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Royal Robbins: 1935-2017

March 15, 2017
RR & LR Atop Muir Wall Post-Solo - El Capitan 1968 (Glen Denny #101 Full Usage 2016)

We are deeply saddened to report that our founder and legendary rock climber Royal Robbins’ passed away Tuesday, March 14 after a long illness.

Royal was extremely special to us. He and his wife, Liz, founded Royal Robbins in 1968 as an active lifestyle apparel company for rock climbers, adventurers and travelers. Royal was a leading figure in the Golden Age of Yosemite Valley climbing and was one of the first and most vocal proponents of clean climbing. In 1967, Royal and Liz Robbins made the first ascent of Nutcracker in the Yosemite Valley using only removable nuts for protection. It was the first climb of its kind in the United States and it started a clean climbing revolution.

His environmental advocacy and his love for adventure provide direction for everything we do. Royal was an inspiration to us all and will be greatly missed.

We encourage you to post your own remembrances below. Royal loved, and was loved by, his friends.

 

Michael Millenacker, CEO, Royal Robbins

Royal was a legendary pioneer who approached everything in life with a true spirit of adventure. He gave me my first break in the outdoor industry and set me on the path to meld a passion for the outdoors with a career. He taught me to work with purpose—that the harder we worked, the more we could give back.

His leadership style was unique and uncannily effective. On my very first climb, he tied in, started climbing, and left me with a harness and the end of a rope. As with all outdoor and business pursuits, he led by bold examples.

He also knew how to harness the power of perseverance and courage to influence so many lives – including mine. With tremendous class and a huge heart, he taught me so many the valuable lessons about conviction and grit. Every time I saw him walk into a room, you could feel a shift, as if everyone knew they were in the presence of greatness. Many like me, will always be inspired and guided by his leadership.

 

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Our Heritage

The First Descents of Royal Robbins

March 10, 2017
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Royal the Adventurer not Royal the Climber is what we should probably call him. In addition to his pioneering climbing feats, Royal was also a pioneering white water kayaker, claiming numerous first descents in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s. Alongside climbing buddies like Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard, Royal moved from Rock to River in order to challenge himself once again.

Hands of Pain: Arthritis

Royal began kayaking in the mid-70’s, but in 1978, while running his climbing school in Telluride, Royal had a serious attack of psoriatic arthritis. When he returned home to Modesto, it got worse – he lost most of the use of his right hand and even had trouble walking. Climbing was definitely out of the question.

But “Royal could keep the pain hidden more easily in kayaking,” said his friend TM Herbert. Like climbing, kayaking required poise, courage and self-control, plus a strong desire the reach a goal. Arthritis was simply another ascent he had to make, and he did so by descending rivers.

The Triple Crown: Billy Goats vs. Hipsters

The late 1970’s and ’80’s featured an intense competition to notch first descents of rivers in California’s Sierras. Both technological innovations (plastic boats) and a race to be first drove the sport to new heights. The two top teams of the day were the “Billy Goat Crew” –  made up of Royal Robbins, Reg Lake, and Doug Tompkins – and “The Hipsters on the Move” –  Lars Holbeck, Chuck Stanley and Richard Montgomery. The Hipsters may have been superior paddlers (other than Lake), but the Billy Goat were adventure pioneers.

The Triple Crown consisted of the headwaters of the Kern, The Middle Fork of the Kings and the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin. Aside from roaring, technical whitewater, the Triple Crown was complicated but serious access issues: deep canyons with no escape, multi-day portages over mountains. In short, kayaking for climbers.

In 1980, after scouting the run from Tompkins’ plane Royal, Tompkins and Lake ran the middle fork of the San Joaquin from Devil’s Postpile to the Mammoth Pool Reservoir, 5000 feet lower and 32 miles away. The gorge is so deep and remote that the escape plan, should anything turned out to be unrunnable, consisted of a 150 foot climbing rope to scale the sheer canyon walls.

According to Holbeck, the San Joaquin “ is the most demanding run I’ve ever seen. In many places it is like Yosemite Valley, but the walls are only a river’s width apart.”

In 1981, the Billy Goats went to tackle the Kern, which falls off the slopes of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in California (14,495 feet). “The real zinger,” as Lake said, “was that we had to carry our kayaks and camping gear over the pass at 13,777 feet. We considered helicopters and aerial drops, but being in a national park, this was illegal.” The gear was extremely low-tech – the paddlers waterproofed their feet with  plastic bread bags under Converse All-Stars.

The trip almost ended early when Lake took an 800-foot fall down a snow-covered slope with all his gear. Thank God for durable plastic kayaks. After that, the river was a relative ease, and the team descended 55 miles down the Kern into Sequoia National Park to claim the first descent of Part II of the Triple Crown.

The final leg was the ultra-steep Middle Fork of the Kings, one of the most difficult and most remote rivers in California, that “even hikers and fishermen can’t reach it.”

Holbeck wrote, “I mentioned my interest to Royal. He replied that he thought the river was much too steep at that instant I just knew he was going to run it.”

Thankfully, the Kings only required a 12-mile hike over a 12,000-foot pass—a mere trifle compared to the Kern. But the river was brutal. Their first ascent (they were joined by Neusom Holmes) wouldn’t be matched again until 1995 by the legendary Scott Lindgren.

Later Firsts

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.

As Pat Ament wrote in Spirit of the Age, “Royal then developed an interest in descending smaller mountain creeks by kayak during their flood stage following heavy rains. His first such project in May, 1984 was the descent of Sespe Creek, which runs through the Los Padres National Forest. He was accompanied by Yvon Chouinard, Reg Lake, John Wasserman and Jackson Frischman. Robbins called 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.”

Still a Second Love

Did adventure kayaking mean as much to Royal as climbing? “No. I love it very much, and it is very rewarding, but I am first, last, and always a climber. I will climb until I drop, and it would be the last thing I would give up.”

 

 

 

 

Our Heritage

The First Ascents of Royal Robbins

February 26, 2017
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The first ascent is a magical exploration. Whether it’s a big wall or a bouldering problem, it takes imagination, vision and a desire to go where no one has gone before. It requires a belief in the possibility of the undone, that the until now impossible is possible.

Today, with climbing growing in popularity, first ascents are a product of discovery and skill, as many of the iconic routes have been claimed. First ascents today often come from difficult to reach areas or impossibly technical or otherwise difficult routes (the 2011 first ascent of the Shark’s Fin of Meru by Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk comes to mind).

In the 1950’s, as Royal Robbins and his compatriots descended on Camp 4 to usher in the Golden Age of Yosemite, Big Wall climbing was in its infancy. The sheer mystery of what would happen up there on the wall ranked alongside the great explorations of mankind – Shackleton in Antarctica, Mallory on Everest, or even Armstrong on the moon. It was a combination of skill, tenacity and courage.

When you’re first as many times as he was, Royal turns out to be an appropriate name. He learned to climb in the San Fernando Valley near his childhood home in Los Angeles, and then brought his skills to the next level at the iconic Tahquitz Rock in the San Jacinto Mountains southeast of LA. In 1952, he made the first free ascent of Open Book, at that time considered the hardest rock climb in the country.

Soon thereafter, he turned his attention to Yosemite. While he’s most known for his exploits there like the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome to the the first solo ascent of El Capitan, his resume is far longer than that.

Here are some of our favorite first ascents:

  • 1957: first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. This was the first grade VI climb in America. With Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas.
  • 1960 The Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. Second ascent. Royal’s rival (and friend, don’t believe everything you see in the movies) Warren Harding beat him to it, making the first ascent in 45 days over an 18 month period. Royal did it in 7 days with Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost.
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Celebrating the 2nd ascent of The Nose of El Capitan. Royal’s pants are having some fit issues.

1961 Salathé Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA.

This was considered the hardest big wall grade VI climb in world at time. With Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt.[2]

“Climbing as we know it would not exist without Royal Robbins. The way we move, behave, and even think, even 30 years after his Yosemite reign, shaped by Robbins. His competitive drive was the impetus for Yosemite ’s Golden Age, a period of such progress that it may never be matched. Robbins’ laundry list of firsts stretches around the globe, but most remarkable is the Salathé Wall in 1961, a serpentine, natural line that he, Tom Frost and Chuck Pratt pioneered in semi-alpine style with just 13 bolts – a hole count that remains El Cap’s lowest.”—Duane Raleigh

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Royal on the 1961 first ascent of the Salathé Wall. Photo by Tom Frost

 

“The finest route [I’d] made under alpine conditions.”

– Royal Robbins

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The Aiguille du Dru in the Mont Blanc Range of France

1963 Direct NW Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Dick McCracken.

Two other climbers – Ed Cooper, from Washington, and Californian Galen Rowell – had begun fixing ropes on this very route. As Royal felt, they were attempting to bring back the expeditionary themes that climbers had wished to transcend.

June 11, 1963, when Cooper and Rowell were taking a break from their efforts, Royal and McCracken rather impolitely stepped in and began their own attempt of the route. They did not care how Cooper and Rowell might respond. – Excerpted from Pat Ament’s Royal Robbins: Spirit of the Age

  • 1963 Robbins Route, Mount Proboscis, Logan Mountains, NWT, Canada. With Jim McCarthy, Layton Kor and Dick McCracken.
  • 1963 West Face, Leaning Tower, Yosemite, CA, USA. Second ascent and Yosemite’s first wall done solo (Grade V).

1964 North America Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA.

With Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Yvon Chouinard. Royal’s classic account in Rock and Ice tells it better than we ever can.

The Big 4 - Frost, Robbins, Pratt, Chouinard - atop El Capitan's North America Wall.

The Big 4 – Frost, Robbins, Pratt, Chouinard – atop El Capitan’s North America Wall. Photo by Tom Frost.

 

  • 1964 North Face, Mount Hooker, Wind River Range, Wyoming, USA. With Dick McCracken and Charlie Raymond.
  • 1964 Danse Macabre, Devils Tower, Wyoming, USA. With Peter Robinson.

The Park Service required Royal to wear a hardhat on this first ascent, God forbid, instead of his trademark white cap. In fact, Royal would later write that “helmets are a bother.” In the intervening years, we’ve decided to put up with that nuisance.

  • 1964 Final Exam, Castle Rock, Boulder, CO, USA. With Pat Ament.
  • 1964 Athlete’s Feat, Castle Rock, Boulder, CO, USA. First free ascent with Pat Ament.
  • 1965 American Direttissima, Aiguille du Dru, Mont Blanc Range, France. With John Harlin.

1967 Nutcracker, Yosemite, CA, USA.

With Liz Robbins. Now a Yosemite classic, this was the first major all-nut protected first ascent in the United States, marking the birth of “clean climbing” in this country (later popularized in Doug Robinson’s seminal 1972 article The Whole Art of Natural Protection published in the Chouinard Equipment Catalogue).

  • 1967 West Face, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, CA, USA. First ascent with TM Herbert.
  • 1967 North Face, Mount Geikie, Canadian Rockies. First ascent with John Hudson.
  • 1967 North Face, Mount Edith Cavell, Canadian Rockies. First solo ascent.
  • 1968 Muir Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA. First Grade VI solo first solo of El Capitan.
  • 1969 Mount Jeffers and Mt. Nevermore, Cathedral Spires, Kichatna Mountains, Alaska, USA. With Joe Fitschen and Charles Raymond.
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Victory!

 

  • 1969 The Prow, Washington Column, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Glen Denny.
  • 1969 Tis-sa-ack, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Don Peterson.
  • 1970 Arcturus, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA. With Dick Dorworth.

An Open Letter: Together We Can Defend Our Public Lands

January 28, 2017
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Earlier this month, we joined over 100 other companies in the outdoor industry in signing an open letter to the White House addressing the fate of America’s public lands.  The Outdoor Industry Association, which is the leading trade association in the outdoor recreation industry, released the letter in response to growing concerns of Congress and the White House potentially pursuing the privatization of some public lands and national parks or transferring those lands to states.

While we recognize that more Americans than ever (the National Parks Service counted a record 325 million visitors in 2016) are using national parks, monuments and other public lands, privatizing parks would not serve to improve them. Instead, we fear that it would restrict access to parks.

We believe that the outdoors belongs to everyone, and that the freedom to explore brings us closer to ourselves and to nature. We believe in public lands that are accessible to all.

Defend our Public Lands

Please join us in this movement to defend our public lands and to keep them public. Click on this link to access the OIA letter and share via social media to amplify our message. And don’t forget to urge your elected officials to do the same.

Here’s the letter in its entirety:

To our elected officials and those who value America’s great outdoors:

This open letter expresses the view of more than 100 leaders of large and small businesses in the outdoor industry, which contributes more than $650 billion annually to the U.S. economy, generates $80 billion in tax revenue and employs more than 6 million people. Together, we represent a huge range of activities—from hiking to hunting and camping to conservation.

Our businesses make the lives of everyday Americans, from every corner of the political spectrum, healthier and happier. We do not often unite as an industry in the way we are today but we are compelled to make clear our collective view on a vitally important issue that affects the economic health of our industry, our local communities, and the lives of all Americans.

It is an American right to roam in our public lands. The people of the United States, today and tomorrow, share equally in the ownership of these majestic places. This powerful idea transcends party lines and sets our country apart from the rest of the world. That is why we strongly oppose any proposal, current or future, that devalues or compromises the integrity of our national public lands. 

Yet as the 115th Congress begins, efforts are underway that threaten to undermine over one hundred years of public investment, stewardship and enjoyment of our national public lands. Stated simply, these efforts would be bad for the American people. They include the potential of national public lands being privatized or given to states who might sell them to the highest bidder. This would unravel courageous efforts by leaders from across the political spectrum up to the present day, including Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

This is not a red or blue issue. It is an issue that affects our shared freedoms. Public lands should remain in public hands.

We hold these views both as leaders of the outdoor industry — which creates significant economic value for this country — and as individuals who believe deeply that the next generation should be free to benefit from our national public lands as we and our families do today.

The undersigned companies are therefore working together to ensure that all Americans maintain their right to our iconic national public lands and that it is not taken away.

Signed,

Outdoor Industry Association, Amy Roberts, Executive Director

Adventure 16. John D. Mead, President

Alpine Shop, Ltd., Russell Hollenbeck, President

Appalachian Outfitters, Mike & Karen Leffler, Owners

Ascent Solar Technologies, Victor Lee, President & CEO

Backbone Media, Penn Newhard, Founder & Managing Partner

Backcountry, Jonathan Nielsen, CEO

Backcountry North, Tracy Mayer, Owner

Backwoods Retail, Inc., Jennifer Mull, Owner & CEO

Benchmade Knife Company, David Fee, Vice President

BioLite, Jonathan Cedar, Founder & CEO

Black Creek Outfitters, Joe & Liz Butler, Owners

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., John Walbrecht, President

Braided River, Helen Cherullo, Executive Director

Brook Hopper Consulting, Brook Hopper, Founder & CEO

Brooks Running Company, Jim Weber, CEO

Campmate, Chris Holt, CEO

Cascade Designs, David Burroughs, President

Cedar Ravine, Stephanie Carmi & Christine Stahr, Co-Founders

CGPR LLC, Chris Ann Goddard, President

Chaco, Seth Cobb, President

Champaign Surplus, Dan & Shira Epstein, Owners

Clif Bar & Company, Kevin Cleary, CEO

Columbia Sportswear Company, Tim Boyle, President & CEO

Combat Flip Flops, Matthew Griffin, CEO

Concept III Textiles, Christopher Parkes, President

Confluence Watersports, Sue Rechner, President & CEO

Dakine, Ken Meidell, CEO

Darn Tough Vermont, Ric Cabot, President & CEO

Denali, Chris Howe, Owner

Diamond Brand Outdoors, Will Gay, Owner

DPS Skis, Stephan Drake, Owner

Eagle Creek, Roger Spatz, President

Eastside Sports, Chris Iversen & Todd Vogel, Co-Owners

eGrips, Chris Klinke, President

Elevenpine, Jeff Curran, CEO

Equinox Ltd., Robert Cross, President

Exxel Outdoors, LLC, Harry Kazazian, CEO

Far Bank Enterprises, Travis Campbell, President & CEO

Feral Mountain Co., Jimmy Funkhouser, Owner

First Lite, Kenton Carruth, Co-Founder and Owner

Fishpond, John Land Le Coq, Founder & CEO

Flowfold, James Morin, Owner & COO

Garmont, Bill Dodge, CEO

Goal Zero, William Harmon, General Manager

Good To-Go, David Koorits, Founder

Grassroots Outdoor Alliance, Rich Hill, President

Great Outdoor Provision Co., Travis Zarins, Owner

GU Energy Labs, Brian Vaughan, Founder/CEO

Hipcamp, Alyssa Ravasio, Founder & CEO

HippyTree, Andrew Sarnecki, Founder/CEO

Hydro Flask, Scott Allan, General Manager

Ibex Outdoor Clothing, Ted Manning, CEO

IceMule Coolers, James Collie, Founder/CEO

Idaho Mountain Touring, Chris & Jill Haunold, Owners

IPA Connect, Andy Marker, President/Founder

JanSport, Steve Munn, President

Jax Mercantile Co., Jim Quinlan, President

Kammok, Haley Robison, CEO

Keen, Casey Sheahan, CEO

Klean Kanteen, Jim Osgood, President & CEO

Kokatat, Steve O’Meara, Founder/CEO

Kuhl, Kevin Boyle, President

La Sportiva N.A., Inc., Jonathan Lantz, President

Light Speed Outdoors, Brian Cox, CEO

L.L. Bean, Stephen Smith, President & CEO

Lucy, Laurie Etheridge, President

Manzanita Outdoor LLC, David Wheeler, Owner

Massey’s Outfitters, Mike Massey, President

Merrell, Inc., Jim Zwiers, President

MiiR, Bryan Papé, Founder & CEO

MONTANE, Jake Doxat, Managing Director

Mountain Hardwear, Dennis Randall, CMO

Mountain Khakis, Ross Saldarini, President

Mountain Safety Research (MSR), Chris Parkhurst, Vice President

Mountain Works, Inc., Jim Smith, President

MTI Adventurewear, Lili Colby, Owner

My Outdoor Alphabet, Seth Neilson, CEO

Native Eyewear, John Sanchez, General Manager

Nau International, Inc., Mark Galbraith, General Manager

Nemo, Cam Brensinger, CEO

New Balance, Rob DeMartini, President & CEO

Nikwax North America, Rick Meade, President

Oboz Footwear, John Connelly, CEO

Oru Kayak, Roberto Gutierrez, Founder & CCO

Orvis, Perk Perkins, CEO

Osprey Packs, Layne Rigney, President

Outdoor Research, Dan Nordstrom, CEO

Outside Brands / Outside Hilton Head, Mike Overton, CEO

Pack & Paddle, John Williams, President

Pack Rat Outdoor Center, Scott & Carolyn Crook, Founders & Owners

Packtowl, Doug Jacot, Vice President

Patagonia, Rose Marcario, President & CEO

Peak Design, Peter Dering, Founder & CEO

Petzl America, Nazz Kurth, President

Piragis Northwoods Company, Steve Piragis, Owner

Pistil Designs, Todd Douglass, Forrest Jones & Pete Hixson, Founders

Platypus, Doug Jacot, Vice President

Point6, Peter Duke, CEO

Portland WoolenMills, Doug Hoschek & Tina Machuca, Owners

prAna Living, Scott Kerslake, CEO

Ramsey Outdoor, Stuart and Michael Levine, Owners

Redington, Travis Campbell, President & CEO

Red Lantern Journeys, Ambrose Bittner, Founder & Managing Director

REI Co-op, Jerry Stritzke, President & CEO

Rio, Travis Campbell, President & CEO

Rising Tide Associates, David Costello, Principal

River Sports Outfitters, Ed McAlister, Owner

Roads Rivers and Trails, Emily White, Co-Founder & Owner

Rock Creek Outfitters, Dawson Wheeler, Founder

Roots Rated, Fynn Glover, Founder/CEO

Royal Robbins, Michael Millenacker, CEO

Ruffwear, Patrick Kruse, R&D Director & Founder

Rutabaga Paddlesports, Darren Bush, Owner & CEO

rygr, Brian Holcombe, Principal

Sage, Travis Campbell, President & CEO

Salewa North America, Brian Mecham, General Manager

Sanitas Sales Group, Keith Reis, President

SCARPA North America, Kim Miller, CEO

SealLine, Doug Jacot, Vice President

Simms, K.C. Walsh, President & CEO

Skinny Skis, Phil Leeds & Scott O’Brien, Owners

Soar Communications, Chip Smith, President

Sorel, Mark Nenow, President

Stanley PMI, Kelly Kraus, Vice President, Stanley Brand

Stio, Stephen Sullivan, Founder/ CEO

Summit Hut, Dana Davis, President & Co-Owner

Sunday Afternoons, Inc., Sarah Sameh, CEO

Sunlight Sports, Wes Allen, Owner

Superfeet Worldwide, John Rauvola, CEO

Tahoe Mountain Sports, Dave Polivy, Co-Owner

Tenkara USA, Daniel Galhardo, Founder & CEO

Terra, PR, Alli Noland, Founder

The Base Camp, Scott Brown, Owner

The Mountaineer, Vinny McClelland, President

The North Face, Scott Baxter, Group President

The Outbound Collective, Brian Heifferon, Founder & CEO

The Trail Head, Todd Frank, Owner

The Toggery, Trek Stephens, President

Therm-a-Rest Brands, Doug Jacot, Vice President

Timberland, Jim Pisani, President

Toad&Co, Gordon Seabury, CEO (& OIA board chair)

Topo Athletic, Tony Post, Founder & CEO

Trail Creek Outfitters, Ed Camelli & Brian Havertine, Owners

Trango, Chris Klinke, President

Travel Country, Mike Plante, Owner

Trek Light Gear, Seth Haber, Founder & CEO

22 Designs, Chris Valiante, Owner

Ute Mountaineer, Bob Wade & Maile Spung, Owners

Vans, Doug Palladini, President

Verde Brand Communications, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, President and Founder

VF Corporation, Steve Rendle, President & CEO

Weighmyrack, Allison Dennis, Founder & CEO

Western Spirit Cycling, Ashley Korenblat, CEO

What’s UP Public Relations, Beth L. Cochran, Founder/Owner

Wild Things, LLC, Edward M. Schmults, CEO

Wolverine Worldwide, Inc., Blake Krueger, CEO

Woolrich, Inc., Nick Brayton, President

Yakima Products, Ryan Martin, CEO

Zumiez, Inc., Tom Campion, Founder & Chairman

Outdoor Destinations

Myanmar: Our New Favorite Adventure Destination

January 19, 2017
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Myanmar is a new frontier for adventure and a growing tourist destination, especially when looking for a warm weather trip to escape the cold. In fact, Lonely Planet named Myanmar one of its top destinations for 2017 too

Royal and Liz were great adventurers who not only enjoyed America’s national parks, but also ventured abroad – to Europe and South America but also to Asia extensively. For our founders, it was the friends they found that made each trip special, as each new friend constituted a new adventure.

Last winter, Royal Robbins’ product leader Liz Braund visited Myanmar with 6 members of her family (ranging from age 30 to age 99!). Join us for an incredible trip.

 

Myanmar is a country where the destination is the journey itself. Just getting from place to place can be an adventure, as the country has only recently opened to the wider world (other nations dropped most economic sanctions in 2015 after Myanmar elected its first democratic government in a half century).

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand and is home to nearly 55 million people. And it is the people that make Myanmar so special. Nearly 100 different ethnic groups call Myanmar home, making it one of the more cultural diverse and colorful places in the world.

We treated this as a once in a lifetime trip and promised ourselves that we would do it right. And yes, that meant spending a little more on fantastic hotels. But fear not, there are many comfortable and safe hotel options for the more budget-conscious traveler.

When to Go

December, January and February are the only months I recommend. Even at temperatures up to 95 degrees, this is the cool time of year. May through September is monsoon season, and many roads become impassable.

How to Get There

You’ll fly into the largest city – Yangon. Be prepared to either spend a lot of money on airfare, or spend a lot of time in the air. Flights go through Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei, Guangzhou, Kunming and others.

Our Itinerary

Our trip lasted a total of two weeks, the perfect amount of time to get a feel for the country, while still leaving us wanting more. From Portland, Oregon we flew to Bangkok and then on to Myanmar’s largest city: Yangon (Rangoon), home to 8 million people and seemingly just as many cars but not nearly enough roads. The next twelve days would take us through much of central Myanmar, to Inle Lake, Mandalay, and the ancient capital of Bagan.

The Highlights

In Yangon, we immediately visited the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, which contains relics from four previous Buddhas.

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Making an offering at a birthday shrine outside the Schwegadon Pagoda

Aside from the incredible beauty of the pagoda, it was incredible to see groups of volunteers constantly sweeping the site, which they took not as a chore but as a noble act.

Volunteers sweeping at the Schwedagon Pagoda

Volunteers sweeping at the Schwedagon Pagoda

The Karaweik Palace, located on Kandawgyi Lake, is another must-see. It’s a building but is designed after a royal barge with an incredibly elaborate gilded bow.

We stayed in the Sule Shangri-La Hotel in Yangon, which was a fantastic 5-star hotel. The accommodations were very comfortable, but the thing that set it apart was the friendliness of the staff there.

Inle Lake

From Yangon, we flew to Heho, a small town approximately an hours drive from our next destination – Inle Lake. Located in the state of Shan (which is known for papermaking and silk-weaving), Inle is a magical world built on water. The vast lake is surrounded by marshlands and floating gardens, with houses and Buddhist Temples built on stilts over the water.

Randomly, I ran into an old friend from Portland who was on a bike trip through Myanmar. The magic of Facebook! Backroads had put together an incredible itinerary for them; that would be on my list for next time.

We stayed at the Aureum Palace Hotel, with stunning private villas built out over the waters and shores of the Lake. The Inle Princess Resort is also incredible.

Inle Lake at sunset

Inle Lake at sunset

Around the lake, each village has a vibrant, bustling market. The Shwe Indein Pagoda features over 1,000 stupas. My personal favorite was visiting the home/workshop of a family who made paper umbrellas in vibrant, beautiful colors. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of the fishermen who are famous for perching precariously with one foot on the reeds while fishing.

Handmade paper umbrellas

Handmade paper umbrellas

After a short flight from Heho to Mandalay, we embarked on a 7-day cruise on the Irrawaddy River (our ship normally accommodates 45 passengers but this trip only had 12 passengers vs. 31 crew). This was one of the most incredible weeks of my life.

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Each day we would stop at towns along the river, visit markets, and meet people. As a tourist one can feel uncomfortable, can feel that you are encroaching on someone else’s home. But the people I met were just as interested in learning about us as we were about them. Without a doubt, my family was asked to pose in pictures for the locals more than the other way around!

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Sun setting beneath the U Bein Bridge

There were also some incredible sights to see along the way, including:

  • U Bein Bridge – at ¾ of a mile long, it’s the world’s longest teak bridge
  • Monya – on the Chindwin River; the site of the longest reclining and the tallest standing Buddhas in the world
  • Kuthodaw Complex – houses the world’s biggest book

And of course – Bagan.

 

The Ancient Capital City – Bagan

Bagan was the capital of Burma from 1044 to 1287 and was once home to as many as 200,000 people. Today however, it is a vast city of ruins: deserted temples, stupas, pagodas, monasteries and palaces spread across 15 miles of dry plain.

Bagan before dawn

Bagan before dawn

The capital of the Kingdom of Pagan (yes the spelling is correct) was the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. However, the Pagan empire collapsed in 1287 after repeated Mongol invasions, and Bagan slowly emptied out, becoming no more than a pilgrimage destination by the 15th century. Over time, earthquakes played a large role in the destruction of the historic buildings (over 400 earthquakes were recorded there from 1904 to 1975 alone).

Today, Old Bagan is off limits to permanent dwellings. It has become one of the great tourist sites in the world, on par with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

 

After two weeks, I left Myanmar impressed no doubt with many of the historical sites. However, it was the people whom I met that left a lasting impression on me. I exchanged earrings with a merchant in one of the markets, met children who introduced me to thanaka, a creamy paste made from ground bark worn for both cosmetic beauty and sun protection (think zinc oxide but with style), and was taught how to properly wear a longyi.

A Burmese family asked us to be in their picture. New friends are the best friends!

A Burmese family asked us to be in their picture. New friends are the best friends!

 

 

Outdoor Destinations

Our Three Favorite Ski Spots This Winter

January 15, 2017
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Our three favorite ski destinations this winter span the range of accessibility – from a weekend destination just outside Bend, to a bit of a longer drive in Lake Tahoe, and a destination resort in Idaho. We polled our team and three spots rose to the top, with some local insights for each.

Mt. Bachelor – Oregon

Bend, Oregon is one of the best places to live for outdoor enthusiasts. Not coincidentally, Mt. Bachelor is just 22 miles away. 6th largest ski resort in the country just down the road? Convenient.

What’s it good for?

 Well, Bachelor is the 2nd largest single-mountain ski resort in the country (behind Vail) so it’s got something for everyone. That said, the powder and backcountry skiing is tough to beat.

Our favorite run?

Dilly Dally Ally is a fun groomer all kids love, and then for a powder day, Devil’s Backbone and the West Bowls are stellar.

Best bar on the mountain?

Clearing Rock Bar….local brews and new fireplaces outside.  In Bend, any of the breweries are great for après. Beer is the game in Bend!

Best non-skiing activity?

There’s great hiking, mountain biking and fly fishing in the area.  Once February rolls around you can ski in the morning and fish all afternoon.

We’ll leave you with a little fun fact:

Mt. Bachelor was called a Butte for over 100 years until the forest service did a survey and found the elevation is 9,009 ft., which qualifies it for mountain status.  You have to be careful since it is a dormant volcano there are still many steam vents throughout the mountain.  The mountain stays open through Memorial Day and some years has reopened for July 4th!

 

Squaw Valley – Lake Tahoe, California

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the easternmost edge of California (the state line between Nevada and California splits the lake itself), Squaw Valley is a legendary resort serving Olympians (1960), year round locals and hordes of San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area weekenders.

What’s it good for?

It’s great for ridiculously steep runs. That said, there is plenty of terrain for the whole family to enjoy.

Our favorite run?

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Squaw Valley features an incredible collection of steep and mellow terrain

Anything off of KT or Granite Chief. West Face, or Mosley’s (named after 1998 Olympic moguls champ and local god Jonny Moseley), is steep, long, and chock-full of moguls. The Emigrant lift gives access to mellower terrain, but be warned, the chair lift can be very windy.

Best bar on the mountain?

On the mountain or in the world? Some would argue that both apply to the Chammy. Le Chamois isn’t actually on the mountain but it’s tucked down an alley in Squaw Village at the bottom. You should probably order a Budweiser, because they serve the second-most Budweisers annually in California (just behind Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, which holds over 17,000 people and hosts over 200 events every year).

Best non-skiing activity?

Snowshoeing! The incredible hiking in the summer gives way to snowshoeing all over the Lake Tahoe area. Oh, and beer drinking. People love to have a beer or three in Tahoe. Try Pete and Peter’s in Tahoe City or the Mellow Fellow in Truckee (incredible selection of over 40 craft beers) for some local flavor.

We’ll leave you with a little fun fact:

The earliest recorded snowfall at Lake Tahoe was on September 11, 1952. But more apt right now is the fact that since January 1st of this year, the Tahoe area has GOTTEN OVER 14 FEET OF SNOW!!!

 

Sun Valley, Idaho

Located in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, Sun Valley is perhaps the most classic and quintessential American ski resort, having hosted Hollywood stars, politicians and rock stars for nearly 90 years. Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bells Tolls while there. Sun Valley is known for being hard to access, but that’s the allure.

The resort features two mountains – Dollar for beginners and Bald Mountain for everyone else – that sandwich the town of Ketchum. Everyone may call it Sun Valley, but in reality that’s just the mountains and the hotel.

 

What’s it good for?

Though they’ve built a terrain park on Dollar in the last few years, Sun Valley is definitely known for its long, wide, expansive, incredible groomers. But lest you think they’re boring, guess again. Olympic medalists Picabo Street, Christin Cooper and Gretchen Fraser grew up there, and Sun Valley will host the US Alpine Championships in 2016 and 2018.

And they may not get a ton of snow, but Sun Valley has one of the biggest best snowmaking systems in the world, guaranteeing that you won’t be shut out. And when it does snow, hustle out to the back bowls for some fresh tracks first thing in the morning.

Our favorite run?

First thing in the morning, it’s hard to beat College top to bottom. A beautiful groomer in the sun is the perfect way to start the day. But when there’s powder, definitely hit the bowls.

Best après spot?

At the bottom of the Warm Springs side of Baldy, Apples is a classic for a cold beer and a burger (and cheese tots, definitely cheese tots). Local legends / brothers / X Games gold medalists Zach and Reggie Crist grace the walls in some fantastic ski photos.

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The last day of the season at Sun Valley features some pretty wild costumes.

And if you’re up for more on the way home, Grumpy’s in town serves a fantastic greasy burger and schooners of beer (heroic goblets is probably more accurate). “Local dive” was coined in reference to Grumpy’s (Editor’s note: not at all true but it applies).

Best non-skiing activity?

There are three separate trails for fat tire snow biking, which is a great way to break a sweat on your day off. The local minor league hockey team – the aptly-named Sun Valley Suns – plays at the resort rink on Friday nights. Games are entertaining if not skillful. Expect more fights than goals.

We’ll leave you with a little fun fact:

The world’s first chairlift was installed in Sun Valley at Proctor Mountain (no longer used for skiing) in 1936.

 

 

 

 

Inside Royal Robbins Our Heritage

Sweater Craft: a History of Sweaters as Gear

November 11, 2016
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Sweater Craft is as old as the company itself. Royal and Liz originally began selling gear – pitons, ropes, hammers, nuts – out of her father’s garage in Modesto, CA. Soon thereafter, they added apparel to Mountain Paraphernalia roster of goods, becoming essentially the first outdoor apparel company (which they originally called Mountain Threads).

But before they could do that, there was a problem: climbers and adventurers didn’t want CLOTHING, they wanted GEAR.

Sweaters as Gear

Sweater Craft originals with Liz Robbins

Liz Robbins with original Sweater Craft

Despite being famous for first ascents in Yosemite Valley, CA, Royal and Liz spent a lot of time in Europe, especially England. On climbing trips in the Lake District of northwest England, Liz found a fun diversion when the rain started coming down.

She began working with local women to help them redesign their sweaters to fit climbers better.

The Herdwick and Swaledale sheep’s wool made for rugged, durable sweaters that, with slight improvements were ideal for cool weather climbing. The only problem was that climbers didn’t want to buy apparel, they wanted to buy “tools.”  

By marketing these heavy wool sweaters as tools, the Robbins’s found success in a new totally category for outdoor – Sweaters as Gear. This success led to Robbins’s to pivot and make the Royal Robbins company into a pure outdoor clothing company by the mid-70’s.

Sweater Craft

Many clothes are made. Sweaters are crafted. We call our collection of sweaters Sweater Craft in honor of the original sweaters that Liz imported. These hand-made beauties kept climbers warm and looked good.

Sweater Craft today

Sweater Craft at play in the Sierras

 

A Legacy of Environmental Responsibility

The promotion of clean climbing, marked by his first ascent of Nutcracker in 1967, was one of Royal’s proudest accomplishment. The legacy of environmental responsibility and of sustainability remains with the company today. When it comes to sweaters, we believe in the ethical treatment of our sheep. That’s why we only use non-mulesed wool.

Throughout our business, whether it’s using bluesign® approved fabrics, plant-based fibers, or Tencels and Modals from sustainably-managed forests, we are constantly looking to build on Royal’s leadership. It is a Core Value of our brand.

 

Inside Royal Robbins Outdoor Destinations

Yosemite Facelift Success!

October 9, 2016
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The Royal Robbins cleanup crew at Tunnel View

The Yosemite Facelift was a fantastic success. Two weeks ago, nearly 1,500 people flocked to the weeklong Facelift, put on by the Yosemite Climbing Association for the 13th straight year.

A Royal Robbins crew of 24 was thrilled to join our fellow Yosemite lovers to help the park recover from the high traffic summer season. Nearly 4 million people visit Yosemite every year, and unfortunately not everyone is so careful about packing out what they bring in to the park.

Old Trash

Sometimes a beer can isn’t a beer can, it’s an artifact.

Before heading out on the trail, everyone received a training session from the YCA. Interestingly, not all trash is really trash. Some things have been there so long (old beer cans, historic light bulbs) that they become archaeological artifacts. Such artifacts need to be left where they are by federal law.

However we were able to stay within the law and still help keep our park beautiful.

Here are some numbers that sum up the week:

Volunteers

  • 1,477 Unique Volunteers
  • 2,493 Volunteer days
  • 11,714 Volunteer hours

Weights

  • 5,733 Lbs. of litter
  • 6,464 Lbs. Special Projects
  • 12,197 Lbs. Total removed from Yosemite National Park

Entrance SignThe Facelift was not only a fantastic opportunity to get outside and spend time in the birthplace of the Royal Robbins legend, but it was also a great opportunity to give back. Without our national parks, our lives are not as rich or beautiful. It’s extremely important to support the outdoors and the environment, whether it’s through sustainability efforts like using bluesign® approved fabrics or recycling programs like Royal Rewear.

To learn more about Royal Robbins’ social responsibility program, click here.

Essential Gear Outdoor Destinations

Chile: The Perfect Multi-Climate Adventure Travel Destination

September 30, 2016
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Chile is a perfect multi-climate adventure travel destination. Located on the Pacific Ocean in South America, this very long, very thin country has incredibly varied terrain from the Atacama Desert in the north, to the wine country in the center, and the iconic Patagonia region in the south, with the massive Andes Mountains lining the eastern edge.

Last month I spent eight days with my family in Chile – three days in the Atacama Desert, and five days in Central Chile skiing in the Andes and visiting the capital of Santiago. Patagonia is worth a two week trip all to itself (next time!).

Late August is late winter / early spring in Chile. I’d recommend going a bit earlier to catch some better snow, but Santiago was significantly more pleasant than it would have been in the dead of winter.

What to bring:
We needed versatile, multi-climate clothes to venture in a desert (hot during the day, cold at night), skiing, and a city with a very mild climate. Aside from ski gear, we focused on multiple, lighter weight layers that washed easily.

The Atacama Desert – A Stargazer’s Paradise

The Atacama Desert is one of the highest deserts in the world. At the feet of the Andes, it ranges from 7,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level. San Pedro de Atacama is the largest town in the area. The Atacama is known for incredible star gazing due to its clear skies, dry air, and minimal light pollution.

Where to Stay:  Tierra de Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama. Ranked by National Geographic as one of the most unique hotels in the world, it was built using local materials. The furniture and accessories are all handmade, giving it an authentic local feel. For a bit lower cost, there are several other hotels and hostels in San Pedro.

Cool Stuff to Do:

Salar de Atacama – these incredible salts flats are sandwiched between the Andes Mountains on one side and the Cordillera de Domeyko on the other. The salt flat is the third largest in the world and sits at an average of 7,500 feet above sea level. The eastern edge is lined by active volcanoes.

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Looking across the Salar de Atacama towards the volcanoes

If you’ve never seen a salt flat, it’s hard to explain just how much salt there is. As you can tell in the photo, there is a thick thick crust of salt on the ground, almost like a rocky sand beach.

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It’s not dirt, it’s salt

And did I mention that the Andean flamingo is native to the area?

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Andean flamingoes at sunset in the Salar de Atacama



El Tatio Geysers – These are the highest geysers in the world at over 14,000 feet in elevation. Tucked right near the Chilean-Bolivian border, they aren’t quite of the scale of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, but they’re plenty exciting in their own right. But beware of the temperature: if you head up early in the morning, it is usually well below freezing.

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A lonely vicuña in the El Tatio geyser field

Valle de la Muerte – Also known as the Mars Valley, it’s known for its moonlike landscape, incredible rock formations and massive clay mounds (mountains is more accurate) that rise out of the desert. We did an afternoon mountain bike that took us from about 7,000 feet to 11,000 feet. I’ll admit that we did have to walk some. But the views from the top were incredible.

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Biking through the Valle de la Muerte

Star gazing – It’s one of the most renowned star gazing destinations in the world, and we didn’t do it! Blame it on the local wine I guess.

How do you get there: Calama is a two hour flight from the capital of Chile, Santiago (most major airlines have direct flights from the US to Santiago). San Pedro de Atacama is about a 90-minute drive from the Calama airport.

What to Wear: The desert is very warm during the day and very cold at night. I’d recommend multiple layers as opposed to just a heavy down coat. MerinoLux™ tops were a favorite because they’re naturally odor resistant, and we often ran out of time to change before dinner.

Valle Nevado Ski Resort

Where to Stay: The resort offers 3 hotels at varying price points. However, they all sit right now to each other and funnel into the same ski lifts and social scene. Other than skiing, the resort offered nightly wine tastings and had a great, heated outdoor pool. The après-ski scene on the deck wasn’t too shabby either.

Cool Stuff to Do: Heli skiing! Valle Nevado Heli Skiing is run by incredibly experienced backcountry and heli ski guides, including X-Games Gold Medalist Reggie Crist (see his ski films here) and Mike Barney of Colorado.

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The Andes feature world class skiing. Note: those are tears of joy on my face, not fear.

Skiing untracked runs in some of the most awe-inspiring terrain in the world was an unforgettable experience. Heli skiing usually makes people think SUPREME INTENSITY, but actually you can ski a wide range of terrains. And great guides (again, I can’t speak highly enough of Reggie and Mike) can make it a very safe experience.

Valle Nevado is the largest ski resort in Chile. Though it does not have the expansive off-piste offerings of Las Lenas in nearby Argentina, there is a wide variety of lift- and pommel-accessible terrain.

How do you get there: Valle Nevado is a 2-hour drive from downtown Santiago.

What to Wear: Ski gear! But aside from that, the resort is informal but still has a neat, pulled together vibe. My dad wore a pair of the Brushed Back Twill Pants, and he wore them 2 of the 3 nights. He’s an incredible athlete – at 63, he heli skis and is a Class IV+ whitewater kayaker. I lived in the MerinoLux™ Tee and ¼ Zip every day. I suffer from the “cold on the lift” and “hot on the slopes” syndrome, so the moisture wicking combined with a little Merino warmth was crucial.

Santiago – Business Capital of South American

Where to Stay: The W Hotel Santiago was fantastic. As a city of 5 million people and a major business center of South America, Santiago features a huge variety of lodging options.

Cool Stuff to Do: Santiago is about the food. We went to two fantastic restaurants for dinner. Aquì Esta El Coco served phenomenal fish and had one of the coolest wine cellars I’ve ever seen. It’s located below the front steps, which have a glass portal so you can take a look down there.

Happening focused on steak, for which Chile is almost as renowned as Argentina. We had a group of 12 and ordered a bunch of small plates to share; we ended up sharing entrees as well. Fantastic meal.

Santiago’s sightseeing isn’t great. Santa Lucia Hill in the center of the city offers a beautiful view. The hill, which was conquered by Santiago’s founder Pedro de Valdivia in 1541, is the site of Fort Hidalgo, which dates to the early 1800’s and has been recently restored. In general, the city lacks the public art or architecture projects that you might find in Buenos Aires or in European capitals. Many of the historical buildings have been destroyed by major earthquakes (most recently in 1985), and the socialist and fascist governments that dominated the latter half of the 20th century did not invest heavily in art.

For Next Time: The day trips just outside of Santiago – wine country and the beach – are renowned. Mainly locals told us they loved living in Santiago not necessarily because there was a lot to do in the city, but because there was a lot to do nearby.

What to Wear: While Santiago is a business center (you’ll see a lot of suits out at corporate dinners), it’s not as formal as New York or London. There’s no need for a blazer on men or a dress on women, but you wouldn’t feel out of place. A fun sweater is the perfect layer.

Chile is about adventure travel. The Atacama Desert featured some of the most unique terrain I’ve ever scene. Skiing in the Andes is mind-blowing due to the immense scale of the mountains. And next time, I’m definitely going on a hike through Patagonia.

Inside Royal Robbins

Yosemite Facelift: Preserving our Birthplace

September 20, 2016
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The Yosemite Facelift is an annual, end of summer extravaganza where volunteers from around the world gather in Yosemite National Park to help clean up trash, repair trails, and help the Valley recover from the impacts of the summer’s crowds.

Royal and Liz atop Half Dome 1967 (Color)

Founders Royal and Liz Robbins atop Half Dome in 1967, after Liz became the first woman to climb the Northwest Face of Half Dome. This marked the 10th anniversary of Royal’s iconic first ascent.

This Friday, the Royal Robbins team (nearly 40 strong this year!) will be heading to Yosemite National Park to participate in the Facelift. As a company, we are committed to protecting and conserving the birthplace of our company, where our founders made first ascents on Half Dome and El Capitan.

Every year in late September, the Yosemite Climbing Association, currently led by Ken Yager, organizes the cleanup. They provide trash bags, litter sticks, and safety vests to volunteers. Every year, over 1,300 people donate nearly 10,000 hours to the effort. It’s the biggest volunteer cleanup of any park in the country, and we hope this 13th year will be the best!

Yosemite Conservancy Logo

The Yosemite Conservancy is a non-profit organization that supports ongoing conservation and park improvements efforts in Yosemite National Park. They are our primary non-profit partner.

From September 20 through September 25, the Yosemite Facelift will get the park ready for winter hibernation. Each night, there are barbecues and events hosted in the auditorium.

We are absolutely thrilled to be joining an incredible group of Yosemite enthusiasts this weekend. We believe that we have an obligation to conserve and improve the natural world so that we and our children can enjoy these spaces in a positive and sustainable manner.

To find out more about the Yosemite Facelift, click here.

To help us support Yosemite National Park, please visit the Yosemite Conservancy website.