BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT: APOCALYPSE DESIGN
©2006 Mushing Magazine from issue #107, Nov/Dec 2005Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, 100 miles northwest of Anchorage, lies The Apocalypse. Unlike the doomsday found in the Book of Revelations this jagged 9000-foot peak stands in a land of glacial ice and rock still untamed and unascended deep in the Revelation Mountains. It caught the eye of mountaineer Dick Flaharty during a winter expedition in the late 1970s. Armed with two pictures of this remote and little known mountain range, Flaharty and his climbing partner spent 6 weeks, often in temperatures of -55 degrees F and colder, making first ascents of many of the peaks in the area. They didn’t have the equipment they needed to face the hundreds of feet of frozen ice falls between them and the frozen granite peak looming above, and so when they returned from base camp in late February the Apocalypse was still unclimbed. Following a series of other adventures over the next two years including biking to California, deep sea kayaking, rock climbing and mountaineering, the former Air Force fireman founded a custom outdoor gear and expedition clothing company in 1983 and named it Apocalypse Design after that formidable, untamed peak.Flaharty had been sewing off and on, since his days in California, and it was the logical outlet for him when the money for traveling ran low and it was time to get to work again. Using the same sewing machine he’d been operating since 1979, Flaharty went to work manufacturing quality outdoor gear. Operating from his home in Fairbanks for the first year, Flaharty quickly outgrew the space . In 1984 he added people to the staff and moved to a new location on College Road. When he opened, he produced climbing gear, over boots, haul bags and mittens as well as sample bags for geology fieldwork and dust covers for the first “portable” computers. It was during that first winter that Patty DuVal came to the store with an old sled bag that she wanted replaced. Since that first customer he has produced 60 to 80 custom sled bags a year.At Apocalypse Design, product integrity is extremely important and everything they sell comes with a lifetime warranty against defects in manufacturing.“If you bought it from us 5 or 10 years ago, it still works today.” Climbing gear is no longer manufactured at Apocalypse Design, but there are plenty of other products that have gained international attention. Their Alpine Parkas, complete with real fur ruffs from the Alaska Raw Fur Company, were recently featured in a Disney movie about an Antarctic expedition. Overflow pants, a lightweight waterproof shell designed to pull on over winter gear when traveling through open water and overflow, were made popular by the Mackey family who use them during the spring racing season. Handlebar Toasties for dogsleds, bikes and snowmachines are another popular cold weather item and greatly improve the warmth provided from mittens alone. Apocalypse Designs was one of the first manufacturers of neoprene leg wraps for dogs as well as belly guards and dog coats. New products are added every year and custom jobs of all kinds pass through the doors. Being responsive to the needs of his customers is one of Flaharty’s keys to success. He and his staff are engaged in outdoor sports and keep track of changes and developments in recreational gear and clothing materials. Plus, they are always willing to fix broken zippers, patch torn parkas, and do other repairs.“Anything that fits on a sewing machine we can handle.”Government contracts are another side of business. They provided suits for local FEMA contractors heading to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as well as making body bags for the park service rescue missions on Mount Denali. Their parkas are worn by researchers in Antarctica, Greenland and on the polar ice cap. Distributed overseas in Finland, Sweden and Germany, in dozens of sporting good stores across the nation, online at www.akgear.com and out of a new retail and manufacturing building on Minnie Street in Fairbanks, Apocalypse Design clothing and gear raises the bar on equipment durability, longevity and performance.Monique Musick is a photographer, writer and production manager (2005) for Mushing Magazine. She lives in Ester, Alaska with her husky.