Never stopping: The North Face on trail

TrailRunMag 29.11.2016

In 2007, famed ultramarathoner, Dean Karnazes, hit Australian shores to complete yet another massive run – The North Face Summit to Sydney, a 560km brute of a run. It was a feat that introduced Australia runners to The North Face not as a climbing brand, or general adventure brand (of course, it was already both in spades), but as an adventure running brand. We take a look back at how The North Face took to the trail…

Time-travel back to 1966, and a driven young climber tired of scavenging for quality gear from mail order and army surplus, took a few thousand dollars and created a global cultural institution.

The North Face retail store at 308 Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s bohemian North Beach neighborhood was a tiny space between blue-collar bars and Beat hangouts, but the grand opening signaled a grand future. On October 26, 1966 Doug Tompkins’ vision came to life in electric fashion as the Grateful Dead played live, and the Hells Angels worked the door.

store-opening-1966-credit-suki-hillFrom the start, The North Face store served as a cultural meeting ground for the day’s best climbers and adventurers. With an in-house museum of historic hardware donated by Yosemite’s legendary climbers and a who’s who of American alpinism dropping by any day of the week, the store took on a life of its own.

In 1977, The North Face introduced the tagline “Expedition Proven,” referencing 10-plus years of the world’s top explorers pushing The North Face gear to higher and higher performance.

From Ned Gillete’s 1972 expedition of the Brooks Range Ski Traverse, to Kit DesLaruiers’ 2006 Seven Summits Ski Descent, to Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk’s becoming the first to scale the Shark’s Fin of Meru in 2008, The North Face athletes have been pushing the boundaries of human endurance tirelessly for years.

In the late 1990’s, The North Face Vice President of Marketing Jack Boyd introduced the tag line: “Never Stop Exploring,” which remains the company mantra today.

Taking a cue from this fresh tag line, The North Face said goodbye to the decade with the major launch of a new category: footwear. Within a few seasons, The North Face would do for trail runners and ultra-marathoners what they’ve already done for climbers and skiers.

Just a few short years after entering the space with an initial product offering, the UItra GTX XCR running shoe was named “Outside Magazine’s” 2004 “Gear of the Year” winner for trail running. As well, “Trail Runner Magazine (US)” named it the winner of their Editor’s Choice award, securing two of the industry’s most prestigious accolades.

Ground-breaking product launches gathered additional momentum in 2006 as The North Face introduced Flight Series, an ultralight and ultra-functional line of running apparel that does for trail rats and marathon fiends what the Oval InTENTion and Rucksack did for alpinists a generation earlier.

The North Face’s burgeoning running program gained even greater visibility in 2006 when Dean Karnazes ran an incredible 50 marathons in 50 states over 50 days. Karnazes began on Sept. 17 with the Lewis and Clark Marathon in Missouri and finished on Nov. 5 with the New York City Marathon. Karnazes then promptly turned around and ran the 3,000 miles back home to San Francisco.

Following this up, to celebrate The North Face opening its first store in Australia, Karnazes came to Australia with a major undertaking: to run from Mt Kosciusko to Sydney.

He would run from the foot of Mt Kosciusko to the summit, back through Charlotte Pass, and then on to Sydney to celebrate the opening of The North Face Pitt Street store.

dean-karnazes-summit-to-sydney-credit-mark-watson-3A total of 560km, on a variety of terrain, Dean Karnazes achieved his goal of completing the “The North Face Summit to Sydney”. Having previously lived in Australia, Karnazes felt close ties with the people and the country and the varied landscapes he covered on his path.dean-karnazes-summit-to-sydney-credit-mark-watson-2

Now, with multiple flagship stores across the nations, and a growing local athlete team comprised of elite climbers, ultrarunners, skiers, snowboarders and explorers, The North Face continues to thrive in Australia and New Zealand. Through initiatives and events like The North Face Adventure Grant, The North Face Frontier, and supporting other grassroots community events, the brand continues to help fuel exploration for the residents of Australia and New Zealand.

Widely known for the former ultramarathon, The North Face 100, The North Face helped establish one of the most renowned ultramarathons in Australia and New Zealand. The race grew to bring thousands of ultrarunners to the Blue Mountains for this iconic race. It saw The North Face ultrarunner Andrew Lee take first place in 2009, backing it up the next year with a tie for first with Stu Gibson. Another close race came in 2014, when Stu Gibson and Andrew Tuckey sprinted to the finish line, neck to neck. But it was in 2015 when The North Face ultrarunner Dylan Bowman knocked serious time off of the record, finishing the 100km course in 8:50:13.

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

© Lyndon Marceau / marceauphotography

Having stepped away from sponsoring the race, as it moves under the Ultra Trail Australia title, The North Face has switched its focus to more grassroots events through Australia and New Zealand. They’ve started with sponsorship of the South East Queensland Trail Running Series, and will continue to look to support grassroots initiatives in other regions.

Exploring further and further down the trail, The North Face runners Mike Wolfe and Mike Foote took off from their front doors in Missoula, MT in 2015—and ran 600 miles to Banff, Canada along the Crown Traverse. Crossing only three major roads, the two illustrated that you don’t have to board a flight to Nepal to have amazing adventures – they can often lie just outside your own back door.A007_C002_1005A1

The future is limitless as people once again turn up the trail, grab that first handhold or click into their bindings.

“Starting about 10 years ago, everyone was really getting concerned that cell phones and technology were going to swallow up the time people would otherwise have outdoors. But what we’ve found is that exploration becomes a counterpoint to all of that. That the experience of being outside is so powerful and so large that it can’t be ignored,” says The North Face President, Todd Spaletto.

That sentiment has guided The North Face well since 1966 and will for the next 50 years and further fuels its motto: Never stop exploring.

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