The Dean DebateVote here on whether or not you think Dean Potter should have climbed Delicate Arch, then see the current poll standings.
What did Dean Potter do on Delicate Arch, and how did he do it?
Those questions have percolated in the climbing world since May 7, when Pottera 34-year-old professional climber who splits his time between Moab, Utah, and Yosemite National Parkscampered to the top of Delicate Arch, a fragile landmark in southern Utah's Arches National Park. Potter's climb touched off a storm that has led to condemnation from close friends and mentors, virulent criticism from many climbers, and strict new climbing regulations in the park itself. What has remained a mystery, though, is exactly how Potter conducted the climb, and whether it was quite as delicate as many believe. As Outside has learned, it wasn't, and there's even a chance Potter did permanent damage to Delicate Arch's famously soft sandstone.
Potter is best known for risking do-or-die routes with no protective gear to catch a fall. And if you saw the footage he released to TV newspeople immediately after the Delicate Arch climb, you saw a bare-chested daredevil going up one side alone,
That may depend on how you define "purest." Extensive interviewswith Potter, two friends who helped him video the climb, an Outside editor who was present for the latter portion of the episode, Arches officials, climbers, supporters, and criticspaint a different picture. Though Potter did free-solo Delicate Arch (as many as six times), he rehearsed the moves first, with protection from a top rope draped over the formation. Two men who accompanied him during the adventureBrad Lynch, 35, and Eric Perlman, 55ascended fixed ropes to the top. At least one of them captured Potters moves on video. Some of that footage was included in a trailer for Potter's new movie, tentatively titled Aerialist, which aired before audiences at last weekend's Telluride Mountainfilm festival. Outside saw a copy of the trailer, and it leaves no doubt Potter wasn't by himself atop the arch. One shot is taken from directly overhead while he's making an ascent.
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As of midweek, Park Service investigators declined to say whether they had found signs of damage to the arch. But a photographer dispatched by Outsidewho used a telephoto lens to take pictures of the area directly above Potter's routeidentified three distinct grooves worn by rope into the sandstone. (Each appears to be roughly a fourth of an inch deep and several inches long and is invisible to the naked eye from ground level.) In addition, Jason Keith, a Moab-based policy director with the Access Fund, a climber-advocacy group, says that, out of curiosity, he examined the arch in mid-May with a spotting scope and saw as many as five additional grooves that are visible on a different spot near the summit.
Arches officials have decided Potter's climb was not illegal, due to vaguely worded regulations that have since been made crystal clear to prohibit any more arch climbs. But according to Karen McKinlay-Jones, the park's acting chief ranger, officials are looking for damage to Delicate Arch with "a priority over everything except life and limb." (She wouldn't comment further on how they're investigating.) The park's superintendent, Laura Joss, adds, "If there is damage to Delicate Arch, that is of grave concern to us."
Rick Ridgeway, vice president of communications at Patagoniaone of Potter's main sponsorssays the company is "adamantly opposed" to acts that damage any natural setting and that it would likely reevaluate its relationship with Potter, one of Patagonia's top-ten paid athletes, if it turns out his climb damaged the formation. In any event, Ridgeway says it's now incumbent upon Potter to come clean about exactly what he did. "To say that he was just there to commune with nature is half the story," he says. "It's time to be frank."