Chris Townsend on the Pacific Crest Trail
On my spring walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1978 I discovered how good Rohan’s stretch Super Strider breeches and polycotton Pampas jacket were and how much I enjoyed long distance walking. Wanting to experience bigger, remoter and wilder places I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs for 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada through the deserts and mountain ranges of southern California and then the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains. With an altitude range from 140 feet to 14,505 feet and terrain from the hot Mohave Desert to the wet arctic-alpine Cascades clothing would need to be versatile. Sometimes I’d be walking in shorts and t-shirt, sometimes in full waterproofs. As I’d be carrying most of my clothing some of the time and my load would be heavy as I’d often be carrying food for a week or more (I carried 23 days supplies at one point plus snowshoes, ice and crampons) clothing would need to be lightweight too.
Reluctantly I decided that the Super Striders and Pampas were too heavy, as they would probably spend much of the time in my pack. However just before I set out on the trail in 1982 Rohan introduced a range of single thickness lightweight polycotton clothing. It looked ideal and I chose Shorts, Knickers (a name that was fine in the US as that’s what Americans called breeches), Rohan Bags and a minimalist version of the Pampas called the Action Jacket. Rohan had also started using a wicking fabric called Dunova and I took a mesh t-shirt called the Cool T and a long sleeved shirt called the Long T made from this. Other walkers looked at my apparently flimsy clothing and sneered – “it’ll never last”, “you’ll freeze to death”, “you need good old tweed and cotton for a walk like that”. They were wrong. The clothing was superb and lasted the whole trip, the only serious damage being to the Cool T, which came apart at one shoulder where the pack rubbed on the mesh. (A photo of me wearing this torn t-shirt appeared in my first book The Great Backpacking Adventure, leading one reviewer to hope the book made enough money for me to replace it!). The polycotton clothing kept off wind, sun and mosquitoes, breathed well and dried fast. There was only one problem with it and that was my fault. I had chosen navy blue garments on the basis that the dark colour wouldn’t show the dirt. This was a disaster for photographs, the clothing appearing as black smudges. Thankfully the Dunova shirts were pale coloured. The Action Jacket over the two shirts was warm enough while I was walking but not adequate for camp wear so I also carried a pile jacket as Rohan had not yet got round to making any insulated garments.
That would have to wait for my next long walk. Rohan didn’t make any waterproof garments either but Paul and Sarah were experimenting with a soft lightweight Gore-Tex fabric and kindly offered to make me up a jacket and salopettes in this fabric, on the understanding that they couldn’t guarantee how long it would last. In fact the jacket just lasted the six month trip. The salopettes finished in good condition as I wore them rarely, finding polycotton on my legs okay in the rain. In fact the main use for the salopettes was as laundrette wear while everything else was being washed!
The Pacific Crest Trail was an amazing adventure, a fantastic wilderness experience and I returned home feeling refreshed and renewed and determined to do more long walks. First though I needed some work. It came to me. I’d barely recovered from jetlag when the phone rang. “You’ll be needing some work”, said Paul Howcroft. I agreed. He then said, to my huge astonishment, that outdoor retailers were reluctant to take the polycotton clothing because it was so light and flimsy looking so he and Sarah were going to take it round the country and sell it direct. Would I like to come along and tell people how it performed? I would. And did, in a series of roadshows that stretched from Bristol to Aviemore. These proved Paul and Sarah correct in thinking that the garments would sell if the public could actually see them and paved the way for the next episode in the Rohan story – mail order and the first shop.
List of the Rohan clothing I used on the Pacific Crest Trail:
Cool T 5oz
Long T 6oz
Action Jacket 12oz
Gore-tex jacket 21oz
Gore-tex salopettes 16oz
Chris’s latest book – Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams, tells the story of his 1200-mile walk along the Pacific Northwest Trail over 75 days in 2010, from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean through the states of Montana, Idaho and Washington. With three national parks – Glacier, North Cascades and Olympic – along the way. Available from Amazon and Waterstones