Yvon Chouinard, Common Threads and more


Yesterday, Patagonia published an ad that said: Don’t Buy This Jacket (Don’t Buy This Jacket). They chose Cyber Monday for making this statement about their Common Threads initiative – an effort to lessen the unnecessary consumption of goods.

Then, and quite by accident, Kathy and I tuned in (via Netflix) to a documentary entitled “180 Degrees South”, which was billed as a climbing and surfing adventure in South America. The description reminded me of a home movie of sorts I had seen 40 or so years ago, made by a friend, Lito Tejada-Flores. This movie chronicled a climbing trip to Patagonia (the so-called “Fun Hog” trip), taken by some friends of mine, which included the climbing gear manufacturer Yvon Chouinard, and the founder of North Face, Doug Tompkins. Their object was to climb Fitzroy, which they accomplished.

My hunch was right, as the current movie’s protagonist cited the Fun Hog trip as his party’s inspiration for going to Patagonia to climb and surf, and it included many clips of the earlier trip. As the movie developed however, it became clear that it was intended, first and foremost, to deliver an environmental message. That message concerned, specifically, the threats to the wildlands of Patagonia posed by dam building and deforestation and, generally, the threat to the world’s environment from over-consumption.

Yvon Chouinard was an integral part of the Yosemite Valley “Golden Age” of climbing. He was not only a leading climber, but also invented and manufactured special alloy pitons that were used by every party that succeeded on Yosemite’s walls. His company was located in Ventura, and called Great Pacific Ironworks. Kathy and I had lunch with him one day, while passing through Ventura, and I recall him complaining that he couldn’t make a dime in the climbing gear business. In the following year he invented Patagonia.

Doug Tompkins was a savvy businessman and also a Yosemite climber. He founded the North Face climbing store, which was located in North Beach, San Francisco. It was the first climbing store of its kind, with framed climbing photos on the walls, rugs on the floor and tents set up around the shop. It had class. I remember going to a X-Mas party in their basement, featuring (I believe it was) the Grateful Dead. Doug’s wife Susie ran a small boutique, called Plain Jane. After selling the North Face, they morphed that clothing business into Esprit, and became two of the richest people in the Bay Area.

With his new-found wealth Doug, and his second wife Kristine, acquired approx. 2 million acres of Chilean Patagonia, which formed the basis for two parks, called Pumalin and Corcovado. The movie we watched last night included much contemporary footage of Yvon and Doug, discussing the threat of dams and pulp mills in Patagonia, and the hope that humanity could do an about-face, and then take a step “forward” towards doing with less. The movie was very well done and a pleasure to watch. And, more than that, an effective instrument in the campaign to retain a habitable Earth.

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1
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