American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Chouinard Equipment

  • Book Reviews
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1973

Chouinard Equipment, by Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost and Doug Robinson. Santa Barbara, California: Sandollar Press, 1972. 72 pages, $.50 What is a commercial catalog doing in the book review section? Doesn’t it list items and prices just like Sears and Roebuck? Yes, but what other catalog quotes the Rolling Stones, Einstein and Yvon Chouinard? Is it geared to the mass sale of equipment?

Page 3: “Given the vital importance of style we suggest that the keynote is simplicity. The fewer gadgets between the climber and the climb, the greater is the chance to attain the desired communication with oneself—and nature.”

Chouinard has chosen the ideal place to air his views about a sport he deeply loves. When he first began to denigrate the use of pitons, he was privately accused of hypocrisy. (Your business revolves around pitons and now you’re running them down while you stuff the money in your pocket with your spare hand.) This catalog proves that outlookfalse. Rather than bolster a lucrative piton market, he has chosen to make his catalog a work of art in which he expounds the joys of “climbing clean” with nuts and runners and no hardware. The cover is a sixteenth-century Chinese mountain painting. Thumbing through the first pages we pass the Moose’s Tooth, Yosemite, a snapshot of Chouinard and Salathé talking in a campground, British seacliffs, a pile of carabiners and a long essay on “The Whole Natural Art of Protection,” by Doug Robinson.

Since the introduction of the catalog and the publishing of articles in most mountain periodicals, clean climbing has become widely accepted all over the country. An increasing number of climbers I meet in Yosemite will not go on a climb unless they can do it without a hammer and pitons.

A small minority believe that they have been had by the climbing establishment. They claim that those who are most adamant about the use of nuts are the same guys who have already made the big wall climbs on Half Dome and El Capitan. Since it is doubtful that these big routes will ever be possible without pitons, they claim that they will be precluded from doing them if they adhere to the ethic of clean climbing. Although they recognize the ethic as morally right, they feel that their freedom as an individual in the mountains is at stake.

It must be admitted that the potpourri of the Chouinard catalog is reminiscent of The Whole Earth Catalog. Here’s what you need; here’s how to use it; don’t buy it unless you need it; We’ve Personally Picked Out Everything For You.

Mountaineers are individualists. It seems hard enough to get them to join the AAC, much less to agree to climb in the manner that someone else tells them (even if that person happens to be right). The resentment to clean climbing has not just been from young hot-shots who want to make a name on the big walls. On the east coast a widely-circulated notice written by an older climber contained the following advice; “Nut fetishism ... is being proselytized by many superior acrobats who probably have become bored leading 5.10’s on pitons and are in the market for new conquests. (See the latest Chouinard catalog in case you’re prepared to shell out fifty cents for reading about equipment you can’t afford and sermons you don’t need).”

Perhaps the obvious answer to this dilemma is that those who will be individuals may not be influenced by any amount of inducement. But the vast majority will. It is doubtful that we will ever hear of another case of tendonitis from a climber who has spent too much of his life hammering.

What is a commercial catalog doing in the book review section? It contains more information on the ethics and style of modern climbing than any other publication in our language.

Galen A. Rowell

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.