The Freewheeling Early Days of the North Face

Doug Tompkins paced the San Francisco sidewalk, hawking downhill skis to beatniks and groggy sailors. Fast on his feet and quick with a retort, the twenty-two-year-old thrived on the weave and bob of the street salesman. The charismatic high school dropout badgered customers to peruse his eclectic collection of custom-forged climbing pitons and fishermen’s sweaters from Scotland that he promised were resistant to any winds. Like a fencing champion, he parried back and forth with the pedestrians outside his store, trying to sell, sell, sell. “Need a sleeping bag? Wool pants? An ice ax?” he crowed to onlookers ambling past his quaint storefront in North Beach. It was 1965. The store had been open barely a year and cash was tight at the tiny startup. Doug’s entire $5,000 budget was gone—spent on a storewide overhaul and a meager pile of equipment. Salaries were reduced by convincing climbing buddies to help with the street hustle. Compensation included a front-row seat at the hottest street scene in all of San Francisco, plus free beer. Read more at GQ.