Environment

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The big story in the climbing world these days involves the famous Delicate Arch in Utah's Arches National Park, and the renowned climber Dean Potter.

Last month, Potter worked his way 60 feet up to the top of the Delicate Arch in a free solo climb, using no ropes or devices that could damage the rock. But according to an article in Outside Online, ropes that he used in practice climbs did damage the fragile sandstone arch. Dean Potter says that's not true. After Potter's climb was publicized, Park officials decided it wasn't illegal but now they've cracked down and imposed new restrictions on climbing. That's angered other climbers, and some have criticized Potter for mounting what they call a publicity stunt. I asked him today why he decided to climb the Delicate Arch.

Mr. DEAN POTTER (Professional Rock Climber): It's one of the most beautiful pieces of rock I've ever seen. I was inspired, mostly like an artist that wants to be and do the most beautiful thing he can think of.

BLOCK: So if you're a climber, like yourself, you would see that arch and be thinking, I want to be on top of that.

Mr. POTTER: Moreso than I want to be on top of that or I want to conquer that, it's I want to be a part of that. I want to touch and feel and breathe that. I want to become one with that.

BLOCK: Well, what was it like to climb it?

Mr. POTTER: Often in normal life I'm just constricted to what I see, maybe, and hear. But when I climb and when I'm out in the wild, other senses come to me and Delicate Arch was a free solo climb, which means I didn't have any protection and often, when I put myself in these situations, it brings out this heightened awareness which I crave so much.

BLOCK: Now, when you say free solo climb, why don't you explain what that means.

Mr. POTTER: Free soloing is just the most natural way man can climb. It's just using your hands and feet without any use of protection or rope to ascend.

BLOCK: Now, before you did this solo climb, as I understand it, you did a number of practice runs and you got a camera guy up on the arch and for that you did use a rope.

Mr. POTTER: Yes, that's correct.

BLOCK: You know that Outside magazine sent a photographer out there and they took pictures that show grooves in the surface of that rock. It looks like the rope cut right into the sandstone. We have those pictures on our web site, npr.org. This is right in the area where you made your climb.

Mr. POTTER: Actually, the area where I made my climb is to the right of these pictures. When I first ascended, you know, we did scope out the arch and what I saw up there was this natural groove, almost a crack in the top of the arch, more towards the right-hand side of the summit. And that is where I aimed my rope and then carefully positioned it; so I know for certain that my rope made no groove because it was positioned in a natural crack. I also know for a fact of at least two other ascents of the Delicate Arch. But when Outside did their research, the other two climbers wouldn't admit to it, and I admit to it because I don't see anything wrong with a man climbing a rock.

BLOCK: You have a sponsor, a main sponsor, Patagonia, who wants you to apologize for what you did. Can you do that? Or do you want to do that?

Mr. POTTER: I, for sure, do have some regrets. I regret the negative press that has come with my climb of the Delicate Arch, but I think that there is a bigger picture. And I would hope that it could open the eyes of the public and the community to the bigger problem of what's going on, which is the mismanagement of our wild lands and the national park.

BLOCK: So it sounds like what you're most sorry about is the way this has been portrayed in the media, not sorry for what you did. Sorry for how it's been interpreted. Am I right about that?

Mr. POTTER: That's correct. I think that if you just keep it factual, that a man climbed up a rock and did no environmental harm. Then I don't think that there is anything to be sorry about, other than the negative energy that ensued afterwards.

BLOCK: Just one last thing. For those of us who will never sit on top of the Delicate Arch, can you describe what it was like up there and what you did?

Mr. POTTER: Yeah, it was - I can describe the first moment when my best friend, Brad(ph) and I stood on top of the arch and we actually sat down and laid down and it was still dark. And I don't know how long we were there, but it felt as if there was this vibration in our bodies and on the arch itself, or in the arch itself. And, I mean, our bodies were pressed to the rock like lizards and it really just felt like we were a part of that arch.

BLOCK: Well, Dean Potter, it was good to talk with you. Thanks very much.

Mr. POTTER: Nice talking with you, as well, and thanks a lot.

BLOCK: Climber Dean Potter talking with us from Yosemite National Park. You can find a link to the Outside Online article about his climb at our web site, npr.org.

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