Dean Potter: Anti-Climber

Posted on: September 10, 2007


Dean Potter: Anti-Climber

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, Alpinist undermined its integrity and besmirched its good name by taking a spin with anti-climber Dean Potter.

Potter's earlier half-hearted "apology" following the Delicate Arch fiasco displayed a Clinton-esque ability to pay lip service to the pain of others while avoiding the real pain of accepting responsibility for one's actions. But Potter's defiant stance in "The Space Between"("I will never bow to unnatural restrictions.") pulls back even this flimsy pretense and reveals his true remorselesness.

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Potter just doesn't get it. The anger stirred by his controversial climb was not motivated simply by the response of the Park Service. 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 the Delicate Arch in order to rehearse moves resulting in permanent scars to the fragile sandstone— even if it was technically "legal." Or, for that matter, to fix anchors on the Three Gossips to facilitate slacklining.

Critical readers and savvy climbers 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.

In his previous apology, Potter admits that publicity-seeking was "a part of" his motivation, but claims absolution since he was "only doing his job." That argument didn't hold water in Nuremburg, either.

Potter seems incapable of critical self-examination, but thoughtful climbers should take pause to review their own motivations in light of his exploits. "Because it is there," may have been all we needed in the age of Mallory. Twenty-first century climbers should ask themselves if there are potential climbing objectives that are there, but that should simply remain off-limits.

Potter achieved his goal: he is the most famous climber in the country. Alpinist helps him maintain that status. 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.

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