For a database of Bob’s climbs, pictures, and tributes from friends, visit www.BobKamps.com. For other obituaries, see Climbing July 2005 and Rock and Ice June 2005.
Tom Higgins, AAC