From Skipton to Everest From Skipton to Everest

Rohan on Everest
by Leo Dickinson

May 8th 1978 –  The 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 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 were 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 vice versa and the users putting up with what was made available to them.

Rohan, during the 1970s, was involved with the growing and interesting group of climbers that became known as Alpinists. The men and women that climbed big mountains, travelled light and used minimal kit – and demanded more from that kit.

They preferred 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 some of Rohan’s 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.

Rohan’s answer was Windlord Fabric. A fabric developed by and only available from Rohan in the late 1970s.

This picture was kindly sent in by British filmmaker, director and adventurer, Leo Dickinson.

The place: Everest 1978 - 1st Accent of Everest Without Oxygen

The people: Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler

The day: 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 wears 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 (Nylon 66) unaffected by UV 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 have nothing to adhere to. 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.

Be sure to visit Rohan Keswick where you’ll find a treasured Windlord Jacket in the Originals Collection, signed by Peter Habeler himself.