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[pct-l] Re: MSR
- Subject: [pct-l] Re: MSR
- From: email@example.com (Buzz Burrell)
- Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2001 13:34:38 -0700
The lengthy MSR discussion got this old fart thinking back ... MSR was
started by a guy named (if I remember) Larry Penberthy. A friend almost
died when the ice axe they were using broke in half. So he went in to
his local store - REI - picked up a bunch of axes, took them back to a
laboratory, and tested the shafts to failure with a tensiometer.
Incredibly, no one had ever thought of that before. But Larry did; he
was an engineer. I think he was in Aerospace with Boeing. He discovered
that those fine French ice axes with the beautiful fillet welds, smooth
ash handles, glistening polished steel, and exotic names, were pieces of
shit. They broke at ridiculously low pressure, sometimes under simple
Then he noticed that the angle of all the picks was drastically
incorrect, causing them to skitter off the slope rather than dig in when
attempting a self-arrest. They were shaped like that because they had
always been shaped like that; no one had ever thought why.
This was over 30 years ago. Larry self-published all this data, with
lots of nice graphs and charts and facts and verification and all that
annoying stuff, got attacked by the industry and applauded by
mountaineers themselves, decided to make his own ice axe, and started a
company called Mountain Safety Research.
He later invented a stove and a few other things. (I've had my MSR stove
for 25 years, cooked on it daily for 6 months in Nepal and Tibet, and it
still works the same). Larry was the classic nerd who just liked to go
camping. His practical, tech-head approach was a model that many of us
are still following. You can still see his original ice axes around -
they are the incredibly ugly orange things. An MSR ice axe is sort of
retro-cool; it is the first one to actually work like they were always
suppossed to, while not a shred of attention was paid to making it look
good. Unlike gear nowadays.
Awhile after he got this whole thing going, I heard Larry sold MSR to REI
- his old nemesis. I thought REI was always a good company, but
apparantly the technical engineering innovation that was it's whole
premise, it's lifeblood, has fallen by the wayside.
I'm sorry to hear that. Although relatively unknown, Larry
singlehandedly did a lot to change the way outdoor gear is thought of. I
hope he made some money somewhere along the way, and is off peacefully