Classic Ice Primer- Chouinard Catalog 1968

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Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 26, 2009 - 10:46am PT
Let the zippers fall where they may... The Ultima Thule I recall carrying for years had a flap top.

Here's my take on the "most copied pack ever" or whatever. Designs evolve.

The Jensen Pack that made me sit up and take notice was a day pack he made for guiding on Temple Crag. Light nylon, same basic shape, late 60s. Well under one pound. Don also had an overnite alpine version, size of the Rivendell and Thule.

It was his patterns for that size that I gave to Larry Horton one day in Berkeley to launch Rivendell. He paid Don a royalty and eventually produced Don's Bombshelter tent too. Then became miffed at me for redesigning the pack until it became the Ultima Thule. But designs evolve, the Thule carried better and by then Don had died.

Back up a little. In the spring of 1970 I skied 36 days along the John Muir Trail and the Sierra Crest. Still the best expedition of my life. Carl "P-Nut" McCoy built our wonderful Hexcel ski prototypes for the trip. His girlfriend Claudia and I built two Jensen Packs and a Bombshelter that totaled five pounds. Each pack weighed 17 ounces and carried up to 70 pounds. They were the first really big Jensen Packs; I ballooned-out Don's pattern.

The packs skied superbly. The basic genius of Don's design was to get a soft pack to cling better to your back the tighter you packed it, instead of turning into a sausage that rolled its weight against your turn to slam-dance you onto the snow. Again.

And skiing even more than alpine climbing is the ultimate test of how a pack design will follow the motion of your back.

The hidden problem with the design, that only became obvious once I expanded it, was that its softness wouldn't support lift straps for the shoulder straps. Many cycles of evolving it into the Ultima Thule with Tom Frost's help and encouragement, made the bottom compartment wrap far more tightly around your hips and took more weight off your shoulders. But with big loads, not enough.

A fundamental limit of the design had been reached. And exceeded, I could tell every time I lowered a 60# load off of shoulders beginning to cramp. Don Jensen had tacitly pointed that out, I realized, by carrying all his really big loads in an external frame pack. Later, internal frames would bridge the difference, getting the load closer to your back than his Kelty, but also supporting those shoulder-stabilizer straps that would give relief to the tops of shoulder muscles.

See? The zippers and the rest of the stuff that holds the load mean nothing compared to how it is made to ride on your back. How you support it is the trick.

I later designed, on paper, a small frame element that would allow the Thule to grow shoulder-stabilizer straps. But by then packs with two internal stays were the state of the art, and I never built it. The internal frames would carry a big load all right, but they went careening off in their own wrong direction until you could heft a seven- or even eight-pound wonder. Even with a monster load, there's something just wrong about 10% or more of the load you're humping up the trail going into merely the sack to put it in.

Back to the Jensen, I read on the Internet that Rivendell produced a thousand of them over a decade. And hundreds of Bombshelters. (Sweet tent, btw, but tiny. On our ski trip I modified ski poles to hold it up and we only carried the ridgepole. Patterns on request, tho the state of that art has moved on from A-frames.) Someone in Washington is now reviving the original Jensen Pack design yet again. Sticking to tradition is honorable in its way -- it's the conservative path -- but don't get stuck; if Jensen were alive I'm sure he would have carried an Ultima Thule instead, because it made his own idea work better. And then like the rest of us he would have moved on to an internal frame. It's like the Einstein t-shirt I saw last night: "Life is like a bicycle. You have to keep moving forward or you'll fall over."

I hounded Wayne Gregory for years about weight, and even cooked the first carbon-fiber stays in my oven for his packs. He built me a custom lightweight for climbing Ama Dablam with Frost in 1979, but didn't sell anything light until after I had designed MontBell's Wishbone suspension packs 15 years later.

Now there are some more diverse ideas cropping up. Some really innovative, and some de-volutions that lock up your back. I'm sitting on an idea that I think could be the Next Big Thing, if any companies out there are interested.

Long live the genius of Don Jensen. I've written a bit more about him, but I'm waiting to find the photo to go with it and then I'll start another thread.

RDB

Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 26, 2009 - 01:01pm PT
Anyone remember the Millet 370s?





For the guys I started climbing with it was "the" climbing/skiing pack in the late 60s, early 70s.

You could get gear for a 3 or 4 days and a sleeping bag into one. Not that it carried all that well with a 1/2" tape waist band.

Same load of kit in a Jensen did actually carry pretty well. We all thought that was the brilliance of Jensen's design. Being difficult to pack was just something you learned to live with.

Guys I climbed with used the Giant Jensen, the GPIW Thule and the Yak pak to lesser and lessor degrees of satisfaction for even bigger loads. The first pack that would actually carry a bigger load to our satisfaction was the Lowe Expedition.

Easy mixed on Deltaform



Two Jensen's on a early winter ascent of Ptarmigan Ridge, Rainier.



And yet another Jensen on the NW Face of Half Dome.


Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 01:45pm PT
Sweet!!!
SAX MILLET: Alto or tenor?

Hey DR,
That was a cool break out of design history.

Wouldn't you say all that came to it's final apogee in the Dana Terraplane?

I'm gonna put some top shoulder pulls on my Jensen when I rebuild it; gotta have 'em.
That is an issue: hell on the levator scapula.
They do work on frameless rucksacks, as long as the load/size overall ratio isn't too aggressive. (well under the 60+ lb mark, like 30-35lb maybe)
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 26, 2009 - 02:39pm PT
Dana Packs seemed to be on the top of many folks lists. I never carried one, partly because they were so heavy and partly because I was designing and selling my own MontBell Wishbone packs against them. Mine weighed half and carried as well (less cush, more lively -- kinda like Tar's analogy of a monocoque race car) up to about 50 pounds. Then the big freighters like Terraplane worked better.

But if weight is one of your criteria I could never call it an apogee. Talking to the pack sales guys in shops, however, it was pretty obvious that Dana did the best marketing job in the industry. He went face to face with them, right at their own pack walls, clear across the country. They became true believers.

As a designer who was an active user and building a pack to move, part of my rap against Danas was to offer to compare waistlines with any designer in the industry.
marty(r)

climber
beneath the valley of ultravegans
Jan 26, 2009 - 03:17pm PT
Tar,
Where's Ray(dog) Olsen? We need some free radicals in this thread.

DR--is the WishBone going to get a 21st century resurrection? What's new with MOS? Inquiring minds (with luggage fetishes) want to know.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 26, 2009 - 04:03pm PT
Luggage fetish? Maybe I don't want to know...

Boy I'd like it if someone revived the Wishbone. My packs are wearing out after only a few thousand miles. The patent should expire any day now. MontBell took its pack suspension off in a different direction soon after MontBell America, which I worked for, went out of business (mid-90s). It's still called Wishbone, but not the same.

MontBell Japan is bringing their products into Boulder, and distributing them to shops around the country. Which is great, because some of that gear is unbeatable.

My pack ideas are headed in a different direction. New frame, some of the same materials, super light, flexible. But I'm not actually building any protos, as I have a full-blown "portable hut" tent project in final development. I'm excited to finish that and see what happens.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 05:24pm PT
Ray is MIA at the moment...
But his ears might start burnin' in a couple few ...
F10

Trad climber
e350
Jan 26, 2009 - 05:40pm PT
Where's Ray(dog) Olsen?


Or do you mean,

Ray(FROG) Olsen ?
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 06:18pm PT
One and the same.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 06:32pm PT
This thread needs a little humor…
Largo on Ice, (sorta):



Photo by Accomazzo
Bloody Mtn couloir maybe…
Sewellymon

climber
.....in a single wide......
Jan 26, 2009 - 07:47pm PT
i scan eBay every so often for a classic Sac Millet rucksack

no dice

dunno how many of you had 'em. DEE's was a classic rig, if'n I recall....
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 07:52pm PT
I saw a woman crossing the street just a few months ago, with a MINT blue one on her back. Just a couple models under the one Dane posted.
If I had more than two nickels to rub together I might've tried to run her down and make an offer...

Shoulda' just flat out purse snatched it.
Sewellymon

climber
.....in a single wide......
Jan 26, 2009 - 08:04pm PT
"...Shoulda' just flat out purse snatched it. ..."

Just like when Seinfeld ripped the loaf of bread from the old lady's arms...
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 26, 2009 - 08:12pm PT
Largo on Ice.
Classic!
And unlikely.

Reminds me of...

OK, so there we are slapping a mockup of issue #3 or so of the fledgling Outside Magazine onto the conference table, right in front of the Big Cheese himself, Jann Wenner, the guy who started Rolling Stone and then started Outside in '77. Kinda funny, since he was completely clueless about the outdoors. Sure had a good sense of timing, tho...

It's the ice climbing issue. My piece on the FA of Ice Nine with Dale Bard is in it. And a Chouinard excerpt from Climbing Ice which is just about to hit the streets. The main cover headline reads "Chouinard on Ice."

So the mockup lands in front of Wenner. We all lean forward expectantly. He rocks back, looks up and says,

"What? Is he dead?"


Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 08:15pm PT
Ha!
He might be if he stays on it too long...
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 27, 2009 - 10:57am PT
Great story Doug! The cosmic joke of power and where it lands. Sometimes Excaliber, others a gull crap on the boardwalk!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2009 - 12:09am PT
A little more 72 for you!

RDB

Trad climber
Iss WA
Jan 29, 2009 - 02:13am PT
The original Chouinard piolet and the original Jensen pack are two that have obviously stood the test of time. And why, out of thousands of similar designs produced those same two pieces are so sought after today.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
French writer (1900 - 1944)
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 29, 2009 - 11:28am PT
Thank god for aesthetics and Occam's Razor for a clean shave!
Wee Jock

climber
Jan 30, 2009 - 07:50am PT
Hi chaps, Mr Accamazzo in particular. I started ice-climbing with a Chouinard Frost - 60cm with a very pale wood handle(hickory or ash??) and a dinky little Salewa ice hammer (T shaped cross section for the pick!) Climbed things like the Chancer and Devil's Delight and Point Five and Zero and they worked fine. For me, though, Terrors were the bees knees ... great except for the bashed knuckles. If you got the rather odd swing correct - a downward pull with the knuckles hammering the ice - they worked great. Did the 2nd ascent of Bridalveil with your Mr Shea using terrors - that was fat, steep ice, was it not? Pick was way too soft, mind, and wore out very quickly. They had a tendency to stick, so we sharpened the top edges of the picks to 'cut' up and out. The axe was brilliant for going over the top of a bulge into powder snow but too light for hard ice. Often we carried two hammers and an axe, or at least THEY did - the folk with any money (not me). In 1978 I got hold of THE prototype Chacal from Luger Simond - He was going to make a straight drooped pick but I held the shaft of the axe while he cut holes in an ordinary curved pick blank reversed. Then he cut teeth and changed the angle of the end of the pick to make a point to penetrate the ice and lo, the first reversed banana pick. Worked brilliantly!! I still have my Dachstein mitts from the mid seventies, though I had to fight off the wife when she wanted to wear them to paint the house walls! Best mitts ever!!
Gordon Smith
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