This post is different and leads to an important question for us Mixed Climbers.
Recently I finished reading Learning to Fly by Steph Davis. For a short portion of the book she described the aftermath of Dean Potter's actions in 2006 by climbing Delicate Arch in Arches National Park that affected not only him, but her and the climbing community at large.
The short version is, he climbed it, everyone went nuts (mostly conservationists outside the climbing community, but also the Access Fund), many condemned him for it, he and Steph both lost their main sponsor Patagonia (who btw funded and promoted the climb), and now he's kind of blacklisted by the climbing world for being too 'free'.
Fast forward 5 years to a 2011 The North Face funded trip with Mark Synnott, Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, James Pearson, Tim Kemple and Renan Ozturk to the Ennedi Desert in the Northeast corner of Chad, Africa. The goal of this trip was to climb a bunch of unclimbed sandstone towers, which they did. But they also climbed this:
This is the Arch of Bishekele. Certainly an amazing feature that beckons to the climber in me. And if you're really looking to be inspired, have a look at this Here. Anyway, what's interesting is this: in the video footage of the trip they called the arch The Delicate Arch!
This is the spectacular edit of the film by Camp 4 Collective of a jaw-droppingly awesome modern adventure:
The TNF Team were roundly congratulated and everyone got a ton of excellent press for it. Pats on the back, high fives, beers all around...
Contrasting these two events begs the question: What is the difference between climbing Delicate Arch and climbing the Arch of Bishekele (a.k.a. The Delicate Arch)? Why is one of these OK?
After researching this question, I was only able to conclude on my own a few possible reasons for the condemnation vs. the congratulation:
-Dean climbed something called 'Delicate'. The TNF Team climbed the Arch of Bishekele, a name that seems to ooze poetic fortitude.
-Dean soloed it. The TNF Team were geared up.
-Dean climbed something that is on a license plate, in a national park, and engraved on the back of medals awarded at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The TNF climbed in a place few people have ever heard of.
-Dean ruffled many feather with his bold and seemingly ego-driven actions in the outdoors. The TNF Team presented themsleves as a team, and as such, made it difficult to point the finger at any one person, were a finger to be pointed at all...
-Dean climbed something in a place deemed a wilderness area by an Act of Congress. The TNF Team were very far away in a strange land.
-The Video of Dean soloing Delicate arch shot by Eric Pearlman was never released. The Video of the TNF Trip was released with much fanfare at the 5Point Film Festival, officailly at the Telluride Film Fest and other outdoor film events.
-Dean had an almost titanic presence in the outdoor world at the time, and the public loves to see the mighty fall. The TNF Team had devoted family man Mark Synnott as part of the team, and who wants to say anything bad about a family man?
Even I was a bit turned off by Dean climbing the Arch. Not because it's sacred or anything, but because he did it for publicity. And to show people that there is a route up Delicate Arch only invites more climber and spectator traffic. But then again, is that bad? People head to Yosemite to look at climbers on El Cap all the time. How is this different? Does it simply come down to rock quality, population, and/or politics?
Do more people in wild places inevitably lead to more rules?
Perhaps Dean himself said it best, “The most wild places in our country are becoming the most confined places in terms of freedom.” I guess you have to go to Africa to find Freedom these days. Or simply not be so public about your endeavors.
At DRY ICE, we are interested in educating our customers to repsect and conserve our natural resources and climbing areas, and we realize Mixed Climbing is a difficult pill to swallow when talking about conservation. As Mixed Climbing become larger and more widespread, (did you know that it's an exhibition sport at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?!) there will be more traffic on mixed routes, more crampons on rock, and more humans in the backcountry. The evidence from hundreds of steel on rock encounters at mixed climbing meccas such as the Northeast USA, Haffner Creek, or the Amphitheater at Vail points to one thing: Mixed Climbing changes the rock.
In the years to come, more mixed climbers will mean more attention on our little niche corner of the climbing world.
Let me know your thoughts on both issues. Why was Dean 'wrong' (even though he did nothing illegal) and the AAC Team 'right'? Is there such a thing as 'low-impact mixed climbing'? Through discussion and thinking through the future of Mixed Climbing, we can make a plan and prepare for the inevtiable growth of our sport.
-Ben Carlson, Co-Founder Furnace Industries