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Melissa Arnot Looks Back on Five Years of First Ascent
Posted on October 28, 2014

Melissa on Everest in 2012, photo: Kent Harvey

High-altitude climber, extreme fitness disciple, and peacemaker Melissa Arnot holds the women’s world record with five summits of Mt. Everest. A guide since 2004, she recently co-founded the Juniper Fund to support Sherpa families faced with mountaineering tragedy. We sat down with her to get her take on the significance of First Ascent hitting the five year mark and her perspective on the Guide Built process.

Five years ago we had a mission: draw on our brand’s heritage of technical innovation and alpine exploration to launch Eddie Bauer First Ascent and set a new standard for gear in the alpine realm. Five years after First Ascent launched, our record speaks volumes: 13 industry best-in-class awards, 53 pioneering testing expeditions, and a series of innovative technical gear that has enabled personal adventures, big and small, around the globe.

We asked the guides and athletes who help drove this effort to answer five questions about these five years of First Ascent. This is our first Q and A in a series of nine. Stay tuned all month long on for the behind-the-scenes of the Guide Built process, moments from the past five years, and the most epic First Ascent adventures. —LYA Editor

Arnot Guide Built

You were one of the original six guides to build, test and design the first First Ascent products. What are some of the things that have changed from then to now and what things are still the same?

Over the last five years of First Ascent, there has been a lot of change and growth. We’ve increased our team, so we have more expertise to build even more technical products that suit a larger end audience. One thing that has stayed the same is we’ve kept true to the Guide Built process, so all of the guides work together to design and build the gear, not just for what we need for our own technical use, but gear that works for our clients as well.

How has the Guide Built process evolved in the five years and where do you see it going from here?

Over the last five years of the Guide Built process we’ve made a lot of mis-steps. We’ve produced hundreds of tents that we ended up not even sending to market because they weren’t quite ready. But we’ve also learned a lot — our process has gotten very refined and our products are getting better and better. I remember the first year of First Ascent when I had my entire kit on Everest in 2009 and I couldn’t believe how good everything came out. Just a couple weeks before this current Everest expedition, I found one of those old jackets. I have the current version now and I’ve seen how far we’ve come — so it’s just great to know that it’s a continuously evolving process. We didn’t just reach a product that was acceptable and stop there. We’re always looking for better technology, more functional traits for the products and it keeps getting better and better.

What’s been the piece or product that you’ve been the most proud of over the past five years and why does it stand out to you?

The product in Eddie Bauer First Ascent that I’ve been the most proud of over the last five years is definitely the Alchemist Pack. It totally revolutionized the way I think about carrying a backpack. It’s an expandable pack that goes from 40 liters up to 55 liters. I might have two or three backpacks because I work professionally in the mountains. I have access to all of that equipment but for my clients, they probably are only going to own one backpack and so it’s very, very helpful if they can have a single pack that expands from daypack size all the way up to an expedition size. It carries a great load. We started out with an iteration that was really good and the current version and the lightweight version called the Sorcerer are just better and better. I know no matter what happens in my life, I can’t imagine having a better pack. That is a true story.

What are some of the upcoming products you’re most excited about?

Well, some of the upcoming products that I’m most excited about are evolutions of our technology that have worked really well. The Igniter Jacket is our Primaloft insulated jacket and it’s been a staple in my kit for years, since the very first First Ascent products came out. Next year we have the Ignite Lite, which is a lighter weight version of the Ignitor Jacket. I’ve been wearing it, testing it, refining it and it’s with me right now. It’s been traveling with me for the last two weeks in the Khumbu.

Reflecting back, what surprised you most about the growth and acceptance of First Ascent?

Over the last five years, I’ve been most surprised at how far reaching and well-received the Eddie Bauer First Ascent product has been. When we started out, I was one of six guides and when you take six people and task them with building an entire line of technical outerwear, everything from socks to down suits for an entire industry, you’re going to probably make some mis-steps. We only had six opinions but it turned out we had six really strong opinions.

We’ve expanded that and grown each and every year and gotten more feedback and figured out what works well and what doesn’t. I think I’m most impressed that we have kept refining the product — we didn’t just stop with good — and we continue to have conversations about how can we make it better and not what we need to do that’s new to sell something. The MicroTherm Jacket, it’s really stayed the same. The DownLight Jacket stayed the same. We came out with something that was really good and we didn’t need to do anything to change it.

Arnot bio

Author: - Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

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