Coonyard Mouths Off Part II Yvon Chouinard Climbing 1987


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Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 6, 2009 - 07:51pm PT
Travelling backwards, the follow-up to the uberclassic 1972 Ascent article by YC. Take a step back and refresh yourself... From Climbing #100 January 1987. Fifteen years later.


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Sep 7, 2009 - 01:22am PT
Yay for meester coonyard!!!!

And mr. grossman for puttin' these thing up!!!!

Social climber
east L.A. vato...
Sep 7, 2009 - 09:24am PT
Classic "dark ages" stuff:

When outdoor company figureheads,
and magazine editors,
thought they could dictate the sport.

Way funny. Sorta.

"Let's all get together and decry the minute
subtlties of how others choose to recreate."

More like it.

Then, when that doesn't work, switch to "environmentalism"
and four full color print cataloges a year...just to underline the B.S.

Sep 7, 2009 - 09:38am PT
Thanks Steve, nice scan! But to add to what Ray says, I didn't see Chouinard as a person (CEO and Climber), or Chouinard as a company, cease piton production then, and you can still buy them now from Black Diamond.

Trad climber
Sep 7, 2009 - 12:06pm PT
He must have been talking about James Watt, when he said our Secretary of the Interior thinks that "Jesus wants us to drill for oil in the wilderness." Very sad what we lost in the 1980's and now again in the past 10 years under Bush. One day when our government goes bankrupt, they will log the National parks for money, I don't doubt it for a minute.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 7, 2009 - 12:31pm PT
Tom and YC discussed stopping piton production at one point but the reality has always been that clean climbing has its limits and that pitons were still necessary on many FA's. The slippery slope...

Trad climber
Los Angeles
Sep 7, 2009 - 01:08pm PT
What aid climbing needs is some good removable Velcro!

Social climber
east L.A. vato...
Sep 8, 2009 - 08:15am PT
Glad I was raised with values where participating
In outdoor sports and connecting with the natural world
had and has nothing to do with elitist brand idolatry.

"Pandamonia" has become a relic.

Man, you think the article was bad, right after that
came out he gets the whole company together for a "hate
rally" to put down sport climbing as the "death of adventure"
and the whole place applauding, right on cue.

Then, mere weeks later, thay decide they have to sponsor
one of the most famous and successful sport climbers ever.

Ooops. Doh!

Guess they were just too busy "hating for profit" to see that their market
Had changed so much...hahaha!

Too weird.

Just like some little cult.

Last winter the Target in Boulder created a buzz selling primo quality
long underwear, same materials, same construction quality, with (way) better
sizing AND design than "pandamonia"...for like $9 bucks a pair - and
Target couldn't keep em in stock.

Good, I say.

Bought 3 pair, and some tops, stuff works great.

Save your money for gas and a new pair of (Acopa) rock shoes.

Most of the stuff these "outdoor brands" sell isn't worth
it and suffers from the same high level of dorkiness they do... :)

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Sep 8, 2009 - 10:38am PT
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." -- Emerson

Ray-J, I like your story about buying don't-call-it-Capilene at Target for nine bucks. Not surprised; that's capitalism in action. But it's also true that without Chouinard's exploring and innovating, there would have been no product for Target to target, to rip off and, yes, sew adequately and cut way down in price. As a discerning shopper you reap the benefit.

But behind that benefit, you are also benefiting from the true innovation that once came out of YC's curiosity and Patagonia's fabrics lab. You had to pay thirty bucks for your first pair of those longjohns, because there was only one place in the world that sold them. They worked well and so it was worth it.

And Target's just the bottom rung of that food chain. We used to joke about awarding the Golden Seam Ripper design award to REI for the way that the best of Patagonia or Marmot or whoever's stuff showed up in the stores, year after year, of that elephant in the room of the outdoor industry. There you could suddenly get don't-call-it-Capilene about three years later for nineteen bucks.

You can't patent innovations like that, so the only way to keep ahead in those games is to keep innovating. It's expensive to maintain a fabrics lab like that. It's expensive to have your R&D department towing along the freeloaders within the outdoor industry and then even beyond it with mass retailers like Target. And it's expensive to provide on-site daycare for your female employees, a benefit that probably hasn't trickled down as far as Target.

And it turns out to be surprisingly rare to have a mind like that steering such a company. You wouldn't think that simple curiosity poking around new fabrics or getting it that Salathe's pitons were so superior -- you wouldn't think that's so rare. But it seems to be.

No matter where you buy it, the stuff is all made in China so we're not talking any cost-benefit there. Except the good side of that, and of the rush to sew in the next cheaper place -- Myanmar? Phillipines? -- is that the more it happens, the faster the world becomes economically a level playing field. The quicker we all become equal in wages and lifestyle, the quicker the hugest problems in the world get addressed. Like polluting our planet with CO2. Industrialism cures overpopulation, thank goodness.

It's bittersweet right down the line. Those glossy catalogs have raised a lot of environmental awareness on their way to the recycling bin. And even on this Forum last week a thread arose excited over the latest Patagonia catalog's killer photos. Ever get inspired to get out there and climb harder by those? I have.

You owe a few things to an innovator and entrepreneur like Coonyard. We all do. Maybe when it's driving sleet into your teeth and starting to leak down the neck of your parka and getting dark -- maybe then even your life. Sure he got rich doing it. But he's also given tons of it away to environmental work. And carefully hand-picked the beneficiaries to be the most radically grass-roots. He gets a lot of bang for all of us from those bucks. Bucks that you and I put in his pocket for the cutting-edge toys we use to go out and play in the mountains.

Which brings me back to why I came around this morning for a second read-through of this cool essay. Fourth overall, when you count two readings back when it first appeared. Plenty to chew on there for all of us. The distinction between ethics and style, for starters. And how about the idea that the last 10% of the way to perfection isn't worth it, just turning us from fertile recreation, from refreshing our spirits, into honed OCD grinds and bores?

I gotta say, Arnold Lunn's headquote made me sit up and take notice. Just checking -- are we having fun yet? Is it still play? "Spontaneous and free-spirited"? And Chouinard's writing here is some of his best: punchy, probing, iconoclastic. Not to mention wide-ranging. Countless of our threads here have spun down into ever-tightening circles on one minute facet of one little point of style, until we drill ourselves into the dirt and forget there's a horizon beyond the dust cloud we've created. Refreshing to come up for air to a broader view such as this.

Keep it up, man. I for one will be waiting to see what you come up with next.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Sep 8, 2009 - 10:45am PT
Excellent as always, Ray-j. Love your ascerbic lead on this thread. And thanks as always Stevie for posting a hot one! You love to keep it spicy, I know!

Of all people to rag on a theoretical “me-now generation”, Yvon proves once again in this 22-year old drivel how disturbingly facile he always has been. He even sounds like a Robin Williams routine at points here, although Williams is a genius. I used to call Yvon “Frenchie” back in the sixties and seventies. Reading him here, I am watching the pot call the teakettle black.

His long career of secretiveness in surf spots, new climbing areas and other choice places makes it impossible to read the piece without noticing once again the curious one-inch tall elitism that always informs everything he has done even though his very very long-sought-after success in business would finally come only in the fashion industry---a human activity perhaps the most frought with meaningless exclusionary fundamentals and pointless waste. And there is a great deal to tell about that career as well... And I note the 87 pairs of shoes for this little man. How vain. He is the Bette Midler of outdoorsmanship.

I think at the end of the day, most of what Yvon does here is unwittingly rave against himself and his ilk, actually. The conjecture that this toy boutique intellectual would be able to grasp eras past and present, even envisage our future is laughable. I realize he has many fans and friends as anyone but the narcissism of the man in practice and in pen is perhaps his highest lifetime achievement. He has largely gone unchallenged for four decades like the village cow but in fact many have found his fancy-pants gesticulations and belittling hyperbolic generalizations annoying.

EDIT. For sure Tom, it is very very easy to throw stones. Perhaps cheap even. Too easy and he cast the first ones 22 years ago. That is why I am so stern here. If you are actually asking if you TC have made a noble attempt in this life I know for a fact that you have and have made a tremendous life for yourself and others and stand out as one of the great extreme skiers and climbers of the era. No one would debate this ever.

Sep 8, 2009 - 10:50am PT
Pretty easy to throw stones. Someone said, Cynics are, in the end, only idealists with awkwardly high standards".

I think Yvon has made a noble attempt. Have I?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 8, 2009 - 11:22am PT
I'm not sure where to find philosophical consistency. One thing Chouinard has done has actually been to produce two companies that had some level of success for over 30 years... that takes something, but hewing to a consistent world view is probably not a part of it.

If you look closely at all the stuff written in all those catalogs and all the writing and all the talking over that period of time you're sure to find many contradictory ideas. On page 62 of the 1972 catalog the description of the "Cord Knickers" takes a shot at the fashionistas:

"Knickers used to be baggy, and used to serve their intended purpose of covering the legs, yet allowing maximum freedom of movement. But the fashion freak skiers got hold of the idea and they have since become high water pants - useful for only barhopping. Here's a man's knicker..."

Aside from the gratuitous sexist swipe (a "man's knicker"? women are too fashion conscious to produce a utilitarian garment?) one can't help but snicker at what Patagoina has become, essentially a major fashion house for the "outdoor person."

I still have a pair of heavy weight capeline, the first generation of rather ill fitting underwear, that were so warm I couldn't wear them except in the very depth of a cold snap in the northeast... and even then I was sweating. I remember a frost layer covering the tops (and I couldn't wear anything over the tops) probably 60ºF temp difference across the relatively thing layer.

YC is a lot more complicated than we'd like him to be... but he isn't much more complicated than other smart people I know...

...haven't we covered this ground before?


Old Pueblo, AZ
Sep 8, 2009 - 12:54pm PT

Love that gift card I just got for returning a 20 year old fleece found in the Telluride free box! Thanks YC!

Sep 8, 2009 - 11:52pm PT
There's a fine line between visionary and righteous pain in the @ss. Sometimes it's hard to tell if there's any line at all. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Where would we be without some people like that? David Brower, for example, was by most accounts a rock in many people's shoes, but I cringe to imagine what California would be like without Brower.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 10, 2009 - 02:45am PT
I often wondered if some of what Chouinard wrote in these essays was tongue in cheek. He knew perfectly well that neither he nor other were angels when it came to these things. No one is.

Social climber
West Linn OR
Sep 10, 2009 - 11:31am PT
I never saw the article, but I recall conversing with Yvon in the Valley in 1961, and he was talking about how everyone wanted to eliminate risk completely, and this diminished the sport (or whatever we call it). This was after Yvon took a huge fall in the Wind Rivers, he said 180', and he came up with the swami belt idea. Having seen what a knot under a rib cage could do, it was a good improvement, although I never used it. Oddly enough, his equipment was also designed to eliminate risk. My contentions with Yvon were that he added a bolt to a first ascent that had not used one in that location, and that he tried to start a self governing organization of climbers to address ethics and style. Good style is like an impeachable offense - you know it when you see it.

Who goes out on a climb to get killed? Very few of us, so it sounds like we are all sinners. But there are differences that one may ponder. Is the sinning publicly noticed or not? Being from the time when dirt absorbed sweat, I found the chalking up of Swan Slab to be an eyesore when in the Valley as an old tourist, although it did make the routes obvious. Gray chalk is in order or, Note to Self: only visit after a rain! Shoes? Who cares. Crack destruction and bolting? Park Service issues. Supertopo guides? Yvon wouldn't have liked then, but I think they're pretty cool.

Interesting history.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Sep 10, 2009 - 12:17pm PT
Remember that this article was written for a partucluar crowd at a partricular place in time and space. Also remember that by nature,Yvon Choiuinard is an activist, so naturall he sounds off when he sees things veering down Queer Street.

I trust it's more his dismissive tone, or that fact that here, he's generally preaching to the choir, that makes this piece feel like a thinly disguised rant. But I agree with much of what's being said - about dwindling risks and bulging commercialism. And I do miss the days when gas was cheap, regulations were few and a couple hundred bucks could carry you through months in the wilds.

I learned the hard way that taking other people's inventory was largely a waste of time, but that's what an activist does. In my mind, Chouinard will always be the kid with the falcon, scraping around the boulders at Stoney, heaving up the long cracks at Tahquitz, banging out the expando flake on the West Face of Sentinel, and sitting in the line up at Rincon, living large.


Sport climber
Living in St. Louis but the Blue Ridge is home
Sep 15, 2009 - 11:42am PT
Ok, that settles it. I need 88 pairs of rock climbing shoes. Whew, I feel better now.

Trad climber
Sep 15, 2009 - 11:59am PT
I like how YC, with all due respect, explains what ethics are and then tries to make us think that those ethics are our own.
Funny how Harding was making his own rules and throwing off the oppressive climbing regime of the day a few decades before Chouinard wrote this piece. Sounds like Harding was ahead of the curve.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 15, 2009 - 12:03pm PT
There are those who see the World as black or white. They have certainty but not consistency, it seems that, for them, black and white are interchangeable.
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