I first met Bill Robins one day when a friend who couldn’t go climbing recommended to me that I give him a call. Bill’s tall, lanky figure escorted me to his old, beat up car in a rather business-like manner, as if to say: Let’s get going, we’ve got a lot of climbing to do. Bill was very driven. Climbing was his top priority and he loved it, including all aspects of the sport. He had over 100 first ascents in the Wasatch, and additional ascents all over Utah. Bill also had climbed in the Boulder area, Washington, Canada, South America and the Himalayas. He was a fast climber and loved putting up first ascents. He didn’t care much whether climbers liked his routes or not. His routes were very low impact and, as it was in the old days, he ran things out a lot. He was big on natural gear and belays. Not all of Bill’s routes were heady. He also enjoyed climbing with beginners, taking them up some of his more moderate routes. He was very loyal to his climbing partners. When I got married, it was a busy time for me and I had to scale back my climbing with Bill a lot…he wasn’t happy.
One day Bill & I had just finished a new route named Rodeo Girls in Bondage. We continued up through the thick brush and loose ground to an obscure but steep slab that Bill had noticed. He started up a vertical groove. At its top, he climbed up and to the left a ways to a poor stance where he hurriedly hand-drilled a bolt. The rock was rather gritty and not very solid. Bill questioned the bolt. The slab above was difficult and featureless. 15’ above the bolt a micro edge broke. As Bill started falling he shouted “I HOPE THE BOLT HOLDS!” Fortunately, it did, as he took a big swinging fall. Had the bolt failed, he would have grounded. Now that Bill knew the ¼” bolt would hold, he went back up and finished the 5.11 lead. On another new route, he was climbing really well. We were 2 pitches up. He climbed up a ways on near vertical granite. He couldn’t get any pro in for 30’ and was faced with a 5.10 mantle. Without hesitation, he cranked it off, all of this into unknown territory. A bit higher he finally got in some pro which wasn’t great. Rather than worry or think about it, he just kept climbing, soon reaching the top. Bill had other experiences similar to this with other partners.
Bill in Santiquin Canyon, first pitch Angel of Fear
Another adventure with Bill occurred ice climbing in Provo Canyon. It was in the mid-80’s and upper Bridal Veil Falls, which rarely comes into condition, had finally formed up. It hadn’t been climbed before so Bill and I were excited. It’s kind of a dangerous climb because the bottom of the pillar attaches to a slab that has a heavy spray of water underneath it, so it never stabilizes very well. On the first pitch, I ran into a lot of hollow ice and had to use the shafts of my axes to get to good ice at one point. It was a sporty lead so Bill felt he had to up-the-ante on the next pitch. For some reason there was very little ice that had formed on the wall to the right of the rumbling falls. Bill moved up with doubtful protection, reaching a short section where there was no ice. It was slightly overhanging at one point. He managed to tool through this section to some thin ice. He then punched it to the top. Had he fallen, he would have hit the ledge on which I was belaying. Bill never hesitated. He showed a lot of confidence. This was very typical of how he climbed. In the summer, Bill came back to the limestone of Provo Canyon with Tomas Koch. They climbed the massive 2,000' face to the right and around the corner of Stairway to Heaven. High on the wall the rock layer became sandstone. Both of them were well suited to the varied and challenging rock.
In the early years that Bill climbed in the Wasatch, he worked odd jobs. At one point he inherited some money when his grandmother died. Bill quit work to climb full time. He was living at home at the time. His parents would occasionally prod him to get a job since he was apparently being “lazy, unproductive and worthless.” To this Bill replied “I work HARD at climbing, it’s not easy…I bust my ass doing it”. Bill was not always easy for some to make friends with as he had a bit of a shell that had to be broken through. He could be very generous though, going to great lengths to help someone. When he liked a certain climb he would become very animated when he talked about it. Sometimes he would get a fiendish smile while poking fun of me or others…he had a great sense of humor, peculiar only to Bill. He would often refer to his climbing partners (me included) as unstable, psychotic, tense, or mentally ill.
When the money soon ran out, he got a job at Hill Air Force Base as a chemist. He analyzed various kinds of explosive material. Bill was very bright. Later, he moved to Washington to work for Battelle, a defense contractor. He moved there because he thought most of the Wasatch granite had been climbed out. On a reconnaissance, he discovered the Vantage/ Frenchman Coulee area. He certainly wasn’t moving there for the work! While at Battelle, Bill applied for a job to be a specialist, analyzing chemical weapons in Iraq. He was accepted for the job, but sadly he was killed while climbing in South America. Bill and his partner were swept down the mountain when large ice blocks or an avalanche hit them. Both bodies were recovered. The last time I climbed with Bill was when he and his good friend, Paul Certa joined me for a rare ascent of Shower Tower in Provo Canyon, They both had radios. So they would heckle each other even if one of them was cruxing. Bill would curse the ice occasionally, but then on top it was good ol’ Bill espousing the details of the climb and the prospects of the next adventure.