Wilderness Experience, Chatsworth, California


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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 (Note to Donini: Don’t worry Jim, as agreed your best stories will not be published until 50 years after your death.)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!

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


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

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
what about Larry's somewhat annual "tacky partys?"
and for the early days... Gil?

Wild X stories per your request:
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.

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

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....

Ed Bannister

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Ice climber
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.


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

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!

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!

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


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

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.

Gym climber
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
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.


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!


Trad climber
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.


Glad to see you at TheTacoStand!


Trad climber
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Jul 18, 2009 - 10:54pm PT

I sent an e-mail to the address you listed... did you get it?

Smog Angeles
Jul 18, 2009 - 11:58pm PT
I remember one day driving south on the 405 towards Santa Monica circa 1987(?) and noticing a big "Wilderness Experience" sign on a warehouse. I exited to freeway and wandered back on side streets until I found the location. Wildy Ex was hosting a ginormous clearance sale. (Perhaps the last breath of the company - not sure...) I emptied my checkbook. I bought my first internal frame pack ( which served me very well through many years of mountaineering,) with the removable top pocket that, with a little bit of fiddling, became a largish fanny pack. I bought some excellent little aluminum and cordura camp stools that are still some of my favorite car-camping items. And... the big score was a superbly designed gore-tex ski jacket. It sported one of the first "zip-in" pile liners making it very effectively three jackets in one. That design was next copied by Marmot I believe. Wildy Ex was the gear of choice in my youth. Excellent design, superb execution.
east side underground

Trad climber
Hilton crk,ca
Jul 19, 2009 - 12:03am PT
Climbed with Eric Alger, who worked at the mammoth store in the early eighties with Gary Mcdonnell (G-MAC).G- Mac still in town haven't seen Eric since '86 or '87.

Trad climber
Jul 19, 2009 - 01:29am PT
Still have my day pack. I keep patching it up. Bought it and the "Alpinist" pack at the "Red Baron Bicycle works" in Costa Mesa , Ca around 1975?. Used the Alpinist pack for a long time. Internal frame,was ok but never was great for lugging big loads. My buddy nick named it "Wilderness Experiment" . Still have hanging around somewhere.
captain chaos

Jul 19, 2009 - 03:21am PT
Here's a couple pics of Steve McKinney I took during our Wings over Everest expedition in 1986 for you Jim. Wilderness Experience was the clothing sponsor. Since I'm the one who took the photos your welcome to use them as you like. Also, I can tell you some stories from the expedition if you like... Craig Calonica

Steve McKinney on the west ridge of Everest getting ready for take off...

Steve McKinney in flight, Hornbein couloir in front of him...

ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
the ground up
Jul 19, 2009 - 04:04am PT
" Climbed with Eric Alger, who worked at the mammoth store in the early eighties with Gary Mcdonnell (G-MAC).G- Mac still in town haven't seen Eric since '86 or '87. "
almost sounds like a seperate thread , but you (ESU) speak of before Mammoth Mountaineering Supply - - - the shop that was ultimately on old mammoth road ? it had an artificial wall towards the end .

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 19, 2009 - 01:28pm PT
Yes, before Mammoth Mountaineering (btw they are a great store!). Wilderness Sports was the first mountaineering store in Mammoth. We were the first to sign a lease at the Old Mammoth Mall along with the Charthouse (1979?). This was the beginning of one of the many booms in Mammoth. Gary McDonnell was a manager at Pat's Sporting Goods in Long Beach and we convinced him to move to mammoth and run the store. And he has never left. But when that boom ended, so did the store. I closed in in 1985.

Craig - Thanks for the pictures of Steve. I would love a couple of stories and I will add them to the website.

Trad climber
Jul 30, 2009 - 09:04pm PT
OK, Jim. . . here's a shot of that WildEx frame pack you turned me on to when I was an OutwardBound Instructor. . . (may I say I was Officially Sponsored?)


When: October 1984

Where: Top of the Zodiac

Wherefore: Meeting Blanchard after soloing it

WhatAreYaKiddinMe: That pack was HEAVY, Jack!

Although all Blanchard wanted was water and clean underwear, a number of my girlfriends (who were also in love with the dad) sent me up there with all kinds of treats. . . ChocolateChocolateChipZucchiniCake, PeanutButterCookies, a Goddamned espresso maker, my Optimus stove, a Sigg bottle full of fuel, bananas, dinner, breakfast, sleeping bag, ENSOLITE (when have you heard THAT term last?) and. . . of course enough survival stuff to outfit the entire rescue site. . . (Dill would be proud.)

Well. . . to make a long story even longer. . . I humped those loads up that frikken FallsTrail fully expecting to camp out on the summit, as planned.




And I don't mean THAT kinda hump. . . get your mind out of the gutter!


Well . . . . when he topped out, Blanchard was ten kinds of wiggly. . . WAY OVER THE TOP HYPER and all he wanted to do was distance himself from the sucking breath of ElCap as far as he could.

He wanted to RUN down the trail . . . back to camp.


It was early enough in the love affair that I went along with the idea, even though I was pretty well COOKED. . . (in retrospect, I guess I should have seen it for what it was. . . the beginning of the end. . . it just took 25 years to sink in) . . so. . . with every modicum of my cumulative nordic ski marathon resolve, I focused on the FINISH LINE being my 1953 Chevy Sedan Delivery parked in the C4 lot.

I willingly took an additional 30 pounds of hardware, put it in a sleeping bag stuff sack and strapped it to the "Expedition" extention at the TOP of my pack and started hip hoppin' through the deep, sticky wicket infested forest.

Well. . . somewhere between bone tired and darkness I quietly stopped plodding down the trail, spun on my heel, looked that sweet little man in the eye (through my CatEyeVuarnets - and into his) and said. . . ya know. . . you started this thing as a solo. . . you should finish it as one. . . I'm COOKED. . . I'm stoppin'! I'm campin' right here. . . IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMNED TRAIL. . . (guess I wasn't so quiet by then). . .

And, fully expecting said CuteLittleMan to keep on truckin'. . . I hefted that WildExLoad off my worn out spent self and let it pull me to the ground as gravity had its way with me.

There I sat.

A lump on a frikken log.


I had even worn my special, brand clean, PURE WHITE, Vuarnet SHIRT up there. . . in an attempt to woooooo the living socks off this guy. . . and here I was. . . callin' it QUITS.

Oh well. . .

I was going no further!

WELLLLLLLLL. . . much to my surprise, said MonoManiacalSoloClimber followed suit and let his homemade haulbag drag his weary soul down to my level.

It was COLD.

We put on WOOL.

We ate the treats.

We drank the water.

We did NOT fire up the Optimus!

He did NOT put on the clean underware.

We bundled up and slid our sorry selves into our bags and rolled around until they rested themselves in the well worn trough of the trail.


Morning. . .


Covered with it.


No breakie.

No nothin'!

Just start humpin'!

FallsTrail descent in early season snow.


Separated at Columbia Point.

NICER YET! (we both knew Jack Dorn pretty well!)

Finally, reunited at the '53 back in Camp, we were met almost immediately by MisterHiskes, asking us to join in on a big El Cap rescue.

Seemed there was a solo dad stuck on the NA, a team on TheZodiac and. . . as we learned later . . . a couple of guys from Japan frozen on the summit slabs of the Nose.

With no sleep at all, we staggered toward the SAR cache, signed in. . . and the rest was history.

And. . . the rest is history.

And. . .




Social climber
Jul 31, 2009 - 12:59am PT
hey there say, just a bump... lots of interesting stuff in here... thanks for the share, all....

*edit: say, and there is a wild ekat story here, too... just now seen, as i had started from the "front of the posts" this time.. oh my... hard to decide where to jump in and read, on the ol' supertop... ;)

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2009 - 08:55pm PT
Thanks Kath!

I've been in the Meadows for a couple of weeks and will be around a little longer if you are around.

Just check with the Tuolumne Meadows Campground Manager: Mike Waugh.
Lori Hibbett

Oct 25, 2012 - 12:44pm PT
Hey Jim,
I used to work at Wilderness Experience -- my name then was Lori Hood.
I am STILL using my WE sleeping bag! It never sheds down and if it were rated a little higher it would keep me warm at the 20 degrees I often find myself in. I'm so glad I found you. You made awesome equipment and my using the same sleeping bag after 30+ years is a testament to that!
T Hocking

Trad climber
Redding, Ca
Oct 25, 2012 - 02:05pm PT
I have an alpine pack from the mid 70's that served me well for decades, must be an early one as it has metal buckles. Don't know what model it is
but it was my main climbing pack BITD.
Some Pics,
Wilderness Experience <br/>
Chatsworth,Ca. <br/>
pack label, mid 70's
Wilderness Experience
pack label, mid 70's
Credit: T Hocking
Mid 70's Wilderness Experience Pack
Mid 70's Wilderness Experience Pack
Credit: T Hocking
little Z

Trad climber
un cafetal en Naranjo
Oct 25, 2012 - 02:40pm PT
WE Backpack, field testing still in progress, 30+ yrs.

Credit: little Z
rich sims

Social climber
Oct 25, 2012 - 02:49pm PT
WEBs were great if you had six or seven toes on each foor.
Wore them once and quickly resold them LOL
Simon McCartney

Mountain climber
Hong Kong
Feb 28, 2013 - 08:12am PT
Dear Jim, I chanced on this link from google. I am currently writing a book about two climbs I did with Jack Roberts (RIP), in 1978 we made the first ascent of the N face of Mount Huntington in 78' and in 80' we made the first ascent of the SW face of Denali. Originally I set out to create a simple work to honour my old friend (we lost touch after 81 and I never saw him alive again).
The work has turned into a significant book and I am reciveing amazing support from Pam Roberts and many other leaders in the Alpine Climbing community.
Anyway, Jack was connected with Wilderness Experience too, designing an alpine pack that we used on our climbs. I have just up-loaded a picture I took of Jack on the Huntington Climb sitting in a cold bivvie woth his 'Wild-X pack in plain view.
I would love to continue this conversation

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 18, 2014 - 07:46pm PT
Simon, sorry I'm about a year late in answering you. I've been in Papua New Guinea and now Borneo and don't have internet very often.

If you are still working on the book about your climbs with Jack I would love to talk. Greg would also be a good source. He is still working (stupid!), currently president of adidas outdoor in the usa.


Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Feb 18, 2014 - 08:14pm PT
Hey Jim! Ray here from Northwestern Mountain Sports in Moscow, Idaho.

It was always fun seeing you & Greg at trade shows back in the Pleistocene.

I was doing research in 1970's Mountain Magazines this weekend and turned up this full page ad you folks did in 1978.

Credit: Fritz

Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 18, 2014 - 08:59pm PT
Hi Ray! Good to hear from you.

Thanks for the ad. When I get some time I want to add this and other things to the web page I created for Wilderness Experience. Maybe I can get a bunch of photos of products that are still in use to put on the site?

Yes, those were the days.


Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 25, 2014 - 10:37pm PT
Thanks to everyone for all the photos and stories.

I'm back in the USA (Mammoth) for the winter and with help from a few other people we are going to make a short documentary about the early years of Wilderness Experience. So many climbers were a big part of the company in the early '70s and we think it will be fun to save many of those stories.
Some of you I will contact directly, but if you have early stories, photos of equipment in use and anything you think may be fun. (Note to Donini: I promise not to tell any of your true stories.)

Thanks for any help or suggestions.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
The shaggy fringe of Los Angeles
Nov 26, 2014 - 07:18am PT
Of all the many packs in my garage, the Wilderness Experience pack is the one that keeps coming out of retirement.

Photo to come.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 26, 2014 - 07:22am PT
Ah....those days at Wildex! What happens in Chatsworth stays in Chatsworth!

Trad climber
Nov 26, 2014 - 08:53am PT
Had my WX kletter sack for years. Beat the crap out of the thing and it never let me down.

Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Nov 26, 2014 - 09:04am PT
Wow from the way back machine.....

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

Crossed the Sierra a few times, light n fast using one of your soft packs...... they were pretty darn good.

A way back shot.... Peter cranking.
A way back shot.... Peter cranking.
Credit: guyman

Remember this dood???


Social climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 26, 2014 - 05:24pm PT
Of course, Peater!

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