Utah Park Officials Fret over Climb of Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch in southern Utah's Arches National Park.

Delicate Arch in southern Utah's Arches National Park. Steve Howe hide caption

itoggle caption Steve Howe
A close-up of the grooves on Delicate Arch. i i

A close-up of the grooves on Delicate Arch. Steve Howe hide caption

itoggle caption Steve Howe
A close-up of the grooves on Delicate Arch.

A close-up of the grooves on Delicate Arch.

Steve Howe

The Delicate Arch, a fixture of Utah's Arches National Park, may have suffered irreparable damage in a recent climb, park officials say. Climber Dean Potter, who admits to climbing the arch, says he is not the first to do so. But park officials — and Potter's sponsor — are concerned.

Karen McKinlay-Jones, the Arches park's acting chief ranger, told Outside magazine that they are monitoring Delicate Arch for any harm done to it, with "a priority over everything except life and limb." The park's superintendent, Joss, added, "If there is damage to Delicate Arch, that is of grave concern to us."

Although there were no explicit regulations banning climbers from taking on the arch when Potter made his attempt, officials say it was an unwritten rule. Visitor guidebooks often suggest that climbers should avoid unique structures that have been named.

The issue is complicated by other concerns, as well. The first is "clean climbing," an ethic that has grown along with the sport. Its adherents do their best not to damage the rocks they climb, by hammering in pitons or other tools. But on eroded sandstone, even ropes can leave gouges if they're tight enough.

After Potter's climb, Outside sent a photographer and reporter to the scene in an attempt to get to the bottom of the story. And the Patagonia outdoor-wear company, one of Potter's main sponsors, has added its voice to the discussion, urging Potter to apologize.

A company spokesman told Outside magazine it opposes acts that damage any natural setting, and it will likely reevaluate its relationship with Potter if it turns out his climb damaged the formation.

Potter says he took all precautions to ensure no damage was done. Melissa Block talks with Potter.

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