State of the Artz

The Story of the Resurrection of a Caving Gear Vendor
by Mike Artz

In the summer of 1983 I graduated from college and seven days later was standing at the base of El Capitán in Yosemite. As a young adult, it was the first time I had ever been further west than Kentucky and my eyes were opening to the wonders of the world beyond my little bubble. In many ways, climbing El Capitán was my ascent into adulthood. There were a lot of other climbers learning the same valuable lessons. I noticed that some were making and selling their own gear to fund their meager living expenses and it occurred to me that I could do the same. After all, I had sewn my own duffle bag for the cross country trip to California and, having been to Old Timer’s Reunion (OTR), I thought that perhaps all of those cavers might need something sewn, too! It turns out that everyone needs “something” sewn and the following year I showed up at OTR with an old industrial sewing machine and thus began State of the Artz Mountaineering and my career as a custom gear manufacturer for caving, rock climbing, and other outdoor adventure sports.

Over the years, as I participated in the exploration of the difficult caves of Chestnut Ridge near Butler Cave in western Virginia, I realized that there was a need for gear that could function in the tight, wet, cold, and extremely muddy conditions which are present in many of the caves being explored today. I developed several packs that functioned easier and traveled better. I found materials that were more durable than Ballistics and Cordura nylon and began making custom tailored coveralls. Eventually, I developed the “Shazam” brand of packs and coveralls that revolutionized the comfort and durability of gear used in the frontiers of cave exploration. I collaborated with other harness manufactures and shortly thereafter I began to develop and manufacture the seat and vertical harness systems that most of us recognize and use today. We have come a long way from the rudimentary tied slings and knots we once used.

Eventually I began producing harnesses and products for other companies and became successful enough that I was consistently busy for about 60 hours a month in addition to working a full time job. Something had to give because I didn’t have any free time and I wasn’t ready to make sewing a full time occupation so. . . in 2000 Howie’s Harnesses purchased State of the Artz Mountaineering and continued to make many of the products I had developed and certainly improved on them. For twelve years I had no thoughts of getting back into the sewing business but life is always full of change and with the encouragement of my wife and family I decided to resurrect State of the Artz Mountaineering.  Howie’s Harnesses had previously succumbed to the pressures of a poor economy and the devastating effects of White Nose Syndrome so I made arrangements with Howie and Amanda to gather up all my old equipment and, early in March of this year, State of the Artz Mountaineering was back in business . . . or so I thought! 


One of the many things that I had learned in the intervening years is the advantage of partners who can contribute additional skills.  My wife, Melinda, will be assisting me in the production of our products, and I have partnered with Jeff Uhl, a very dear and longtime caving buddy, who is the CEO and business manager of the newly formed company, Seven Bends. We anticipate expanding into many of the other adventure sports industries and Seven Bends will be the company that allows us to do that. In the short term, caving gear will be our primary focus.  

Packin' it in. Packin' it out,

Mike


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