Unless you have at least a modest understanding of and appreciation for technical rock and mountain climbing, you will likely be some combination of bored and confused by half of the stories in Some Stories, a new anthology of the writing of Yvon Chouinard, best known as the founder of outdoor gear and apparel company Patagonia. Passages such as this one, from the essay “Sentinel Rock: A New Direct North Wall Route” (first pub. 1963, American Alpine Journal) will delight mountaineers but do little for the non-climbing community:
“About 80 feet up, I traversed to the right to a fine flat ledge. Herbert ran out of rope on the next lead, an easy class 3 and 4 pitch. I then nailed a thin vertical flake until I reached a roof where I placed a piton, which let me drop down a pendulum crack, which I nailed for 20 feet. From its top, I traversed left and dropped into a prominent dihedral.”
But here’s the thing: Chouinard wasn’t writing for non-climbers. His target audience was always other mountaineers. His writing, like most of his entire life, was for and about climbing. The only reason he ever became a billionaire is that he was just so damn good at it.
Some Stories is well worth the read even if you’re not a diehard Alpinist, though, for the writing itself is always competent and often gripping, and because the life story that comes together as you complete more and more of the collected articles is both a genuine adventure story and a primer on how to succeed in business. Both aspects are compelling, and all the more so for Yvon Chouinard’s unflagging commitment to excellence in all aspects of sport and the corporate world.
Chouinard, born in 1938, was the epitome of a dirtbag climber. He and his climbing buddies didn’t care a bit for the standard path through life. They were only concerned about finding ever more challenging and rewarding paths up rock faces
Chouinard, born in 1938, was the epitome of a dirtbag climber. He and his climbing buddies didn’t care a bit for the standard path through life. They were only concerned about finding ever more challenging and rewarding paths up rock faces (and later up ice, too). Chouinard and his gang were some of the pioneering climbers of Yosemite Valley, helping to establish America as a major player in the world of rock climbing. The problem in the early days was that the guys just couldn’t find equipment quite suited to the type of flat, vertical rock they were climbing.
So Chouinard, like any good entrepreneur, set out to fix the problem himself. He learned how to blacksmith and began creating his own pitons — the anchors that climbers hammer into rock to hold ropes safely in place. The new hardware he created helped his own high altitude exploits and were soon helping him turn a decent profit as he sold them to others. So while Yvon Chouinard did not set out to make money by making pitons and, later on, a new generation of crampons and axes, he was all too happy to churn out better climbing hardware.
This was in the early 1960s. During that decade, his production of hardware increased, but his climbing never decreased. Chouinard completed dozens of notable climbs during the ’60s, including new routes up myriad peaks, one coming on a months-long trip down to the Patagonia region at the southern tip of South America. That approach route up Monte Fitzroy would come to be called the California Route, while of course, the name of the greater region would soon play an even bigger role in Chouinard’s life.
Some Stories is worth the read for amazing adventure alone, the road trip to Patagonia from California, with its surfing, storms, river fords, and of course the climbing. It illustrates the true character of a man who was living the exact life he wanted, and for whom success would come thanks to a quiet excellence; there’s not a touch of flashy salesmanship to be found here, nor any of it luck — there’s no room for counting on that when you’re 1,000 feet up on a flat face of granite.
‘Some Stories’ is worth the read for amazing adventure alone, the road trip to Patagonia from California, with its surfing, storms, river fords, and of course the climbing.
In the year 1970, after selling some rugby jerseys he had purchased while on a trip to Scotland, Chouinard realized the lack of access to high-quality outdoor apparel faced by so many stateside and decided to launch the brand for which he is best known (and quite rich) today. But to highlight the character that would color that company, Patagonia, Inc., consider another initiative he undertook that year. Upon learning that the pitons that had made him comfortable — both in terms of mountain safety and financially — were causing too much damage to the rocks in which they were placed, he set out to find another anchor that would not impact the cliffs into which it was set. The move stood to cost him profits but reduce damage to the environment.
And that is the exact approach that has always informed Patagonia, the now global company Yvon Chouinard founded with the aim of getting good gear to outdoor people, not to get himself wealthy. As with the success of the original Chouinard Equipment, Ltd., the company grew because they made top quality gear. And it became beloved to outdoor enthusiasts everywhere because of the constant commitment to the well-being of nature.
What comes through in Some Stories is plenty of adventure, some lessons in good business (namely, be honest, do your best, and don’t screw anyone or anything over, including the planet), and a reassuring sense that in America, a person can make much of himself or herself if they try hard enough. It’s never a guarantee, but if you’re the kind of person who simply refuses to give up climbing the most challenging rock on the planet, then you’ve definitely got a leg up.
You can purchase Some Stories.
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