On This Day May 8th 1978 – Rohan on Everest

Messner, Habeler - Everest camp two

The post below was first published on Rohantime in 2009. It has been republished today to mark the day 38 years ago May 8th 1978 –  First ascent of Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, by Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler one of the greatest mountaineering achievements. 

The outdoor equipment industry has a fantastic choice of fabrics available to equipment designers. Fabrics and coatings that perform faultlessly at the limits of human physical endeavour. Fabrics that look good and feel good. Fabrics made from fibres that are fine, warm and will keep us all dry or cool whatever the weather.

That hasn’t always been the case. Before the more technically based fabrics the protection offered by outdoor clothing was more limited. In some ways there was an expectation that the probability was you would get damp in the UK climate and the question was how much. The aim initially was to try to ensure a greater degree of comfort whilst wet.

The early Rohan years where peppered with brave attempts to innovate Rohan fabrics for particular end-uses. The first attempt at analysing what the customer actually wanted from their garments was underway, rather than visa verse and the users putting up with what was made available to them.
Rohan, during the 1970’s, was involved with the growing and interesting group of climbers that became know as Alpinists. The men and women that climbed big mountains, travelled light and used minimum kit. Demanding much more from their clothing and kit. Preferring to carry all their own kit from home, across the globe to base camp and finally to the mountain tops. The younger members of this group had a big influence on the design disciplines that are still embedded in the some Rohan products today.  It’s not surprising that the phrases such as ‘function dictates form’ and ‘fit for purpose’ became real and unimpeachable in all Rohan thinking around this time. Alpinists where hard task masters. Garment failure was not an option. Rohan learnt the trade in a hard school.

Alpinists needed a garment that would repel snow and ice, windproof, lightweight, absorb perspiration and fit over the top of other layers. Added to this, pockets where vital both secure and accessible. Remember all this was before Gore-tex. Rohans answer was Windlord Fabric. A fabric developed by and only available from Rohan in the late 1970’s.

This picture that was kindly sent to me by Leo Dickinson. Read more about Leo’s now legendary work

The place: Everest 1978 1st Accent of Everest Without Oxygen
The people: Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler.
The day: 1978 Sometime between 1 and 2 in the afternoon on May 8, 1978, Messner and Habeler achieved what was believed to be impossible —  the first ascent of Mt. Everest without oxygen.

Messner described his feeling:

“In my state of spiritual abstraction, I no longer belong to myself and to my eyesight. I am nothing more than a single narrow gasping lung,  floating over the mists and summits.”

The garment: Peter is wearing in the photo is  a Rohan Windlord Jacket.

The Purpose of Rohan Windlord Fabric
1. To provide protection from windchill
2. To provide protection from reasonable amounts of water
3. To be air permeable
4. To be as light as possible
5. To resist adhesion of snow and ice to its surface

The Construction of Windlord Fabric
50% bri Nylon (Nylon66) unaffected by u.v. radiation
50% fine cotton rot and mildew proofed
Woven on a Ventile type loom for a tight construction with nylon on the face and cotton on the reverse. Double Dyed for maximum colour cover. Proofed with a durable water-repellent solution especially developed for nylon cotton cloth.

The Result
Ice sticks to cotton fabrics by forming on the small fibres on the surface of the cloth these fibres are absorbent. As Windlord has a nylon surface the snow and ice has nothing to which it may adhere. The windproof quality of the fabric is formed by its tight construction of the weave. Water penetrates cotton fabrics by ‘wicking’ down those same fibres to which the snow and ice sticks. As Windlord does not have the fibres this results in more water repellency in the short-term. In the longer term the tight weave and the high surface tension caused by the proofing gives greater protection, as the water does penetrate the nylon layer the cotton swells and gets wet to fill the tiny holes between the threads giving greater water repellency.

A highly water-repellent, waterproof and ice proof fabric of light weight and durable nature

Gwaihir Jacket and a matching Salopette Landroval Salopette

There is a treasured Windlord Jacket in the Rohan Originals Collection in Rohan Keswick signed by Peter himself when he visited Rohan Keswick with the jacket.  Read the story


Rohan Heritage

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