Wilderness Experience, Chatsworth, California

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jimthomsen

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 16, 2009 - 02:21pm PT
About 18 months ago I was interviewed by SNEWS Magazine for their “History of the Outdoor Industry” feature. The author, Bob Woodward, told me he had tried to google Wilderness Experience and only got links to religious sites. That seemed wrong to me-- so many people were involved in the business: factory workers, product development, management, sales, marketing, the tens of thousands of users and the large number of climbers who worked with us to design what I think was some of the best equipment made. So I created a website that showed early catalogs and talked about the history. Over the past year I have received many emails from people who saw the site and wanted to tell me about their experiences with our products.

Because of this response I want to expand the site to cover more of the history, but from the view of employees, retailers, users and especially the many climbers who helped test and improve the products.

In the 1970s we created the "Wildy Design Team" that included among others: Kim Schmitz, John Roskelly, Ron Kauk, Kim Moab, Galen Rowell, Steve McKinney, John Long, Dick Dorworth, Mike Graber, Leo Le Bon, Mike Covington, Jack Tackle, Scot Woolums, Carlos Buhler, Alan Bard, John Bachar, Fred Beckey, Jim Donini, Ned Gillette, Beverly Johnson, Michael Kennedy, Russ McClean, Charlie Porter, Rick Ridgeway and others. But there were many more of you who were involved directly or indirectly.

What I am looking for are any stories (even better with pictures) that I can include on the site to create a permanent record of those years. (Note to Donini: Don’t worry Jim, as agreed your best stories will not be published until 50 years after your death.)

Did you hang out in our first retail shop, The Mountain Store in Tarzana 1970-1973? (Today it’s an A-16 store). Or our other stores: Wilderness Sports in Mammoth or The Mountain Shop in Northridge?

Were you around the Wild X factory during the time that Fred Beckey used a spare office to store all his possessions that would not fit in his car?

Were you one of the Stoney Point group who worked for us for no pay, but equipment?

Did you attend our party at the Drake Hotel in 1978? Wilderness Experience was the first pack company to switch from metal buckles to plastic buckles so ITW let Greg and I stay in their corporate suite on the top floor of the Drake Hotel in Chicago for the most important trade show at the time. While signing the large leather bound guest book we noticed the previous guest was the President of Ford Motors Among the expensive furnishings and art we discovered a liquor supply larger than most bars and decided to invite a few of our climber friends over for drinks. Those climbers invited more climbers who invited more people and close to 100 showed up. The liquor supply held up and only a couple of things were broken. Nobody that ventured out onto the 12 inch ledge, after too many drinks, fell off.

Did you use Wilderness Experience equipment that worked well? Or did not work at all – like our one attempt at climbing shoes?

Will some of these stories be embarrassing or make us look stupid? Probably, but it was the 1970s, we were climbers in our early 20s and we were making money…a bad combination.

I would love to add as many stories and pictures as possible. If you have a story, either post it here or send it to me: thomsen_jim@yahoo.com

Thank you very much!
Jim

You can see the current Wilderness Experience site: http://tinyurl.com/WildX

Walleye

climber
A hard right down Big Tujunga Canyon
Jul 16, 2009 - 02:34pm PT
Werner in his Tri Blend Wilderness Experience pants. He seemed to have worn them forever.
Saw a lot of those Guide Jackets around the Valley back in the day also

Photo: Walter Flint
Loomis

climber
*_*
Jul 16, 2009 - 02:58pm PT
Hey Jim, long time no see.
You forgot to mention Mike Waugh, He and I used to take
your leftover or disregarded materials from the dumpster
and make chalk bags and other things.
It sure helped me to make a few extra dollars as a teen
back in the mid to late 70's
Enjoy, Scott

Edit: Jim were you doing something for JanSport?
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Riverside, CA
Jul 16, 2009 - 02:58pm PT
Jim,
what about Larry's somewhat annual "tacky partys?"
and for the early days... Gil?

Wild X stories per your request:
1)
I am at my desk at sport Chalet about noon, the phone rings, it's Greg, hey I am going to design a pullover this afternoon,
can you come over?

An hour later Greg is extolling the heavier, stretchy weave of
pile he has, and is doing a pullover with zippers all the way to the pits for regulation, and a big kangaroo pocket.
I say to Greg, why not make the pocket out of 2 oz nylon,
the exterior will look the same, but the bulk of two layers of the stuff won't be there,
it will look a lot better...
the wheels were spinning, a great idea already and then, Drop pockets!!! for all fleecewear.
no more bulky double layers of fleece, especially in the ladies versions this really made a difference, of course, 8 months later patagonia, and everybody else had copied Wild-X.

2:
there was the poem I wrote to Diane.

3) I don't remember if it was you or Greg that told me about hiring a receptionist... she wrote on her application
"I give good phone"
this i do remember.. "we hired her!"

4 I was sewing last night on an old Juki from Wild-X
G_Gnome

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
Jul 16, 2009 - 03:17pm PT
Hey Jim,

Good to see you on the Taco.


Could we please not talk about the dancing though...


Or the DUIs....



Jan
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Riverside, CA
Jul 16, 2009 - 03:20pm PT
Nice Jan!
jimthomsen

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 16, 2009 - 05:55pm PT
Hello Scott..

I couldn't bring myself to include Mike Waugh...not after the long thread of people telling him how wonderful he is.

I do remember when Mike Waugh, Mad Dog and Bachar worked together in our frame shop. Somehow they didn't have time to get a lot done, but were able to completely cover all the walls with holds.
jimthomsen

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 16, 2009 - 05:57pm PT
Hi Jan,

We did have some fun evenings...I think. Nothing better than watching Waugh dance in Sorels.
10b4me

Boulder climber
Neil Young land
Jul 17, 2009 - 01:03am PT
hell yeah. I had a WE pack bitd. went to the Northridge store grand opening too.
jimthomsen

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 17, 2009 - 01:41pm PT
Fattrad,

The best climbing shoes at the time were EB's and they were expensive. Greg was sure we could make better shoes with soft, sticky soles that would work better. He spent time in Korea designing the shoe and the sole. The test versions worked very well. We ordered a couple of thousand, but in those days we had little money, so did not go back over to approve production samples. The factory quality department decided the soles were too soft and would wear out too soon, so they made the rubber much harder. Using the shoes would make 5.6 seem like 5.9, but most climbers were not looking for this extra challenge. They did work great for skate boarding I heard.
John Moosie

climber
Beautiful California
Jul 17, 2009 - 02:13pm PT
I still have a Wilderness Experience day pack that I bought in 1979 in Arcata california. It has been everywhere with me. Thousands of miles in the Sierra Nevada and many peaks.
Bldrjac

Ice climber
Boulder
Jul 17, 2009 - 04:04pm PT
Hey there Jim,

Jack Roberts here. I've still got one of the original Quicksilver climbing packs. Got the posters WX made from my trips to Huntington and The Kitchatna's
Hope you and Greg are doing well.

Jack
G_Gnome

Trad climber
In the mountains... somewhere...
Jul 17, 2009 - 04:24pm PT
Jim,

As bad as those shoes were, it was all Dave Hauser climbed in once his wife found out he could buy climbing shoes that cheap. The route at Josh, 'C.S. Special' is named after those shoes. How in the heck he climbed 5.11 in those was beyond all of us. Imagine what he could have done with a pair of Fires!

Jan
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Riverside, CA
Jul 17, 2009 - 05:50pm PT
well now i know where Norbert bought those skateboarding shoes that looked a lot like climbing shoes!
eKat

Trad climber
BITD2
Jul 17, 2009 - 05:56pm PT
Jim. . . I just KNEW that was you!

YAY.

If you'll recall, WildEx treated me to both of the packs I carried when I was working as an Outward Bound Instructor (after having met you through BoWinkle and Peter Wilkening) . . WAY BITD2.

Used to live in Mammoth and shopped at Access all the time, too.

Good to see you here at TheTacoStand.

Keep the magic alive!

Kathy (Brockman) Myers
Formerly of Mark Blanchard Guitars
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jul 17, 2009 - 10:05pm PT
Jim, Kinda busy right now. But in a couple of weeks I'll come up with some stories- none of them true. The Drake Hotel....hmmmm...one for the ages.
geosherman

Gym climber
California
Jul 17, 2009 - 11:39pm PT
I worked at WildX for six years starting in June of 1980. I was of one of the cogs in the wheel whose blood sweat and tears made it possible for the company to grow. I did not sew, design or sell but I placed packs, jackets and clothing in boxes and shipped orders to customers around the world. I put in a huge amount of unpaid overtime and gave control of my life during the last week of every month to Linda Lockwood so that WildX would ship product and then borrow on the receivables. I am not sure if Ted is still around but I often amazed him with my ability to ship exactly enough product to meet company goals every month and I could look through dozens of orders and tell him how much we were going to be able to ship. Even after all these years I find it funny that I still remember addresses for dozens of stores, UPS rates for various zones and weights,account numbers and product numbers. This was back in the day when computers were rare and people still picked up the phone when you called.
If you look back at why the company seemed to vanish after so much explosive growth, it probably started with the stock market endeavor and finished with the importing of product from China. It was a sad day when we moved from 20675 Nordhoff Ave over to a warehouse on Plummer Street. I could see the writing on the wall and I was laid off in April of 1986.
I had a good run during my time at WildX and along the way I got to meet many climbers in person at the factory and even climb with Jim Donini,Kim Schmitz, John Long and Fred Beckey. Not bad for a first job out of college!
Big Piton

Trad climber
Ventura
Jul 18, 2009 - 05:16pm PT
Wild x was my first pack I used in the sierras, great pack. The top came off, I used it for a day pack! Hey, Jim, Do you remember "The University Fun" I may have a video tape of the weekend kicking around.

mmm
jimthomsen

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 18, 2009 - 09:44pm PT
Jack, Nice to hear from you. I was just thinking about you last week when I was packing up a lot fo stuff for storage and found pictures I took of you when we went ice climbing in Utah (is it really amost 25 years ago?)

Kathy, Also good to hear from you. I hope life is good for you. We are hanging around Mammoth (we are getting our house ready for sale...we hope) and will go to the Meadows for a couple of weeks now.

George, Of course I remember you! You were great! Good to hear you are still around and, I hope, climbing. And I hope your next jobs were even better.

Big Piton, Love to see pictures/video of The University of Fun. Which one did you attend? The one with climbing at Big Rock and windsurfing in the lake? With BBQ shark and tri-tips? And too much to drink?

It's so much fun to hear from people I haven't talked with in so many years. Thanks for the messages!

Jim
eKat

Trad climber
BITD2
Jul 18, 2009 - 09:46pm PT
Yay, Jim!

Life *IS* good. . . there must be something in the water. . . we're getting our house ready to sell, too.

WHOA.

Glad to see you at TheTacoStand!

Kath
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