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This is NOT political. This is geological.

It's also about corporate responsibility, our freedom, and doing the right thing. When you abuse freedom, you will lose freedom. In May 2006, Dean Potter pounded a huge piton into the rock of freedom. It will leave a ghastly scar.

UPDATE MAY 18, 2015: POTTER DIES DURING WINGSUIT JUMP IN YOSEMITE. Dean Potter and Graham Hunt were killed on impact during an illegal jump at Yosemite National Park.

UPDATE JUNE 16, 2006: POTTER AND PATAGONIA ADMIT POOR JUDGEMENT. This is good news. Yes, the damage has been done, Potter's actions resulted in permanent change. Yes, the Park Service appears to have started a knee-jerk overreaction to overprotect meaningless stuff in addition to Delicate Arch. The fact is that Patagonia, Inc. and Dean Potter appear to have genuinely repented. Patagonia has more or less admitted that they originally handled this controversy like a bunch of weenies.

Because of this, the Slackpacker.com community is no longer calling for a boycott of Patagonia products. And assuming he is sincere, we accept Potter's apology.

And that's the end of that. Or is it? I don't think so. In fact, some lasting good can come out of this...good lessons learned, etc. Here's how...

First, Potter climbed Delicate Arch with few aids, and apparently no drilling. Although he did toprope the arch, and likely did damage to some degree, he certainly had less impact than another climber would. Delicate Arch has been climbed before -- albeit in secrecy -- with some serious visible damage. Potter's climb seems to have focused on the need for stricter laws, and the need for diligence on the part of the Park Service and (more importantly) the public.

And although outdoorsmen like us have always disparaged rules and regulations, we proved that we don't always know where to draw our own limits. Potter originally thought his actions were fine -- then learned he needed to redefine his own rules after the climbing community overwhelmingly cried foul.

So it has been said out loud for the first time in the climbing world: Some things should not be climbed. Some things must not be climbed. There aren't many, but they're out there. And climbers know it. The difference is that now they know they'll be held accountable -- by their own. So yes, some good has certainly come out of this.


If this is all news to you, here is the original article that ran in this spot. This is for reference only:

Fact: On May 7th, Moab UT climber Dean Potter climbed Delicate Arch, and has since been selfishly promoting himself with this climb.

Fact: Although Potter used no hardware, he brushed away dust and sand from handholds, upsetting the natural life cycle of the formation.

Fact: Potter used chalk and left chalk residue on this national treasure, marking it and potentially upsetting the pH of the fragile sandstone.

Fact: He made this climb with no knowledge of the integrity of the formation.

Fact: Natural arches are not geologically permanent formations. Any activity on the rock will accelerate its collapse, however imperceptible and minor that impact may appear.

Fact: Patagonia, Inc. sponsors Dean Potter, will continue to sponsor Potter, and by their statements will neither condemn his damaging climb nor discourage such future climbs of Delicate Arch.

It is a shame that the company founded by Yvon Chouinard -- the man who had the guts to stop making pitons after observing the damage they did -- Patagonia Inc. released the following statement about Potter's actions, and their relationship to him.

We have taken positions in the past on a number of issues of climbing ethics, including bolting. We take no position on this one. As Casey Sheahan, our CEO, notes, “From the early days in the Tetons to the rebelliousness of Yosemite’s Camp 4, every generation of climbers has had its run-ins with government regulations that attempt to restrict climber’s freedom of expression. At Patagonia we don’t control the ways our sponsored athletes conduct themselves except to encourage respect for the environment and uncommon approaches to every challenge. Dean is at the pinnacle of free solo climbing, makes decisions for himself, and has our complete support.”

Patagonia argues that, technically speaking, the climb was not illegal. One small problem with that; the climbing rules for Arches National Park prior to Potter's climb stated that climbing was prohibited on:

1. Any arch identified on the current issue U.S.G.S. 7.5 minute topographical map.

Unfortunately, some other wording muddied the clarity of this statement. Fact is, the climbing community KNOWS that the arches are off limits. But more than that, just because something isn't illegal doesn't mean it's right -- simply because nobody bothered to have a clear law is no excuse for damaging our natural resources. It's no excuse for denigrating a priceless rock formation. It's no excuse for putting self-interest ahead of the common good.

Patagonia attempts to pin this on the government, implying that any rules that restrict a climber's freedom of expression would be bad. And they claim to encourage respect for the environment. How about respect for other park visitors? Does Patagonia care about that? Potter obviously doesn't; imagine that you travel 1500 miles to see Delicate Arch and when you finally arrive, some chalk-covered moron is sitting on it!

The Slackpacker urges the government to enact laws to provide stronger protection for such (pardon the pun) delicate natural formations. Unfortunately, this protection will likely mean that Delicate Arch will soon be in the same category as Landscape Arch or Old Faithful -- we'll only be able to view it from a distance. Thank Dean Potter and Patagonia when that happens -- when you abuse freedom, you lose it. But if that's what it takes to protect Delicate Arch, so be it.

The Slackpacker urges the National Park Service to maintain a constant vigil to protect this one-of-a-kind national treasure. Next time shoot 'em down. (c'mon, I'm only kidding...I think).

[in this section of the article we called for a boycott of Patagonia products. Because they admit their error, we called off the boycott. Patagonia makes good stuff.]

It is shameful that a company historically devoted to the preservation of our environment can have so little regard for a national treasure. Again, by being so concerned about one man's personal view of freedom, they are showing complete disregard for the rest of the climbing community, and freedom for all.

Patagonia must do a 180 on this. Dean Potter must display complete repentance for his utter disregard for Delicate Arch and the American people who own it.


IMPORTANT UPDATE: the Slackpacker.com community is no longer calling for a boycott of Patagonia products. And assuming he is sincere, we accept Potter's apology. The above article will be left on the site for a short period of time simply for information, reference, and public record.

As climbers in a rapidly shrinking world, we must not only ask ourselves if we are capable of climbing something, we must ask ourselves if it is appropriate to climb something.

In most cases, it is appropriate to climb anything. But anytime an object is even half as iconic as Delicate Arch, restraint is called for, no matter how troubling it might be.

There is honor in climbing. There is no honor in climbing Delicate Arch.

-- Rick Bolger

Slackpacker.com

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