Official Statement from Patagonia and Dean Potter on the Delicate Arch Climb

How Delicate Was Dean?

Tim Neville ferrets out the real story behind Dean Potter's big day in Arches National Park.

Since May 7th, we at Patagonia have had much discussion and debate about where the company stands on Dean's controversial climb. Historically, we have always stood by our Ambassadors and their actions. Our Ambassadors are a part of Patagonia's close-knit family, and we trust them to act in ways that they deem responsible. However, over the past few weeks, our internal conversations have enlightened us to the reality of this unfortunate situation. We strongly believe that Dean's actions warrant a public apology.

Here at Patagonia, we also want to extend an apology to you. We apologize for not responding more quickly and decisively. We make no excuses, but in explanation—Patagonia is always extremely hesitant to publicly denounce a long-standing friend and Ambassador. Before we responded to our customers and the media, we needed to hear his side of the story. We needed details. We needed to speak at length with Dean, in person.

At the end of the day, we do feel Dean's climb of Delicate Arch was inappropriate. Patagonia had no prior knowledge of his climb, nor did we "sponsor" his activities. Sadly, his actions compromised access to wild places and generated an inordinate amount of negativity in the climbing community and beyond. We asked Dean to write a letter about his solo and the ensuing maelstrom. His sentiments below best describe where he has landed on the issue. It's his, and our, final word.

From Dean Potter:

When I climbed Delicate Arch I certainly didn't foresee the controversy that has ensued. I didn't think the climb would do anything but inspire people to get out of their cars and experience the wild with all of their senses. I was wrong. I am sincerely unhappy about climbers' loss of freedom caused by my ascent. More, I am deeply hurt over the split this has put in our climbing community. I want to explain my actions, bring the facts to light, and hope that all of us can come to see the good in one another.

First, I admit it…I am a climber. I feel compelled to climb most everything I see, and that included Delicate Arch. To me, all rocks are sacred. When I climbed to the top of the Delicate Arch it was my highest priority to do no harm to the rock or its surroundings. I climbed the Arch in the highest and purest way I could, and I left it the same way I found it.

But I failed to foresee how Delicate Arch, for so many, is also an untouchable symbol of our delicate relationship to nature. It is also a symbol for me, but where I saw it as a chance to commune with the arch through expressing my own art of climbing, others saw it as a violation of what they also feel is sacred. Again, I had no intention of doing something that would invoke such feelings, and for those who do feel that way, I apologize because that certainly was not my intention.

Others have accused me of climbing the arch as a publicity stunt. As a professional athlete, recognition of what I do is part of the job.

Most disturbing of all are those accusing me of responsibility for the rope scars that have been documented conclusively on the top of the arch. I can certainly understand why someone would conclude they were caused by my ascent, but I believe the true answer lies in the details of my ascent, and the possibility that there were other ascents previous to mine. I have recently seen the close-up photos of the grooves at the top of the Arch and can state with certainty that my actions did not cause them. But I was very careful to place my rope in a natural groove in the rock. Since my climb I have learned from first-hand witnesses that in the past at least two other parties have lobbed ropes over the Arch and jumared up. Perhaps those parties left the grooves. I know that I didn't.

None of my sponsors, including Patagonia, has ever influenced me to climb anything. Again, I am sorry that the climb has negatively affected so many people in our community of climbers, and I certainly am not ignoring the views expressed in the Internet chat rooms and in the press. Peoples' opinions are important to me and I value others' views, and I have been troubled at the negativity this has stirred up. I saw the climb as communing with nature, somehow, others have seen it as exploiting nature. The National Park Service has strengthened rules about climbing in Arches National Park, and people have blamed me for the loss of access. I sincerely regret any loss of access…anywhere, anytime. Let me add that I strongly advise anyone thinking of climbing the Delicate Arch not to try. First, the climb is now unambiguously illegal. Second, the climbing community and the Park Service should be friends and work together to protect the environment and climbing access. Third, the Delicate Arch really is fragile and repeated climbing would inevitably cause damage.

Finally, I apologize to Patagonia for the injury this has caused the company and the brand. Patagonia is sincerely and deeply committed to their mission of using business to provide solutions to the environmental crisis, and regretfully, in the view of many of their customers, this has been compromised by my ascent.

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