Skip to content

Before ‘SKETCHY ANDY’ there was DEAN POTTER’s Delicate Arch Show —Stiles

From the June/July 2006 Zephyr:   TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT, Jim Stiles


Recently the print and electronic media in Salt Lake City, Utah reported the first ascent of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Delicate Arch is one of the most revered and recognized features in Utah. If any natural feature deserves to be called an icon, it’s Delicate Arch. On a recent Sunday morning, A rock climber hiked the 1 ½ mile trail from Wolfe Ranch and began the first of several ascents. He brought a High Definition video camera to capture this historic moment and even carried the camera with him up the arch, established photo points and staged his climb again and again, just to be sure he got all the camera angles he needed.

Salt Lake media received news of the climb from the Patagonia outdoor clothing store in Salt Lake City, and advised them that HighDef video of the dramatic first ascent was available. She also provided the climber’s contact information for interviews. And the media, always looking for good “visuals,” came running. The climb was featured on Salt Lake television stations and made page one of the Salt Lake Tribune. The climb should also have been illegal. It was illegal for decades, but when the NPS took the teeth out of its own climbing regulations in 1988, this kind of stunt was bound to occur. Three years ago, then-NPS SE Group Superintendent Jerry Banta called the Arches policy the “weakest” he had ever seen. But the climber read the regs closer than the rangers—the wording only said that named arches “may be closed” by the superintendent. So a bureaucratic misstep allowed the climb to occur.

Reaction to the ascent has been mixed. FOX13 News interviewed a sales person at a Moab climbing shop who had nothing but praise for the man and his achievement and suggested, “He deserves our respect.” However, Arches Superintendent Laura Joss was not impressed and told the Tribune, “I’m very sorry to see someone do this to Utah’s most visible icon.” The next day she strengthened Arches’ climbing policy and banned climbing on all named arches. No “may be” this time. The climber was also interviewed by FOX13. He talked about “cherishing the moment” and being “close to Nature,” and that he viewed the arch “with great reverence.” His name is Dean Potter and he is known among his peers as a world class climber. I Googled Mr. Potter and found his footprints all over the web. He is best known for the speed with which he scales rock walls. His speed climb up a particularly difficult route on El Capitan in Yosemite is chronicled in an OUTSIDE magazine story. He did it in 3 hours and 24 minutes. Not much time for spiritual connections and cherishing the moments on that ascent, eh Dean?

Potter is also a paid “climbing ambassador” for the outdoor clothing company Patagonia, who, we now know, leaked their representative’s feat in the first place. However, as his climb draws unwanted publicity, Patagonia seems to be distancing itself from Potter’s dubious accomplishment.

For myself, I have to wonder…is there anything off-limits to a climber like Dean Potter? To paraphrase the great David Brower, who was also a world class climber, would Dean feel the need to scale the Sistine Chapel to pay tribute to the Ceiling? When they finally build the Freedom Tower in New York, will he be compelled to scale its 1776 feet in order to honor the 3000 who died on September 11? Should he climb the Washington Monument to pay homage to the Father of our Country? Is there anything so tasteless and inappropriate that it might give a stunt climber second thoughts?

Increasingly, this is what a wilderness experience has become. It’s not about solitude and quiet and peace. Solitude is actually a legal component of wilderness as it was written into law by Congress in 1964. The problem with “solitude” is that it’s not an easily marketed commodity. Potter’s stunt is not an isolated incident and reflects a growing recreational culture that lives for speed, not serenity. In 2006, these kinds of experiences have little or nothing to do with the beauty of the land or any spiritual connection with it. This was just another adrenalin ride in an outdoor jungle gym, taped in HighDef, perhaps to sell some more outdoor gear, and for self-glorification at a later date, just to make sure the ego ride never ends.


And what about the rest of you climbers? Is there any outrage out there over this incident? I’d love to hear from you. I’ll give 500 words on the POINTBLANK page to the climber who will actually condemn this stunt and use his real name. And I’ll give another 500 words to one of Potter’s allies who wants to tell me why it “deserves our respect.”.

I look forward to hearing from you.  (EDITOR’S NOTE:  Nobody ever replied)


Do any of you dare speak up? Is this still the kind of non-motorized recreation that you think represents a huge wilderness advocacy group or is it finally sinking in that these kinds of exploits have nothing to do with wildland protection? In response to a heretical notion (I suggested a short press release from environmental groups, condemning that kind of outdoor behavior) one leader (Bill Hedden, the executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust) replied in part: “He was an asshole to climb Delicate Arch and I would have arrested him happily if I was a ranger… But, if you got there five minutes after his desecration, there would have been no visible trace. So, should the enviros, who really are just a few people, prioritize going after him instead of dealing with the largest oil and gas lease sale in Utah history, or the fact that Norton’s parting gift was to declare that all the county road claims everywhere are valid, or Bennett’s proposal, or Hatch’s seprate one, to sell off large blocks of public land to provide funding for water pipelines and roads and utility corridors?”

No, I replied. I didn’t suggest they abandon any of that. I proposed “a three sentence press release.”

It still bewilders me.

Dean Potter does his own tightrope act at Yosemite…click the pic to read the story.

And here is another recent link to BOTH Potter and Lewis…

THE FEB/MAR Z (click the cover)

Posted in Uncategorized.

12 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Jordan said

    So did Dean Potter jump ahead of you in the lunch line or something? Man, you sure have a shitty attitude. It’s just a rock, he’s just a rock climber.

  2. stiles said

    Ah Jordan…you make my point. “It’s just a rock?” Good god, man…It’s Delicate Arch. It’s in a national park. You may not get this but parks weren’t created so that Potter-types could climb them in a never ending pathetic search for attention and product endorsements. Words like respect, reverence mean nothing to you. So..whose attitude is “shitty?”
    PS…You forgot to call me ‘Dude.’……

  3. Nick said

    Oh I didn’t realize you owned the delicate arch. As a PERSON he has the right to climb whatever he wants. Nature wan’t put her for people like you to complain over. Relax. It may be the delicate arch but i’m pretty sure the rock didn’t mind. And don’t go bitching about the grooves. So he did one publicity climb. Forgive him. And as for the speed climb, it’s not like all his climbs are fast, he just decided he wanted to break the record. Your not going to say that michael phelps doesn’t enjoy the relaxing feeling of swimming because he’s fast.

  4. stiles said

    Nick..Nick..Nick…What grade are you in, Nick?

  5. Nick said

    I am a senior. Don’t patronize me.

  6. Nick said

    Look, I get that people find the rock important, and yeah maybe he shouldn’t have climbed it, I just hate the fact that everyone was destroying this guy for so long because of it. His wife left him because of all the crap that went on after it. He has been through enough. Just cut him some slack.

  7. stiles said

    Nick..if you’re “a senior,” (do you mean over 65 or 12th grade?), you must understand that we all make choices and that there are consequences…he made choices. He paid a price. Nobody else “destroyed’ him.

  8. Seth said

    This is so pathetic. Basic knowledge of how he ascended/descended the arch would show you that it was impossible for him to damage it. People like you are the ones that turn it into an issue. Dean Potter has raised more awareness about nature and done more for the protection of our wildlife areas than an army of you idiots bitching on the internet will ever do, for eternity. Wind’s been eroding that arch for a billion years. It’s this geriatric community of do-nothings that wants to sit by and look at rock that is getting butthurt. No one else took offense to it. Pathetically narrow little mindset. “I don’t like it, so make it illegal for the entire world”. It’s so sad, watching you people grow old and bitter, wanting the government to regulate everyone’s lives to suit your tastes. It’s not like he went up there and spraypainted it and bolted a route. I can’t think of more ways to explain how stupid your side of the argument is. It really pleases me, though, that at least this specific article lacks any form of objective understanding of the situation, and more importantly is a heaping pile of subjective speculation. Closer to trash talking the other team than any form of reporting. I’d definitely consider stopping, forever.

  9. Sarah said

    Ditto, Seth. If you (author) had to “google” Dean Potter to know who he was, you have no business writing about rock climbing or its ethos, or otherwise raining judgments on something that is so clearly far from your daily desk job. Your snarky responses to earlier commenters just cement our points. Do you actually give a shit what the other side’s argument is, or are you just looking for a soapbox? And you condemn Dean for being an egotist.

  10. stiles said

    Hi Sarah…before my “desk job,” I was a search and rescue park ranger for the NPS…I rescued climbers like you on a regular basis. THAT’s why I have such a sour opinion of your ilk. If I had a nickle for every gonzo climber who got him/herself rimrocked and resorted to crying like babies for help, I’d be a wealthy man… Cheers.

  11. Diogenes said

    +1 to stiles.

    Scarcity and overpopulation have created a situation where people cannot be allowed to do whatever they want wherever they want.

    This is obviously difficult for some outdoor enthusiasts to absorb, but its reality.

  12. tomasz. said

    ” would Dean feel the need to scale the Sistine Chapel to pay tribute to the Ceiling? When they finally build the Freedom Tower in New York, will he be compelled to scale its 1776 feet in order to honor the 3000 who died on September 11? Should he climb the Washington Monument to pay homage to the Father of our Country?”

    these are all man-made structures. he climbed a rock. not remotely comparable. and good for him.

Some HTML is OK


(required, but never shared)

or, reply to this post via trackback.