Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the outdoor brand Patagonia, began as a blacksmith, eventually creating Chouinard Equipment Ltd., which mainly focused on forging climbing pitons. He was a major player during the Golden Age of Climbing in Yosemite, making first ascents of the North America Wall with climbing legends Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, and Chuck Pratt in 1964.
Many decades later he’s published Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport (Patagonia), a collection of stories curated from a rugged, beautiful, and full life dedicated to nature.
While this collection is filled with gripping stories, perhaps most fascinating is the knowledge Chouinard derived from them, illuminated best in his essay on the importance of ethics and style in modern rock-climbing. Adding a new blurb to the already published essay, Chouinard writes, as if for himself more than anyone else: “It’s embarrassing reading this essay now. Its bombastic statements are from a young climber pretty full of himself. Nevertheless, its prediction of Yosemite techniques being used on big walls all over the world was not overstated.” In this essay, Chouinard goes on to revolutionize the moral code of rock climbing and offers a warning about the possible damage the sport could have on the environment.
Chouinard has dipped his toes into almost every outdoor sport there is – from falconry to fly fishing and surfing to kayaking – Chouinard’s accounts are imbued with a deep love of nature. And from this relationship, grew Chouinard’s sense of responsibility. From decrying the national government for a lack of protection of public lands to encouraging voter turnout, Chouinard’s experiences have taught him that with power, adventure, and pioneering, comes the responsibility to be ethical and to give back. In this collection, one can see environmental activism is not only something he has dedicated his life to but something he still hopes to spread to others as well.
And it seems that today, in a world filled with a million distractions, a Chouinardian philosophy, with nature as a centering force might be the perfect antidote, as Chouinard writes, “In the various outdoor pursuits and crafts in which I’ve been involved – from mountaineering and whitewater kayaking to spearfishing and tool-making – the progression from novice to master has always been a journey from the complex to the simple. An illustrator becomes an artist when he can convey his message with fewer brushstrokes.” The answers lie in a unique simplicity so easy to overthink, but that comes from simple, pure action. From a life spent in the natural world, the ability to recognize the grandeur of forces larger than the self is second nature.
Brimming with pitch-by-pitch accounts, essays on the various uses of different pitons and ice tools, and advice on fly fishing, it is easy to get lost in each story, to imagine oneself sitting next to Chouinard, gazing into a roaring campfire, regaling you with an incredible tale. Envying his life, you’ll want to close the book and step outside. He wouldn’t be offended.
Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport is now available.
About Yvon Chouinard