Meet robinson bluff's most prolific route setter: Chuck McGibbon
If you’ve rock climbed much at Robinson Bluff, you’ve probably seen Chuck McGibbon crowbarring boulders off the wall, using a leaf blower thirty feet up, and drilling hole after painstaking hole while dangling in space. He is hands-down Robinson Bluff’s most prolific route setter, having established nearly 30 percent of our 178 sport routes.
With his stockpile of first ascents, you’d think he had been climbing and setting his entire life, but Chuck and his wife, Becky, both started rock climbing in their 60s. Before technical rock climbing, Chuck mountaineered fourteeners like Mounts Shasta (14,179’) and Rainier (14,411’) before tackling North America’s highest peak, Denali (20,310’). Then, he took on the world’s tallest peaks with Ama Dablam (22,349’) in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina (at 22,837’ it is the tallest mountain outside of Asia), and Cho Oyu (26,864’) in Tibet before training for the “roof of the world," Mount Everest, where in 2007, he reached its south summit (28,704’).
A year later, Chuck traded his high altitude career for a shorter, more affordable variety of climbing, technical rock climbing. He was 63. As with most new climbers, 5.9s felt out of reach, but that didn’t last long.
“I was inspired by Jack LaLanne (the godfather of modern fitness). When he turned 70, he towed a flotilla of 70 rowboats across Long Beach Harbor. I wanted to do something like that in my 70th year, too. So, I decided to try to red point at least 70 routes that are at least a 5.11a grade. I passed that goal with 84 before turning 71, and I just kept climbing and counting.”
Rock Climber to Route Setter
In 2017, Chuck and Becky visited Hobart, Tasmania for the second time. While Chuck had spent much of their first trip to the Australian island climbing on dolomite on nearby Mount Wellington, the second trip offered something new — recently discovered sandstone cliffs in the Sand River area. His mates invited him to help develop this new climbing area.
When he returned home, he wasn’t planning on using his new setting skillset. But then…
“I was climbing with Bill Weishaar one day at Robinson Bluff,” said Chuck. “Bill asked if I was interested in setting routes there. The Covid pandemic was just starting, and I didn’t want to be stuck inside during it, so I agreed to give it a try. I just loved going down there. Still do.”
…so much so, he’s made more than 250 trips here! While some of those were just to climb, the number of outings certainly speaks to the time commitment required to do what he’s done. Chuck says he spends three or more, eight-hour days setting a single-pitch route. Applied to Robinson Bluff’s total number of sport routes, that’s more than 4,400 hours of cleaning, hammering, chain sawing, anchor building, sequencing, planning, drilling, gluing and everything else that goes into route setting.
Thank you to every single one of our route setters! We recognize the significant time commitment you’ve given to set good routes. And we have a lot of good routes!
Route Setting at Robinson
Setting a route starts with finding an inspiring line. Then cleaning the rock. And finally, placing anchors and bolts. That’s about as basic an explanation as it gets. But there are many other steps and jobs as well (see 4,400 hour notation).
“Sometimes, there’s a lot of brush to remove,” said Chuck. “Some of it is easy (think pebbles, dirt, leaves, vines, poison ivy); other times, it might be an entire tree.”
Trading his chainsaw for a hammer and crowbar, Chuck then begins inspecting and pounding on the rock, checking for fractures, loose rock, and cavities. At Robinson Bluff, if it moves, it gets removed.
“Then, I figure out how I’d climb it and where the anchors should go. I try it on top rope and a fixed line a few times (he always sets from rappel), looking for decent rock to place the bolts. Then, I start drilling and gluing.”
In addition to his 50+ route contribution to Robinson Bluff, Chuck spends days — literally days — cleaning routes he hasn’t set, retrofitting anchors with mussy hooks, building and clearing trails, hand-crafting name plates for routes, and all around making the property better for climbers. Next time you see Chuck dangling along Robinson Bluff’s cliffs…first, watch out…then thank him.