Climbing pioneer Royal Robbins was the
first to solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but he
conquered another mountainous hurdle long before he ever donned a
climbing harness: the mean streets of Los Angeles.
After a crime-riddled start to his
childhood, Robbins found a new passion: the Boy Scouts. At age 14, he
joined the program and found a different sort of adventure there.
“The Scouts got me off the streets of
Los Angeles,” he said. “Into the out of doors. Into the
mountains. Out into the good stuff.”
Robbins addressed a gathering at this
week's National Outdoor Adventure Summit at Philmont Scout Ranch.
Cracker Barrel is here all week learning about tips and techniques
for outdoor activities.
But before the sessions began, Robbins'
keynote address helped inspire the crowd.
He owes much of his success in the
outdoors to a three-word motto: “Attitude, Perseverance, and Love.”
Robbins' “attitude” came into play
when he was trying to climb a large boulder without the assistance of
ropes. After falling off five times, he was ready to quit, but then
he had a vision of the route to the top. He knew he could make it.
And what happened on his next try? He
made it, of course.
“I told myself: Climb as if you were
gonna make it,” he said. “And then, I had done it! I had made the
first ascent of what I thought I couldn't do. Was that ever a lesson
for me in attitude!”
His second tenet
came into play when preparing to solo climb El Capitan. Even before
he ascended one foot up the massive rock face, he remembered being
ready to reconsider.
was 500 times higher than me. And a lot fatter,” he said. “I
wanted to back out, but what was I going to do?”
But on sheer skill and adrenaline, he
made it 2,000 feet up—with just one-third left to go. But Robbins,
with his arms weak and his head filling with thoughts of defeat,
began to question himself.
As he was putting up anchors to rappel
down, a feeling of sickness overcame him.
“I couldn't let my dream go,” he
said. “I asked myself, 'Why don't you climb the next five feet? You
can get down just as easily five feet up as from where you are—and
you'll have a new high point.”
This mind game continued until he could
see the summit above him. By then, he didn't need to trick himself
Conquering El Capitan taught Robbins an
important lesson: “Sometimes our dreams are so far out there that
we can't see how we're going to do them,” he said. “You
may not see the end result, but if you keep trying, you might get
there. If you give up, you won't, for sure.”
final point, “love,” wasn't a climbing story, surprisingly. This
time he recounted the tale of one of his many kayaking adventures.
You may know Robbins as the first to ascend
several mountains, but he was also the first to descend
several river runs.
One in particular didn't go smoothly,though. While kayaking a river
in Chile, he capsized and was caught in a “maytag.” Like the
washing machine that shares its name, a maytag throws your body
around in a cycle from which it is difficult to escape.
Robbins fought for air each time the cycle brought him near the
surface. But each gasp yielded less and less air. Eventually, he was
certain he wasn't going to make it.
“But just as I was about to give up,
I saw a vision of my family,” he remembers. “That was just enough
to release some emotion. Some adrenaline. I just swam. I decided
right then and there that if was going to kick the bucket, I was
going to do so swimming and trying. I was not going to give up.”
Once he made it to dry land, he knew
what had kept him alive.
didn't do it,” he said. “It took the love of my family. That made