Posted on: March 1, 2008

[Photo] Dan Long


AS MANY OF US LEARNED in high school, reputations are in large part defined by the company we keep. I am dismayed that in Issue 21 ("The Space Between"), Alpinist tarnished its integrity by taking a spin with Dean Potter.

Potter's earlier half-hearted "apology" following the Delicate Arch fiasco displayed a Clintonesque ability to pay lip service to the pain of others without accepting responsibility. But his defiant stance in "The Space Between" ("I will never bow to unnatural restrictions," Page 69) pulls back even this flimsy pretense and reveals his true remorselessness.

Some—like Potter—may feel that the Park Service's response represents an infringement on "climbers' rights." Many others would argue that no climber has ever had the "right" to throw a toprope over Delicate Arch in order to rehearse moves resulting in permanent scars to the fragile sandstone—even if it was technically "legal." [Potter claims the scars were left by other ascensionists—Ed.] Or, for that matter, to fix anchors on the Three Gossips to facilitate slacklining.

Critical readers should understand that Potter's pseudo-spiritual mumbo-jumbo is nothing more than a cover for his true motivation: the publicity that boosts the ego and fills the bank account.... Potter achieved his purpose; he is the most famous climber in the country, a status Alpinist helps him maintain. In so doing, it undermines its credibility as a journal for serious climbers motivated by internal goals achieved in the absence of photographers, media exposure and lucrative sponsorship deals.

—Matt King, Seattle, Washington

IN ALL OTHER CLIMBING MEDIA, Dean Potter's solo of Delicate Arch was the cause celebre of what amounted to nothing more than a petulant brouhaha: debate legality, spray a bit, defend the accused, slander the accused, bemoan the new climbing restrictions, argue the point some more, go for a latte.... Not in Alpinist, however!

For the first time, in Issue 21, Potter himself was allowed the time and space to explain his actions and to put them into a meaningful context. And after reading his thoughtful essay, "The Space Between," I for one agree: funambulism and soloing are physical examples of that great American intangible, "freedom of expression." This right is now under fire from the National Park Service and other land management agencies; it's also being subverted, I might add, by the endless, actionless bickering in print and on the Web.

Thanks, Alpinist, for allowing Dean the literary freedom to express himself. Thanks, too, Access Fund, for defending the physical freedom of every climber who ties in, tethers on or goes cordless.

—Travis Byrd, Gatlinburg, Tennessee


I APPLAUD YOUR SHORT PIECE on the 1972 Chouinard Catalogue (("Tool Users," Issue 21). Many climbers today are not aware of its impact on those of us who started climbing in the early 1970s, and they take for granted the attitudes and techniques it espoused. But although your writers are correct on many points, there are several inaccurate ones:

Your opening paragraph suggests that this was Chouinard Equipment's first catalogue. In fact, Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost had been producing catalogues and pamphlets all through the 1960s.

In response to the confusion about its cost: while the 1972 catalogue was priced at fifty cents, the 1973 and 1974 catalogues (basically the same format) were priced at one dollar.

The article also mentions several "innovations" attributed to the '72 catalogue. Chouinard, however, had already introduced the rigid crampon in his 1967–68 catalogue and the curved pick in the 1969–70 catalogue.

Nonetheless, I agree with the essay's main point: the '72 catalogue was truly earthshaking in its climbing philosophy and its approach to marketing outdoor equipment (think Martin Luther's Ninety-five Theses in sixteenth-century Europe). It changed the way many of us thought and acted in the mountains and crags of the world.

—Gregg Orr, St. Louis, Missouri

Loose Cannon

FREDDIE WILKINSON DID AN EXCELLENT JOB of reporting the Crag Profile for Cannon Cliff ("Crag Profile," Issue 21). A few more points: the tradition of celebratory mid-cliff consumption [described by Wilkinson's article] started in the early 1960s. John Porter reported a party on the Garden, partway up the route Sam's Swan Song, during which wine was the favored beverage. One climber was quoted as saying, "It's a good thing that I'm climbing because I'm too drunk to walk."

After a 1973 climbing accident that led to two deaths, Franconia Notch State Park, which owns Cannon Mountain, was considering closing the cliff to all climbing, as no state agency had expertise in technical rescues. Through the combined efforts of Eastern Mountain Sports manager Rick Wilcox and Skimeister Sport Shop owner Quentin Boyle emerged Mountain Rescue, the all-volunteer organization that set aside local rivalries for the benefit of the common good.

Skimeister Sport Shop, the first to rent technical ice climbing equipment in the east, was the hub for the Cannon climbers [in the 1970s]. When the Interstate highway extended through Franconia Notch and bypassed local businesses, the shop closed, scattering the climbing community it supported.

—David Tibbetts, York, Maine

First All-Female Ascent of Cerro Torre?

SINCE THE BITS AND PIECES of climbing lore sometimes coagulate into something significant, I thought I'd pass this one along. About twenty years ago I was looking for someone to teach me alpine climbing, [when I met] a Polish woman, Eva, trying to supplement her meager income selling flowers at a sidewalk stand. I joined her at a party in San Francisco, and over the course of the evening we spoke of various climbing adventures. One of her stories was about an ascent of Cerro Torre with a female friend, also from Poland. I know this is a sketchy account from twenty years ago, but so many climbs go unreported that this one seems feasible. I didn't have any reason to think she was lying. [For an account of the first recorded all-female ascent of Cerro Torre, by Slovenians Tanja Grmovsek and Monika Kambic, see ("Climbing Notes," Issue 11)—Ed.]

—Michael Palmer, Richmond, California

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