Yvon Chouinard is one of the pioneers of Yosemite Valley’s golden age in the 1960s and a successful businessman. Chouinard made the second ascent of The Nose of El Capitan in 1960, the first ascent of the landmark North American Wall in 1964, and the following year the first ascent of The Muir Wall. He also made many ascents in Canada, Patagonia, and other places. Along the way, Chouinard learned the importance of style in climbing, that how we climbed something was often the most important aspect of climbing.
Chouinard also put his blacksmith skills, learned from his French-Canadian father, to good use by making chrome-moly pitons and then Hexentrics and Stoppers, the tools for clean climbing. His company Chouinard Equipment eventually split in 1989, with the climbing half becoming the employee-run company Black Diamond and the clothing half becoming Patagonia, one of the leaders in outdoor clothing.
Climbing can be a visionary activity—a way of transcending the ordinary everyday life that envelopes us, a vehicle for transporting us to the mysteries of life, perception, and mystical union. In this quote from the 1966 American Alpine Club Journal, Yvon Chouinard records his visionary perceptions on the seventh day of the eight-day first ascent of The Muir Wall on El Capitan in 1965.
When you do a long climb, it usually takes a few days to get in the swing of things, to begin to forget your past, to begin to live only in the moment and in the immediacy of climbing the next ten feet. Chouinard perfectly captures the heightened and concentrated senses of a climber in the physically and mentally trying circumstances on a big wall ascent.
“With the more receptive senses, we now appreciated everything around us. Each individual crystal in the granite stood out in bold relief. The varied shapes of the clouds never ceased to attract our attention. For the first time we noticed tiny bugs that were all over the walls, so tiny they were barely noticeable. While belaying, I stared at one for 15 minutes, watching him move and admiring his brilliant red color.
”How could one ever be bored with so many good things to see and feel! This unity with our joyous surroundings, this ultra-penetrating perception gave us a feeling of contentment that we had not had for years.”
Buy Yvon Chouinard’s books:
Climbing Ice Simply one of the best climbing books ever written. Well written and loaded with great info on learning to climb ice.
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman A fascinating look at Yvon Chouinard, his company Patagonia, and his unique business philosophy.