To Be Brave, My Life, Volume 1. Royal Robbins. Pink Moment Press, 2009. 221 pages. Paperback. $19.95.
Royal Robbins was the outstanding climber of the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing. More important, he was the most influential. He was probably the first American-born climber to climb 5.9 on this continent. His uncompromising vision of how to approach the great walls, from Half Dome to El Capitan’s Nose and later the North American Wall, echo through the decades and speak to climbers to this day. Less well known is that it was Robbins who triggered the clean-climbing revolution in this country. After a trip to the U.K., Robbins returned home imbued with the ethos of using natural features and chocks to protect rock climbs. Chouinard and Frost immediately understood the implications, applied their design and production genius to improving the chocks available from the U.K., and commissioned Doug Robinsons seminal essay, “The Whole Art of Natural Protection,” in the Chouinard Equipment catalog. This was followed by John Stan- nard, on the East Coast, publishing his brilliant newsletter, “The Eastern Trade.” The revolution swept on, but it was Robbins who triggered it.
Thus an autobiography by Robbins is a must read for anyone interested in the modern history of American climbing. It helps that it is so well done and consistently engaging.
As a device, Robbins recounts his 1963 solo of Warren Harding’s amazing route on the Leaning Tower in Yosemite. His clear descriptions of the technical aspects of the climb are accessible to the non-climber, but are gripping enough to satisfy the most experienced among us. Alone on the wall for days, Robbins looks back on his hardscrabble youth, growing up in post-WWII Los Angeles. Always supported by his long-suffering mother but without a steady father figure, he recounts his youthful adventures, and misadventures, with an uncompromising eye and an amazing memory for detail. His discovery of climbing and his calling gives us a window for understanding his resolute character.
This is the first of a seven-volume undertaking. I look forward to the rest with great anticipation.