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Dave Hahn Talks Effort, Focus and Five Years of First Ascent
Posted on November 1, 2014

Dave Hahn summiting Everest in 2012... just another trip to the top of the world. photo: Kent Harvey

World-renowned Everest guide Dave Hahn has summited the world’s tallest peak more times than any non-Sherpa. He’s summited Everest 15 times, climbed Denali 21 times, reached the summit of Mt. Vinson 33 times and guided the Shackleton Traverse on South Georgia Island seven times, a trip that won him Outside Magazine’s trip of the year in 2004. He summited Washington’s Mt. Rainer 275 times, then stopped counting. A guide with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. since 1986, he has twice received prestigious awards for rescue work. We sat down with Hahn to get his take on the significance of First Ascent hitting the five year mark and his perspective on the Guide Built process. In his unfiltered way, this is what Hahn had to say.

—LYA Editor

Dave Hahn, in his element, Camp IV on Everest in 2012. photo: Kent Harvey

Guide-Built Perspective

What made you decide to get involved with the First Ascent effort?

I suppose it was Peter Whittaker directly sitting me down and saying: “Hey, this is what I’ve got going and I need you to do it.” And I did roll my eyes initially, I’m sure, and it took Peter convincing me that we really were going to do this and that he was connected with the CEO of Bauer at the time. He got my attention when he explained what this could be and how this could be different from the many projects that he and I had both worked on over the years. And Peter was right, and I’m pretty psyched in the end that I listened to him and that he spoke to me and involved me in the process.

How’s the Guide-Built process evolved in the five years and where do you see it going?

In the five years of First Ascent the Guide Built process has evolved. To begin with, part of why we felt we needed First Ascent was to bring that influence of mountain guides into designing, building gear. We didn’t feel that viewpoint was being taken into account in existing gear. At the initial stages, we were involved intimately in every phase of building the gear – designing it. Once the gear exists, it’s sometimes just a matter of tweaking incrementally and it’s not so necessary that we’re in on every phase of it.

We’ve now stepped back to conceptually guide the next pieces of gear and what we still need in our lineup. I don’t know that that they depend on us anymore to figure out which way a zipper should go. And that’s good. Some of the things that we insisted on five years ago haven’t changed and I’m happy to see and to know that those things have been built into not just First Ascent gear, but also Eddie Bauer gear.

Hahn in the early FA days on Aconcagua. Photo: Jake Norton

How is the Guide-Built process different from some of the other brands that you’ve worked with over the years?

I’ve been testing and demoing gear for decades now with other companies. But in those situations, the gear was already built and designed. When it’s handed to you, it’s usually a done deal. You may have suggestions for how to make it better but, practically speaking, the development process is already finished and they aren’t really looking for your feedback. They were looking for you to buy off on it and sell it by using it.

The Guide Built process with Eddie Bauer, right from the start, was a process where if we didn’t sign off on the gear, it couldn’t go to the showroom floor. It couldn’t be sold in the store. We had veto power on it and that also meant that the process of refining this gear was continual. It wasn’t just finished and that was the way it was for the next five years. We were changing it every year and every season, as necessary to get it where we wanted it.

Looking back over the past five years, what’s a piece or a product that you’ve been most proud of?

In five years of this line of gear and equipment, there are some pieces that stand out but there were so many, it’s tough to pick one piece. I know I have been proud of our Hangfire Hoodies, which I see on many of the people that do my line of work, mountain guiding, ski patrolling. I see guys wearing that same gear every day, to the point where they just forget about it. And I think back to when we were trying to get the hood on that right, or when we were trying to get the name on that piece of gear right. It does fill me with a little pride, to know that on something like that, we hit just right. It’s evolved now to the Hangfire Pro and that’s great.

I think we also hit it out of the park on our down gear, which had been an Eddie Bauer specialty forever, dating way back when Eddie Bauer was initially an expedition outfitter. I think it was pretty satisfying to see that we built down pieces, again, that were exactly what I needed in the mountains.

Master Hahn running the horseshoe game at Everest base camp in 2012. photo: Jake Norton

What do you think that First Ascent has brought to the Eddie Bauer brand?

I think First Ascent has brought plenty of things to the Eddie Bauer brand. I think it’s brought some excitement and some credibility back to the brand. It’s brought excitement for going forward, the outdoors, and the concept of adventure being applied to gear and clothing. I think Eddie Bauer had a great claim to credibility as an expedition outfitter, to reestablish that claim we had to live in the gear again. We had to make it what we needed exclusively, to be out there in the expedition realm and the big mountain ranges of the world. And we’ve done that. I use nothing but Eddie Bauer gear when I’m out there, and it’s more than adequate for the task. I’ve been pretty satisfied with that and I feel like that does come back to the credibility of the brand, that people in Eddie Bauer can know that this gear is what we use in Antarctica. This is what we use in Alaska. This is what we use in the Himalaya.

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. For the next three weeks we’ll be profiling the First Ascent effort on Instagram, on the Live Your Adventure blog, at and with our YouTube playlist. Check back daily for guide-built, expedition tested and award winning product stories behind the making of First Ascent.

Author: - Saturday, November 1st, 2014

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