Dan McHale was born in the San Fernando Valley of California. One of his favorite things to do before discovering the real outdoors was bicycling to Malibu Pier to fish for Bonita. Dan started backpacking at the age of 13 and loved going off to the Los Padres National Forest and Sespe Wildlife refuge alone. His favorite area was the Piru Creek Gorge and the first Mtn to focus on climbing was Mt. Coblestone. Once Dan discovered the Sierra nothing was the same. At age 17 in 1969 he soloed the Muir Trail in 11 days without support or caches with a 40 lb load. He started climbing at age 15 with the RCS section of the Sierra club at Stoney Point and was very lucky to get to meet many of the famous climbers of the day; Bill Dolt, Tom Higgins, Bob Kamps......Stoney Point was climbings Central Station in the West. His first climb in the High Sierra was with Galen Rowell and Fred Beckey in the spring of 1969! The climb: The East Face of Mt Powell. After getting his arm ripped out of a crack and nearly broken by a falling rock he managed to jumar and lead the final easy summit pitch ( see the High Sierra - Mountaineers press ). Galen actually screamed on the climb, and Beckey almost broke his leg while glissading down the exit snow gully - catching it behind a rock. To top it off, Becky and Rowell left Dan behind while he was wringing out his socks, he got lost as the evening turned to dark without a headlamp and had to find his way along the shore of Lake Sabrina in the dark off trail! The scariest part Dan says was the ride back to Yosemite in Galen's Corvette!

After discovering the Needles, in the southern Sierra in 1969, while backpacking along the Kern River with his family. Dan took friends Joe Brown and Dan Wurt and pioneered the area. He introduced the area to Fred Beckey and the rest is history. Dan, along with Fred and Mike Heath named the great towers Magician, Warlock, Voodoo Dome, etc (see Mike Heath and Beckey in Climbs & Expeditions - 1971 American Alpine Journal). Dan was on the first ascents of Magician, Warlock, and Voodoo Dome (Pea Soup and Lightening Bolt on Voodoo), and the nearby Hermit - Please see American Alpine Journals (1971). Below: Dan on what was probably the first ascent up the spine of the Magician in 1969 with Joe Brown - naming it Sidewalk Magic. Joe Brown photo

Dan's long record of climbs includes three ascents of Yosemite's giant El Capitan. The first of those ascents was the Dihedral Wall with another teenager Jerry Yasavage. Both were 19 years old and it was the Spring of 1972 (see our links page - Yesavage). During the Fall of the same year Dan climbed the Triple Direct with another partner. During a ten day clear weather break in June of 1977 Dan soloed the Leaning Tower in one day and then climbed El Cap's Dihedral wall again in 5.5 days solo. Dan trained hard to be able to do these things. Dan may have been one of the first to explore artificial climbing wall technology with walls of his own in the late 60s. His specialty was mantling and his mantle board could be tilted to any angle, including overhanging, and he had interchangeable handholds. Even as a teenager Dan modified his own climbing hardware and even made aluminum bolt hangers for Fred Beckey. He also enjoyed running and could run a 5 minute mile without competition or 2:09 half mile (all-comers track meet half-mile Boise 1975), and do 1,000 chinups in 11 hours during El Cap solo training. One-arm chin-ups were a specialty too - something he picked up from Galen Rowell. Even while still in High School, in high school weight training, Dan could do chin-ups with 100 lbs hanging around his neck. The big wall solo climbing came at the end of a frustrated cross-country skiing career ( although he attempted the Dihedral solo in 1975 ) that ended with the drought years of 1976/77. 1977 was also the year he started doing business under the label Alpine Style after the climbing season was over. Below: After soloing El Cap in 1977

When Dan first arrived in Seattle in 1979 he had left Alpine Style behind and worked with Mike Schonhoffen Packs for a brief period before returing to Idaho to start over with his own company. After again returning to Seattle, Dan worked as a production consultant for Jim Whittaker's and Jim O'Malley's BECAUSE IT'S THERE company in the midst of starting up his own company again. After Because It's There, Dan's company produced all of the equipment for Outdoor Research during their first 3 years and worked as a consultant for them. That's many thousands of first aid kits, gaitors, insulated bottle holders,........Much of what Dan taught OR made them them a successful company. Dan's company name changed to McHale & Co. in 1983 when Dan realized many of the successful pack companies used the name of their founder on the label. In 1985 Dan swore off contracting and McHale Packs became a custom pack company with Pam Brown in 1985. To this day Dan and Pam still work together!

Below: Dan (on left ) and Joe Brown just before climbing Church Tower in 1969 with Fred Beckey in Sedona, Arizona. Fred Beckey Photo.



Dan says his willingness to deal directly with the public instead of wholesaling comes from his years in the retail backpack business. He says everything changes when you build packs directly for serious individuals rather than for wholesale buyers that deal mostly with novices. McHale's first experience in retailing was managing Mountain Life in Campbell, California, while making a stab at starting a climbing school and manufacturing aluminum chock stones called Apple Chocks. Before that, he was a backpack trip guide and climbing instructor for the well-known pack company Wilderness Experience. That was before they even started manufacturing packs themselves in 1972.

In 1973 McHale took over the bankrupt Mountain Store in Reseda California, and put it in the black in a year with only a $3,000.00 investment that was matched by one of the owners. The store was $40,000 in debt with no inventory! Connections from the Mtn Store and credit from The North Face and Lowa Boots were much appreciated. The takeover was completely unplanned but a minor accident while riding a bicycle from San Jose to LA, after quiting the job at Mtn Life, led to it. The real plan was to ski-race and train! The retail business was relatively easy in those days because backpacking and climbing were relatively new, but it still took good work skills. After a year, and after building the inventory and getting the store completely out of debt , Dan did something crazy; he took his $3,000 plus only $7,000 more and gave the store to a friend and went to Idaho! Dan blames reading too many books at the time like The Wisdom of Insecurity for his blunder. Rumor has it the store went right back into serious debt......The store is now an A-16 store. During his time there Dan experimented with cross country ski training with plastic bottom skis on the beach at Santa Monica. After this he won his first 2 citizen races - one at Mammoth Mountain and one in Yosemite. A dislike of smog and a love for cross-country ski racing took him to Boise, Idaho, where he and and another friend opened another shop called The Old Boise Bootworks. Dan split with his store partner in 1975 to pursue ski racing and continue his interest in manufacturing and developing packs. The rest is... well backpacks, backpacks, and more backpacks! On the training front; Dan took 4th place in novice category in the Bogus Basin Hill Climb (1:07) in Boise and stood up the entire distance - 3500' gain in 15 miles! The real bike pros were only about 7 minutes faster. Even today 1:07 is a good time. Dan's idea for the bicycle race was to apply his running skills by practing stand-up peddling for a minimum amount of time in training to maximize the strength he already had as a runner. Dan regularly roller skied the hill as well.

Below: Dan at The Old Boise Bootwoorks in the mid 70s


Dan says it's the years of experience with external-frames coupled with the complete inadequacy of the so called "soft packs" of the 70's that got him involved in building packs. For 2001 he says, the world is going to get to experience the same thing all over again with frameless beltless packs! Part of Dan's business in the mid 70's included putting frames and belts on many of those frameless packs!

During 1993, pack testing took Dan to the summit of Mt. Rainier by four different routes including a snowboard descent from the summit on the 4th of July with John Goddu. He also climbed Mt. Baker four times studying the seasonal changes of the Coleman glacier. A four-day SARC attack in the North Cascades, across the Eldorado Ice Cap from Primus Peak to the Cascade River, was the highlight though. You can send for the unedited movie!

The highlight for 1994 was another snowboard descent of Mt. Rainier on Memorial day. Dan and Dave Gottlieb had the entire Emmons side of the mountain to themselves after a 13 hour struggle through deep powder to the summit. The invention highlight of the year was development of the Critical Mass sacrum pad system. This is actually a combination system that bridges the best of prior SARC and Alpineer technology.

The 1995 design season started with another snowboard descent of Mt. Rainier. Dan McHale and Dave Gottlieb along with five other skiers had quite a party. Dan managed to break a snowboard on this one and could not remember catching an edge at the top of the Corridor!

Five years and many packs later brings us to 2000. Because of a shoulder injury Dan took up a more serious running/jogging schedule and concluded the year with a number of 5k and 10k races, 5 half-marathon races, and 2 marathons! These were his first marathons aside from cross country skiing in past years. The first and fastest was the Capital City Marathon at 3:45:46. The Fall Seattle Marathon was 3:55:56.

2001: We made it - the New Millennium! We are still here building packs! As of 9/7/01 Dan's longest backpack trip of the year was a 63 mile loop - plus side trips - in the Pasayten Wilderness starting at Hart Pass and going north. What kind of pack did he use? He carried a light S-CM II with 10 days of food and camera gear. Dan says he needs to carry big packs and continually test them for the people buying them. He says the light packs aren't nearly the development challenge but nevertheless are very interesting! During the fall Dan and a friend spent vacation time in the Sierra doing yet another high country off trail traverse to Mt Whitney from Cottonwood and many other classics. Of Dan's favorite trials is bicycling the steep passes of the eastern Sierra. There is nothing like the road to Cottonwood Trailhead! Vacation ended with a bike trip around Lake Tahoe. Summer/Fall ended with his 2nd running of the Seattle Marathon.

2002: The new website and getting new packs online has kept everyone BUSY. Dan got a copy of Dreamweaver. Look out! The tricky business of marathon training still has it's grip. Dan went to Vancouver BC the weekend of May 5 to run the 1/2 marathon and ran the full marathon in 3:49:31 with only 175 miles of training since the Fall Seattle Marathon. The work year ended with another great trip to the Sierra. Climbing Olancha Peak in a day was one of the first things on the list and then there was fun stuff like doing the cable route on Half Dome without the cables but using the cable anchor posts for pro. By mid October Dan and a friend had Cathedral Peak all to themselves just before the big storms hit. Below: Work never stops! Dan modifying a cuben Fiber McHale Pack while on vacation in Bishop, CA.

2003: Dan says he can't remember most of 2003 so this will get filled in as he does but it did include the must do vacation to the Sierra. He tested a CubenFiber P & G S-Sarc going into places like the Palisades and even dragged it up Medlicott Dome in Yosemite to see how it would hold up!