Gear for climbers: First Ascent

Maybe I’m just a cranky, old-school guy, a non-conforming Libertarian. Don’t know what category to place me, but I rarely endorse a certain brand of outdoor gear. I get asked to do so often – to recommend a tent or backpack, a jacket, harness, or rope. I always resist, because gear is so personal it seems. What works for me may not work for someone else. The stuff I use is all over the board: cheap stuff, quality gear, long-term, short-lived. My favorite camp-cup was a lime-green plastic cheapo I’d had since childhood – it lasted 15 years.

Frankly, I like that ambiguity, that personal touch. As each individual is out for their own experience, which will be different than that enjoyed by anyone else, so the means to do so will be different. That Coleman tent, lantern, camp chairs and splitting maul may make the camping experience for one seem complete, but for another (me, for example) be overkill in the worst form, the very essence of what should be avoided in the high’n-lonesome. I’ll take my light down bag and a bivy sack, cold camp without stove or a campfire, and be 10 miles beyond you in the backcountry, thanks.

With that caveat in mind, and my apologies stated up front, here is my endorsement: First Ascent. A company born of the experience of RMI, the premier mountain guides on Rainier, in my home state of Washington. Lou Whittaker and family owns the business, but his guides make this venture happen. They formed a business relationship with Eddie Bauer LLC a long time back, and while that is a household name among outdoor-people from the Pacific Northwest, Eddie Bauer is relatively unknown as a climbing-gear company east of Idaho. They have made quality outdoor gear (especially down-insulated clothing) since the 1920s. Outfitted the army with down jackets, and the 1978 K2 expedition, where Lou Whittaker and his brother Jim were on the team. In short, if you lived in the Northwest in the 1960s (and beyond) and wanted a good down jacket, you bought an Eddie Bauer.

Fast-forward to 2010. First Ascent is a outdoor gear brand that combines Whittaker’ s guide service with a first-rate clothing company to make gear that is climb-specific, light, durable, and a superior blend of form and function. Example #1: the BC-200 jacket. It is light and functional, with no frills or extra stuff that gets in the way. Team it up with a First Ascent Downlight Sweater, and their Guide Pants; you are good to go on anything short of Denali in winter. Cascades; Bugaboos; Rockies; Tetons; Sierras; Ecuador and Argentina: do it, baby.

Their Tahoma pack looks awesome, and while I haven’t worn one, I’d bet on it, given the quality of their other products. First Ascent gear is not sold in retail stores that I know of, but can be ordered on-line, and their customer service is excellent. In case there is any doubt about conflict of interest or anything of that nature, let me assure you: I don’t get a kickback or free gear of any kind for my endorsement – I just like to support companies that make stuff that works. I use First Ascent gear for that reason.