Wilderness Experience, Chatsworth, California


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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...


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.
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