10 Great Travel Books to Read This Summer

I love books. I love being lost in a story, transported to another time or place, completely oblivious to the world around me. I read all year round, but there’s something special about summer reading, whether I’m stretched out on a beach or flat on my back in the shade, digging my bare toes into the grass. Tent reading is my favorite, letting the story unfold under the beam of my headlamp, and I love to wrap myself in an oversized wool cardigan (like the Tupelo Cardi or Go Everywhere ¼ Zip) handed down from my grandfather.

When I’m reading outside, connected to nature, that’s when I feel the story most. I’m completely immersed, and when I ‘come to’, I’m ready to lace up my boots and climb Annapurna myself, or sail the South Pacific, or get in a pick-up truck and start driving.

When I pick up the book again a few years later, I always find summer tokens in the margins: grains of sand, blades of grass, a pressed flower, or a road trip receipt. It’s an instant flashback to where I was and what I was doing, the stories forever entangled with a memory.

This list isn’t what’s new or hot. It’s not a list of the world’s greatest literature. It’s not even a list of my favorites (although some of my favorites are on it). This list is as simple as summer: 10 great books to keep you company on your adventures. They’re good stories. You won’t regret reading them.


  1. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck: Steinbeck took to the road with his French poodle, Charley, looking for America. This travelogue chronicles what he discovered about the American character.
  1. South by Sir Ernest Shackleton: One of the greatest survival stories ever told. Setting out to be the first to traverse Antarctica, the Endurance is crushed by sea-ice, and 28 men begin an epic battle for their lives.
  1. Forget Me Not by Jennifer Lowe-Anker: A beautifully written story about love, loss, and resilience. This is more of a memoir than a typical travel book, but Lowe-Anker has a knack for writing about the places she’s experienced. She sees nature with the eye of an artist.
  1. Hitchhiking Vietnam by Karin Muller: Before the rise of the sponsored travel blogger, we had Karin Muller, the real deal, a 28-year-old woman who hitchhiked solo through Vietnam. This is a proper travel tale.
  1. Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison: Allison’s passion for animals drew him to Botswana, where he trained to be a safari guide. His collection of stories is laugh-out-loud funny, told with a self-deprecating sense of humor and a true love for nature.
  1. West with the Night by Beryl Markham: An extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. Markham grew up in Kenya, skipping school to go hunting and becoming Kenya’s first licensed female racehorse trainer at the age of 19. She later became the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic.
  1. The Sun in the Morning, Golden Afternoon, and Enchanted Evening by M.M. Kaye: Kaye grew up in India, and her three-part autobiography tells the tale of an extraordinary woman living an extraordinary life.
  1. The Best of Outside: The First 20 Years by various authors, including Annie Proulx, Edward Abbey, Jon Krakauer and more: A collection of Outside Magazine’s best essays and articles from its first 20 years in publication. This is some of the world’s best adventure writers and storytellers doing what they do best.
  1. Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales: Gonzales has studied the art of staying alive for decades, trying to learn more about who lives, who dies, and why. He combines riveting survival stories with science to seek out common traits among survivors.
  1. The Lost Horizon by James Hilton: An adventure novel at its finest that gives us the origin of the mythical sanctuary of Shangri-La.


Do you have a favorite travel book or summer read? Share it with us in the comments and/or via social media.

For more great summer adventure stories, be sure to sign up for our emails.


The 5 Best Kid-Friendly Hikes in the National Parks

Looking for an amazing, but inexpensive adventure hike to take the family on this summer? Go visit a National Park! You can watch Old Faithful erupt in Yellowstone, wander beneath sheer granite cliffs in Yosemite Valley, stroll past sea stacks on the Wild Coast in Olympic, or stand under the Delicate Arch in Arches. It’ll be an experience you and your kids will never forget, and it’s a lot more reasonably priced than a day at the amusement park. If you’re worried about the kids getting bored, too tired, or getting hurt, one of these five kid-approved, family-friendly hikes are sure to do the trick. They’re all reasonably short, relatively flat, and jam-packed with all sorts of cool stuff that will make the kids completely forget you made them leave their gadgets in the car.

The Kephart Prong Trail
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Recommended Age: Elementary and up
Difficulty: Moderate
Restroom Facilities: Colins Creek Picnic Area (open in summer and early fall) and Smokemont Campground (year-round)
Trailhead: 8.8 miles south of Newfound Gap on HWY 441 or 5 miles north of Smokemont

Explore the Smokies’ beautiful landscape along with its history, from the early logging days to the Civilian Conservation Corps, on this meandering 4-mile out-and-back trail. The path follows an idyllic, burbling mountain stream where remnants of an old logging railway can still be found, along with slippery salamanders, an abundance of wildflowers, and part of an old fish hatchery left over from 1942. Four fun log bridges cross the stream, but the last two might be a little challenging for very young children.

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park, WY in October 2015

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone National Park, WY in October 2015

Upper Geyser Basin
Yellowstone National Park, Montana

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Recommended Age: Elementary and up
Difficulty: Easy
Restroom Facilities: Old Faithful Visitor Center
Trailhead: Old Faithful Visitor Center

Take your time sauntering along this 4-mile-long boardwalk – it passes through the worldís largest concentration of geysers. Hot springs and waterspouts abound, along with neat-looking mineral deposits. Start by stopping in at the Old Faithful Visitor Center, where you can get prediction times for when the largest geysers are supposed to blow. Plan your exploration around those times, and remember: Old Faithful is called that for a reason – you can always go back and see it if another, rarer eruption is supposed to happen at the same time that day.

Pathway to Yosemite Lower Falls in Yowemite Valley California

Pathway to Yosemite Lower Falls in Yosemite Valley California

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
Yosemite National Park, California

Distance: 1 mile round-trip
Recommended Age: Go ahead and bring the stroller
Difficulty: Easy
Restroom Facilities: Along the western side of the trail
Trailhead: Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6)

This exceptionally easy, but rewarding, hike offers up-close-and-personal views of – and a healthy spray of mist from – the tallest waterfall in North America. (You might want to bring a jacket – it gets on the cool side.) The mile-long paved loop trail offers multiple vantage points of both upper and lower Yosemite falls, as well as Yosemite Creek. Be sure to check out the trailside exhibits to learn more about the area. Just be aware, mist covered rocks can be slippery, and the meltwater cascading down from the cliffs above usually dries up by the end of July or early August.

Rugged rock formations at Rialto beach coastline in Olympic National Park

Rugged rock formations at Rialto beach coastline in Olympic National Park

Rialto Beach to Hole in the Wall
Olympic National Park, Washington

Distance: 4 miles round-trip
Recommended Age: Elementary and up
Difficulty: Moderate
Restroom Facilities: At the trailhead
Trailhead: Rialto Beach parking area, at the end of Mora Road

Experience the Olympic Peninsula’s wild Pacific Coastline on this captivating, family-friendly beach stroll. It comes complete with enormous sun-bleached drift logs, towering sea stacks, tide pools filled with all sorts of colorful creatures, and even a naturally formed arch that you can walk through at low tide. There’s one shallow creek crossing at the one mile mark, but it’s more fun than challenging, provided you’re willing to get your feet a little wet. It helps to wear shorts.

Views of the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Views of the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, USA

Delicate Arch
Arches National Park, Utah

Distance: 3 miles round-trip
Recommended Age: Elementary and up
Difficulty: Moderate
Restroom Facilities: At the trailhead
Trailhead: Wolfe Ranch Parking Area

You know that arch that’s on the Utah license plate? This is the one. A fun, slightly uphill hike takes you to this iconic landmark. The trail is well established leaving the Wolfe Ranch Parking area, but soon, you’ll find yourself on some signature Southwest slickrock, where the only trail markers are cairns. There are plenty to show the way, but it can be a fun game for the kids to spot them! Just be sure to bring at least one liter of water per person, if not more. There is no shade, and the trail is in the middle of the desert, after all. Wearing light, breathable clothing helps. Early morning or evening excursions are advised during the summer months.

Join Royal Robbins in preserving the National Parks! We’ve partnered with the Yosemite Conservancy for 40 years. Here are some ways you can help, too.

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Employee Picks for Summer 2016

Find out what the Royal Robbins® team loves to wear from our current season.

Tupelo Cardi. “My favorite style is the Tupelo Cardi. This is my favorite because I love lightweight sweaters! I am often cold, and I appreciate the slight warmth. I wear this to work, on the weekends and out to dinner!” – Lauren Sacks

Jammer Pant. “Runner Up. The Jammer Pant is my second favorite because I wear them hiking and appreciate the pockets. The draw cord to adjust the length also helps regulate my body temperature. The fabric dries quickly and the waistband is super comfortable.” – Lauren Sacks

Jammer Pant

MerinoLux™ Go Everywhere Tee®. “Merino wool performance with no itch. I can wear it to the office and then straight out to hike. Also works great for my boat-to-bike commute!” – Michael Millenacker

Oasis Plaid Pullover. “It’s soft and comfortable. Fit is good and I wear it almost twice a week.” – Berkeley Store employee

Point Reyes Plaid. “Looks great and it’s lightweight. I love to wear it to social events.” – Christian

Point Reyes Plaid

Jammer Skirt. “Fits great and feels good. I took it on trips this summer, and went hiking with it.” – Kim

Jammer Skirt

Desert Knit Micro-Stripe Crew. “It is light weight looks nice and feels nice too, I wear it at work and around the house it’s a cool shirt to do some work in or to chill in too.” – Alan Arreola

Zip N’ Go Pant. “These are also another of my favorite styles. I wear them almost every day except when its super hot. I do work in them too and they are lightweight.” – Alan Arreola

Cool Mesh Tunic. “My favorite style is the Royal Robbins Women’s Cool Mesh Tunic. It’s the perfect summer getaway top – breathable cotton with textural interest keeps you cool and comfortable, and the right amount of feminine details make it versatile for a variety of fun activities. This top is
great for pretty much any activity – I love the beach so I keep it casual over a bathing suit with jean shorts and sandals during day and then dress it up with a belt, a pencil skirt and stack heeled booties for a night out.” – Louise Vickroy

Cool Mesh Tunic

Cool Mesh (all of it). “Feels great and it looks great on/went camping with it. And I wear it all the time at work.” – Tina Jayan

Cool Mesh Tunic

Billy Goat Stretch 6 Pocket. “It’s durable, has great stretch, and can go anywhere. It has the toughness of denim and still looks great in formal situations. I wear this pant for camping, hiking, and just hanging out. You can wear this in almost any location in any condition.” – DJ Schamber

Diablo S/S. “This is also my fav because it’s very breathable, its ventilated, and looks stylin. Its an awesome trekking, hot weather shirt, and also doubles as a nice collar shirt to wear out. I wear this shirt for hot conditions. Anywhere that’ll be real hot and sweaty like hiking, or even hot music festivals. Hah. And I’d totes wear this out on the town cuz its that nice looking.” – DJ Schamber

Diablo L/S. “It’s silky smooth and super breathable. And it doesn’t wrinkle. Which is great because I hate to iron. I’ve worn it fishing in 90-degree weather, hiking in 45 degrees, and out to dinner in the city. So, it works for a lot.” – Stephen Sherrill

Diablo Long Sleeve

Essential Floret Tank. “I like the Essential Floret Tank for my drives up to Eureka to visit my newborn grandson.  When there I layer with the Expedition Stretch Sun Cover, as it tends to get a bit chilly along the northern coast.  We go for long walks in the Redwood Forest.  Beauty surrounds us inside and out!” – Donna Johnson

Noe Pleated Tank. This style is so popular it gets two team votes for #1.

“My favorite style is the Noe Pleated Tank because it’s comfortable, unique detail, flattering fit and washes well. It’s great for everyday wear.” – Jennifer Pimlott

“Super soft ECO friendly fabric, light weight, wrinkle resistant, good layering piece. I wear it for travel and everyday.” – Wendy Bretzel

Noe Short Sleeve. “This is my favorite because it’s soft and can be dressed up or down. I wear it for hiking and for post-hiking coffee in my mountain town.”


Hiking New Zealand’s Great Walks: The Insider’s Way to See the Country

New Zealand’s nine Great Walks (one of which is a river trip) are the country’s premiere trekking tracks.

Hiking a Great Walk, and overnighting in huts along the way, is one of the best ways to explore New Zealand, as you get to spend time in the remote, spectacular, and diverse landscape the country is famous for. Here’s an overview of the nine Great Walks, plus insider tips for what to see and do nearby.

North Island:
1) Tongariro Northern Circuit – This loop-track through an active volcanic landscape is one of the most popular Great Walks, and it is a place of extremes, from beech forest to stark, desert-like plateaus. This is trekking hut-to-hut at its best!

Distance: 27 miles, three to four days
Season: End of October through end of April (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Layers – temperatures on the track can vary from sun to snow, even in summer.
Insider Tip: After the trek, treat yourself to a night at the Chateau Tongariro Hotel, the granddaddy of New Zealand hotels that bears an uncanny resemblance to the hotel in The Shining.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing - Emerald Lakes in New Zealand

Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Emerald Lakes in New Zealand

2) Lake Waikaremoana – Although it isn’t a circuit, this track hugs the shoreline of Lake Waikaremoana, winding through remote beaches and giant native trees in the rugged forest of the North Island’s east coast.

Distance: 29 miles, three to four days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: There are no gas cooking facilities in the huts, so bring a portable stove, fuel and a light source. Pack quick-drying trekking hiking attire, like the MerinoLux™ Go Everywhere® Tee and Convoy Short.
Insider Tip: Post-walk, treat yourself to a soak at Rotorua’s geothermal hot pools or enjoy wine-tasting in Gisborne.

Lake Waikaremoana

Lake Waikaremoana

3) Whanganui Journey – Canoe or kayak down the Whanganui River in the Whanganui National Park, which is rich with lush forest and cultural history.

Distance: 54 to 90 miles, three to five days
Season: Early October through end of April (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Wet / dry trekking clothes and layers, like the Essential Zip-Up. Also, bring toilet paper, as these huts don’t have any.
Insider Tip: Watch River Queen before you go. This Vincent Ward historical film was shot in the Whanganui National Park.

Canoeing Whanganui

Canoeing Whanganui

South Island:
4) Heaphy Track – Located in the northwest corner of the South Island, this track winds through tussocks and palm forests to the wild West Coast.

Distance: 49 miles, four to six days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Layers and trekking attire with UPF protection, like the Diablo Plaid Short Sleeve shirt. Also, don’t forget to pack a sightseeing outfit, like the Panorama Printed Dress for before / after your trek.
Insider Tip: The World of WearableArt and Classic Car Museum in Nelson is a must-visit, and don’t miss out on the city’s premium seafood.

Heaphy Track

Rocks in a Stream & Beach on the Heaphy Track

5) Abel Tasman Coast Track – The Abel Tasman is New Zealand’s most popular walk, due to its warm(er) climate and stunning scenery. Located at the top of the South Island, the Abel Tasman track hugs a dramatic coastline, with its green-tinged ocean, golden beaches, and strange boulder formations. Abel Tasman has one of the biggest tidal ranges in New Zealand (15 feet), so make sure to check the tide charts before you go, as there is at least one tidal crossing to navigate.

Distance: 37 miles, three to five days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Layers and trekking clothes with UPF protection. There are no drying racks in the huts so quick-dry clothing is essential.
Insider Tip: Before or after your trek, spend a half-day on the water on a guided kayak tour, a not-to-be-missed experience in Abel Tasman.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman

6) Routeburn Track – The Routeburn is alpine scenery at its best: snow-capped mountains, secret tarns, crystal rivers, and meadows. Located 42 miles northwest of vibrant Queenstown, the self-proclaimed “Adventure Capital” in New Zealand’s South Island, the Routeburn is one of the more breath-taking tracks.

Distance: 20 miles, two to four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm layers, like the Snow Wonder Vest and Blue Ridge 1/2 Zip Fleece Jacket.
Insider Tip: Are you a keen runner? See if you can wrangle an invite to the exclusive Routeburn Classic, an invite-only adventure run (open to 350 athletes) along the Routeburn Track, usually held in April.

Routeburn Track

Routeburn Track

7) Kepler Track – The Kepler is a circular track that begins / ends three miles from Te Anau, in the southwest corner of the South Island. This is another alpine track that leads through diverse landscapes, from beech forest to ridgelines.

Distance: 37 miles, three to four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm layers.
Insider Tip: Visit the Te Anau Glowworm Caves and the Te Anau Bird Sanctuary to check out some unique New Zealand wildlife.

Kepler Track

View from the hut on the Kepler Track

8) Milford Track – The Milford Track has some of the most dramatic scenery in New Zealand, with forested, glacier-carved valleys and steep walls, making it a popular track. It is one of the wettest places on the planet, with an average annual rainfall of 22 feet over 182 days of the year. The rainfall makes for stunning waterfalls, however, including the 1,903-foot Sutherland Falls.

Distance: 33 miles, four days
Season: Late October through early May (closed during winter)
What to Bring: Warm, waterproof layers and pack protectors.
Insider Tip: After your trek, spend the night on an overnight cruise in Milford or Doubtful Sound.

Milford Sound, NZ

Milford Sound, South Island of New Zealand

9) Rakiura Track – The Rakiura Track is on Stewart Island, off the southern tip of the South Island. It’s known for its rugged native forest, beautiful beaches, and kiwis; the flightless birds are easily spotted here, often on the beaches.

Distance: 20 miles, three days
Season: Year round
What to Bring: Warm layers. The huts on the Rakiura Track are more rustic, with no gas cooking facilities, lighting, or toilet paper.
Insider Tip: Don’t miss a visit to Ulva Island, a sanctuary for birds and some of the rarest plants in the world.

Stewart Island, NZ

Stewart Island in Fog

For detailed information about each track, including packing lists, booking information, guided options, travel alerts, and dates, visit the Department of Conservation Great Walks website. The Great Walks are popular, so plan your trip in advance. New Zealand’s weather is very changeable year-round; check with a local Department of Conservation office if you have any questions.
For more great stories on the best outdoor destinations, product recommendations, and more, be sure to sign up for our newsletter!

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Sally Jewell: Outdoor Leader

Sally Jewell is a leader in the outdoor industry. As Secretary of the Interior, she oversees all of our national parks, monuments, refuges and other protected lands.

Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

About ten years ago, when she was CEO of REI, I had the pleasure of kayaking with her in San Diego. During her six years at REI, our paths crossed often, and her contagious positivity and can-do attitude left a lasting impression on me.

That afternoon in Mission Bay was no different. Strong headwinds had put an on-time arrival at a dinner meeting in peril. But instead of cutting short or turning back, Sally Jewell, with a quick smile and a strong stroke, led the way forward, as she still does today in Washington.

So I wasn’t surprised to see her progress in the recently released U.S. Department of the Interior’s Economic Report for Fiscal Year 2015. The report is a glowing summary of why she is perfect for the job: her ability to be a good steward of the land while at the same time delivering economic progress.

In 2015, investments made by the Interior in conservation, recreation, water and renewable energy led to $106 billion in economic output and supported 862,000 jobs.

All in, her efforts in leading the Interior Department account for about $300 billion in economic output and 1.8 million jobs that are supported by the Interior’s activities including:

  • Outdoor recreation in our national parks, monuments, and refuges
  • Water management
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Hunting and fishing
  • Support for Native American tribal communities
  • Scientific research and innovation
DOI stats copy

Sec. Sally Jewell’s Dept. of the Interior had a strong 2015


All of this occurred while visitation to public lands managed by the Interior (such as national parks and national wildlife refuges) grew by 20 million in 2015. That’s a total of 443 million visits.

Find Your Park

With the National Park system’s centennial occurring this summer, you can be sure that number will continue to grow (visit the NPS website to find the park nearest you).

But Secretary Jewell’s contributions aren’t limited just to economic benefits. The National Park Foundation, of which she serves as Board Chair, has an incredible initiative called Every Kid in a Park, which provides free passes to our park systems for all fourth graders.

The Foundation’s Open Outdoors for Kids program is also raising funds to support children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to have access to a park. It’s programs like these and the Boy Scouts of America that are crucial to opening the eyes and minds of children across the country.

As a member of the outdoor industry for over 20 years, I’m very proud to have one of our own rise to the occasion and help lead our country to a more environmentally conscious space with such amazing financial repercussions! Sally Jewell is a leader that we all look up to.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can view the report and a data visualization tool here: https://my.usgs.gov/doidv/index.html

Half Dome: First Ascent of the Northwest Face

Half Dome. The iconic rock, with its sheer face and rounded back, overlooks the majesty of Yosemite Valley. Though today its face is climbed several times a day, it was at one point the zenith of big wall climbing.


Royal Robbins – Day 1 of the first ascent of the NW Face of Half Dome, 1957. Photo: Mike Sherrick

In June of 1957, Royal Robbins, alongside Jerry Gallwas and Mike Sherrick, made the first grade VI climb in the United States: the sheer, Northwest Face of Half Dome. The five day climb set a new standard in American big wall climbing.

While George Anderson first reached the summit in 1875, he did so along the route now marked with the famous Half Dome cables (you can make the same trip – more info here).


Royal’s four Half Dome First Ascent Routes: A – Regular Route (FA 1957) B – Arcturus (FA 1970) C – Direct Route (FA 1963) D – Tis-sa-ack (FA 1969)

The Birth of Big Wall Climbing: The First Ascent

The first ascent of Half Dome’s face was a major step forward in climbing, due to its length and its difficulty. It was the sheerest, highest wall ever climbed by an American. The techniques—aid climbing, hauling gear, bivouacking on the face—required to climb big walls were still in their infancy. Gallwas brought along homemade pitons he’d recently designed, modeled after John Salathé’s own hard-steel pitons.


Some of the gear used by Robbins, Sherrick and Gallwas

“If we got stuck,” said Royal in the second volume of his autobiography, Fail Falling, “it would take days for rescuers to reach us…A rescue like that had never been attempted, for the very good reason that a wall like Half Dome had never been climbed.”

Royal Robbins wrote, “We feared the enormity of the wall…. We dreaded having to reach so deeply within ourselves and maybe find ourselves lacking.”

A Failed First Attempt

In 1955, Royal, alongside the legendary Warren Harding, Gallwas, and Don Wilson, attempted the same climb, but turned back after a mere 400 feet. Royal wrote:

“We crept away form there like whipped curs, with our tails between our legs. We had dared what no else had dared, and we were found wanting. I didn’t like the feeling, and vowed to return.”

Success at Last

From June 23 to June 27, the three-man team made climbing history. As they peeked their heads over the Visor of Half Dome, they were greeted by old friend Warren Harding, who had been unable to get to Yosemite in time to join them. Though competitive at all times, he was also a gracious friend – he’d brought food and wine!


Royal on the Face. Photo: Mike Sherrick

June is Heritage Month at Royal Robbins. We are thrilled and grateful to have two incredible pioneers and leaders – Liz and Royal Robbins as founders and mentors. Liz Robbins currently serves as Senior Advisor to the brand.

Royal Robbins Performance Clothing

Mountain Paraphernalia: The Beginnings of Royal Robbins

“This importing business sure is a can of annelids [worms].”

– Royal Robbins

Before they called the company “Royal Robbins”, there was “Mountain Paraphernalia.” In 1968, Royal and Liz Robbins started selling climbing gear under the name Mountain Paraphernalia. A few years later, they added clothing, which they called Mountain Threads. The heavy wool sweaters they imported from the Lake District of England started a long tradition of great Royal Robbins sweaters. By the 1980’s, the company was known as Royal Robbins, as it still is today.


The Mountain Paraphernalia graphic tee celebrates the original business founded by Royal and Liz Robbins

Royal and Liz married in 1963, and in the late ’60’s, Royal was working as the assistant manager of Liz’s father’s paint store in Modesto, CA. Royal had recently designed one of Galibier’s original rock climbing boots – the RR Yosemite – so he had an in with a major footwear company.

“I was working as assistant manager at the paint store, but I wasn’t too good at it. Luckily, mountaineering at the time was hot in the U.S., so Liz…and I saw selling climbing footwear as a perfect opportunity,” said Royal in the May 1985 issue of Backpacker.

They imported Galibier boots, Edelrid ropes, Ultimate Helmets, Salewa, Peck nuts and pitons, and a host of lesser known products. He was the U.S. distributor for Mountain Magazine and stocked British climbing books.


Here’s Royal himself chiming in on SuperTopo to share details in 2009.

“Hi, everyone. Tamara alerted me that something was afoot on SuperTopo. I think a history of the business is wonderful. I love seeing those old ads. I don’t remember that we were ever sued for an equipment failure. That happened (I believe) to Yvon Chouinard and he (I understand) started Patagonia as a result. As far as I can remember, we started the clothing business because we were piggy-backing on the great success of Esprit and Doug and Susie Tompkins, who helped us get started. “Mountain Letters” was what we called our publishing and distributing business. I think we expected checks to be made out to “Mountain Paraphernalia”, or, later, to just “Robbins”. We changed the name to “Robbins Mountain Paraphernalia” and later to “Robbins Mountain Gear” to make it easier for our customers to make payments to “Robbins”. Also, there was the name recognition factor. We thought “Robbins” carried more cache (sp?)than “Mountain Paraphernalia”…

“Thanks to all of you for making the past come alive. I am not going to mention specific names for fear of leaving someone out, but you guys and gals are in my heart, so thanks again.

Royal Robbins”

Shop our heritage graphic tee collection.


Heritage Month: First Ascent of the Direct NW Face of Half Dome

June is Royal Robbins® Heritage Month. Why? Well, it just so happens that Royal achieved two first ascents of routes on Half Dome in the month of June.

Over five days starting on June 11, 1963, Royal and Dick McCracken made the first ascent of the Direct Northwest Face of Half Dome. Nearly six years to the day after Royal’s first ascent of the NW Face of Half Dome, he and McCracken undertook the significantly more imposing Direct route up that iconic rock wall.

Aside from its difficulty, two things set this climb apart:

First, Royal and McCracken wore helmets, a first for them in Yosemite, to protect themselves from casual hikers throwing rocks from the summit.

Second, they made a statement that first ascents should not involved fixed lines by bypassing those of Galen Rowell and Ed Cooper, who were preparing to climb the route.


Royal’s four Half Dome First Ascent Routes: A – Regular Route (FA 1957) B – Arcturus (FA 1970) C – Direct Route (FA 1963) D – Tis-sa-ack (FA 1969)

We’ll let Royal tell you in his own words, as published in the third volume of his autobiography, Royal Robbins: The Golden Age.


“Our line [the Direct Route] starts hundreds of feet to the right of the Regular Route, and goes up the middle of the face to meet the Regular Route 500 feet from the top…Dick and I started on June 11. We wore helmets, a rarity in Yosemite as the rock is so good. But hikers on top of the Dome, not expecting climbers to be on the fact below, might toss off debris.

“It was raining, but…we figured that sometime in the five days we expected to be on the wall, there would be a return to the normally sunny June weather. We began by climbing to and then following an easy chimney up a curving crack. Cooper and Rowell’s tempting fixed lines [left over from an early failed attempt] hung nearby, but we avoided them. We went onto the blank granite and…managed to get above this impasse and reach a ledge about 500 feet up for our first bivouac.

“Somewhere near the bottom [of the second day’s first pitch], I thought I heard Liz’s [Liz Robbins, Royal’s wife] voice calling from the summit. Soon after, lightning struck above us, but I told myself, “That wasn’t Liz you thought you heard. She wouldn’t be on top of Half Dome with clouds about.”

[As it turned out, Liz had in fact be on top of Half Dome and had called down to Royal. She hiked down used the cable system and only just reached the bottom when lightning hit. She was safe, but two other hikers were not so lucky.]

Liz Robbins descending Half Dome just before lightning strikes. 1963.

“On the third day, we continued up the flake system, meeting the Regular Route coming in from the left at Sandy Ledge. This ledge is about 500 feet from the top, so we ultimately climbed 1,500 feet of virgin rock to reach the line that Jerry Gallows, Mike Sherrick, and I had taken in 1957 [on the historic first ascent of Half Dome’s NW Face]. We then followed the regular northwest face route to the summit.”



If you’re interested in reading further, you can find Royal’s autobiographies on Amazon.


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The Best Day Hikes on the Georgia Section of the Benton MacKaye Trail

Even if you’ve never heard of the Benton MacKaye Trail, you may know its creator, Benton MacKaye, the father of the Appalachian Trail. In his grand vision to create a long-distance footpath from Georgia to Maine, he was also inspired to create a network of shorter hiking trails that branch off from the AT. When MacKaye passed away in 1975, David Sherman, an administrator of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, revised MacKaye’s concept and thus, the Benton MacKaye Trail was born in 1980.

The Benton MacKaye Trail starts 0.2 miles down the start of the Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain, and stretches 300-miles through remote forests of North Carolina and Tennessee all the way to Davenport Gap at the northeastern edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


The Benton MacKaye Trail is blazed with a white diamond Alexa Lampasona

“The Appalachian Trail is a well-worn rut in the dirt,” says Bob Ruby, the current president of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. “The Benton MacKaye Trail is less traveled, and you can be hiking on last fall’s leaves. Overall the two trails are of comparable difficulty. ”

Due to its remoteness, the Benton MacKaye Trail often needs maintenance, and the heartbeat of this effort comes from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association (BMTA). The all-volunteer, nonprofit group consisting of 51 active trail maintainers in 2015, who generously gave time and talent to work on the trail for a combined total of 4,674 hours—more than 40 hours of work each.

Looking to hike on Georgia’s section of the Benton MacKaye Trail? With help from our friends at RootsRated, we’ve got the scoop on the trail from the BMTA, along with the help of their printed guidebooks. Here are some of the best sections of the trail that you can explore in just a day.

Most Scenic


The Swinging Bridge over the Toccoa River is the longest suspension bridge East of the Mississippi. Fannin County Chamber of Commerce

Bryson Gap to GA Highway 60 (6.3 miles): The highlight of Georgia, and perhaps the Benton MacKaye Trail as a whole, is the Toccoa Swinging Bridge, a 260-foot suspension bridge that crosses the Toccoa River. The bridge is said to be the longest in the state of Georgia. The bridge is 2.8 miles from Bryson Gap.

Most Popular

Fall Branch Falls brings more visitors to this section of the trail. Benton MacKaye Trail Association

Stanley Creek Road to Weaver Creek Road (6.1 miles): Fall Branch Falls makes this portion of the trail well-traveled. Just 0.2 miles after the trailhead, hikers can take the short side trail to the platform overlook of Fall Branch Falls. This section also summits Rocky Mountain at 3,350 feet. Scoggins Knob at 5.8 miles offers views to the north of Lake Blue Ridge.

Highest Peak

The “Green Tunnel” on the trail to Big Frog Mountain. Benton MacKaye Trail Association

Big Frog Mountain to FS 221 (6.5 miles): The following section is actually in Tennessee but is just past the Georgia/Tennessee border, where the trail crosses at Double Springs Gap. This section of the trail goes through a remote part of the Cohutta Wilderness in Georgia and the Big Frog Wilderness in Tennessee. These two wilderness areas combined are the largest on Forest Service lands in the eastern United States.  Part of the Big Frog Wilderness, Big Frog Mountain (4,224 feet) is one of the highest points on Georgia’s Benton MacKaye Trail. After the peak of Big Frog Mountain, hikers descend through a quarter-mile of rhododendron known as the “Green Tunnel” on the west side of the mountain. About one mile in after the summit, the Chimney Top rocky outcrop offers beautiful views east.


Old Dial Road to Stanley Creek Road (5.2 miles): As you hike northbound on the trail, it climbs steadily uphill to follow a ridgeline before dropping to the Toccoa River at 1.3 miles. It parallels the river and crosses the historic Shallowford Bridge.

Most Difficult

Photo by Alexa Lampasona

Highway 60 to Skeenah Gap (6.3 miles):  This section and the next (Skeenah Gap to Wilscot Road/Highway 60) are the more remote parts in Georgia. One of the steepest climbs is from Little Skeenah Creek to the summit of Wallalah Mountain on a series of switchbacks for 0.8 miles. The trail also intersects with the Duncan Ridge Trail at mile 3.9, so those wishing to tack on another one of Georgia’s difficult long distance trails can detour here.

Trail Essentials

While the Benton MacKaye Trail is comparable in difficulty to many trails in North Georgia and the Smoky Mountains, it is far more remote. It helps to have a map and guidebook for the trail. Hikers shouldn’t be totally dependent on blazes and should know how to use a compass.

Get Involved

Members of the BMTA can adopt their own section of the trail, participate in trail maintenance and group hikes, plus more, all to continually maintain the trail for long-term use. Hikers can help contribute to maintenance by joining volunteers on monthly work trips in Georgia, Tennessee and/or North Carolina (which also involves hiking); by picking up trash along the Benton MacKaye Trail; and by reporting problems such as blowdowns through bmta.org.

Detailed trail maps of the Benton MacKaye Trail are available to purchase from the Benton MacKaye Trail Association. Special thanks to authors of the Trail Guides, Elizabeth Carter, Ernest Engman, Kim Hainge and Richard Harris. 

Originally written by RootsRated

Featured image provided by Alexa Lampasona