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Elevated ego: Climber who scaled Delicate Arch deserves stiff penalty

Published May 10, 2006 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dean Potter and a few irresponsible all-terrain vehicle riders have two traits in common: They are stubbornly determined to go where no humans have gone before, and they believe that rules meant to protect the landscape don't apply to them.

Potter is the professional climber who scaled Utah's most prominent icon, Delicate Arch, Sunday, despite Arches National Park rules against climbing all its named arches. Making the ascent had become an obsession, he said. We see it more as an ego trip and a chance to advance his climbing career.

That Patagonia, whose outdoor gear Potter promotes, had plans to use the climb in its advertising seems the most probable motive for the stunt.

Potter obviously did not consider the potential harm he could cause by disregarding park regulations. Or he simply put his own personal gratification - or was it a need for attention? - ahead of any concern for the unique rock formation he claims was "vibrating with energy" as he stood on its top. If the huge old arch could vibrate, indignation or outrage would be a more likely cause.

His rationalization that he did not harm the 45-foot natural sculpture - "I respected the arch to the fullest. I did no more than blow a little dust off a few handholds" - does nothing to excuse his behavior. It's the same reasoning that takes ATV riders off established trails and into untrammeled territory. How much damage can just one vehicle do?

That argument has a hollow ring. Once an ATV has shoved its way through formerly pristine forest or desert, its track becomes a trail and others will soon follow. That may also be a consequence of Potter's climb, and Park Service prohibitions will only make it more of a challenge to those who, like Potter, care little about the reasons behind the rules. His legacy may well be a damaged and violated Delicate Arch, not a notable sports achievement.

Whatever penalty the Park Service exacts, we hope it includes a lifelong ban of Potter from Arches National Park.

Potter wonders "What has our world come to" if climbers are prevented from scaling "one of nature's most beautiful features"? Despite what he seems to believe, the world is not Potter's personal playground and it will be better off if no other climbers follow his hedonistic example.