Sierra Designs--another of the California group of Pioneers

with footnote about Powderhorn Mountaineering

(page 4 of 6)


(picture of Tetons on front/back cover of first Sierra Designs catalog)

GEORGE MARKS writes, "This was our first catalog, 1966/67, some months after we opened our doors in October of 1965. During the previous months we had managed to create a huge amount of product, from garments to sleeping bags to tents. A monumental undertaking that still leaves me wondering how we did it all in such a short time. Something like six months. We had little time for other activities, although we did manage to make a trip Wyoming where we called on one of our early dealers, John Horn of Powder Horn Mountaineering. The cover photos is [as we ]drop down out of the Grand Tetons. On the trip our Japanese Toyota rover broke down as we were crossing the deserts of Nevada. Bob managed to buy an old station wagon kind of car that burned almost as much oil as gas. Crossing the Great Salt Lake salt flats, we left a huge trail of smoke behind us as we continued on with the journey. On our way back we sold the car back to the mechanic who had managed to fix the broken down Toyota rover, a car that David Buschman had loaned to us for the trip. This catalog was only 2,000 copies. Some years later I managed to get this one for my collection from Reba {McWhorter] who had written her name on it." Written February 29, 2004.



George Marks at work in Berkeley in 1971. He is about 40 years old at this time. The object he's leaning on is a cloth cutting machine made by "Wolf," model name "Pacer." How had George gotten to this point? He'd grown up on a California dairy farm, joined the Air Force in 1950, and wrote the purpose of joining was "to avoid the draft" to the Korean War. In 1953 he discovered his love for hiking and backpacking through a group of friends and joined the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Division. In college at San Francisco State he majored in French and German. In 1957 he graduated and spent three years in France and Germany teaching English. In 1960 he climbed Mt. Blanc and went back to California, finding a job working at The Ski Hut, at that time run by famous climber Allen Steck. But then there was a big diversion, 13 months in the Antarctic as a logistics officer for the US Antarctic Research Programs. When he got back to California, he went straight to working in the manufacturing end of industry, working at Ski Hut's offshoot, Trailwise, where he met Bob Swanson. The pair started Sierra Designs in1965, based in Point Richmond, California.

Sadly, as of 2023, both George and his co-founder Bob are deceased. Bob passed in October 2016. Most recently, it was George passing away in August 6, 2023. He was still living in China at the time. He was cremated in China. His ashes will probably return to the U.S. and I'll bet Point Richmond, Calif. will be part of the final disposition (but so far I haven't been able to locate an official obituary for accurate details).


George writes, ".... Reba McWhorter. She was our first employee (1966) and she worked for Sierra Designs for at least 25 years or more. I think she retired while Sally Mc Coy was in charge. She was a great technician and could make just about anything we could come up with. Her time with us was greatly appreciated." Written February 28, 2004. Such appreciation of a certain long-time, key employee is found among some of the other pioneer gear companies, eg. Warmlite (click link for discussion).... And it's definitely important, in this same vein, to give credit to artist AL MARTY, about whom George writes, "He designed the [first] Sierra Designs logo in 1965." (see label closeup on page six)

"I Dream of Going Double"

Perhaps "a mummy made for two" does not qualify as a major innovation in the History of Gear, but the fact remains that I dreamed of buying the SD "Double Mummy" for many years. Sierra Designs offered their double mummy right from the start, here seen in their 1966-67 catalog. The price was $118.50, quite a lot of money in those days but the quality was superb and there was an authentic lifetime guarantee..Specs: color = blue. 3 1/4 pounds of white goose down, total weight = 5 lbs. 10 oz. The divider in the middle snapped open or closed (this was before velcro!)......Sadly, my dream of owning one is impossible now, no company seems to make such a thing anymore-- nowadays one must buy two normal bags, one with a zipper on the left and the other one with a zipper on the right, then, to make them into a double bag, one must go to all the bother of zipping them together in the cold and dark at the end of a long day of hiking...... Why don't modern companies make a true double bag? Perhaps the United States' modern obsession with divorce is to blame?

Back to Sierra Designs page one


Sierra Designs, Bodie times, page 5


Page Last Revised 01/08/2024

Powderhorn Mountaineering's 1970 catalog cover and label, compliments one of my readers: