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Patagonia, From the Ground Up

While the rest of retail was tanking, Yvon Chouinard's outdoor clothing and gear company was having its best two years ever. Here's why.

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This story appears in the June 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Yvon Chouinard has no problem being first.

At 26, he made the first ascent of Yosemite Valley's Muir Wall, a 2,900-foot rock face in California that took eight days to conquer with unsecured ropes and some hand-forged pitons. Three years later, on a journey by van and boat from California to the tip of South America, he rode breaks in Baja and the Pacific that had never been surfed before. When he took up kayaking, he claimed the first descent of Clarks Fork River in Yellowstone National Park, winding for miles through the 1,000-foot walls of Wyoming's Box Canyon.

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