Friday, May 12, 2006

Time for Mea Culpa?

So, how soon until we see a Dean Potter mea culpa ad like this one from Kurt Smith and the Access Fund? This was published in 1996 after Smith was busted for using a power drill to replace bolts on the Muir Wall of El Cap. Smith went on to become a major fund-raiser for the Access Fund. My guess is that if Potter has any hope of saving his job as a Patagonia "ambassador" after whipping up an enormous shit-storm for his bosses by climbing Delicate Arch, something like this ad campaign is going to be part of his plea bargain.

Patagonia is in a real bind here. On the one hand, the company has always celebrated its anti-authoritarian roots in climbing and surfing. This is a company whose heritage dates back to the 60s and whose founder, Yvon Chouinard, was busted on at least one occasion. On the other hand, the company has made a longterm, deep and highly visible commitment to environmentalism and responsible use of natural resources. Patagonia has been mostly quiet on the Delicate Arch debacle, but a strange statement emailed by a Patagonia spokeswoman to Utah newspapers and other media outlets earlier this week reflects the company's ambivalence. Excerpts:

"Patagonia's Ambassadors are known for pushing the limits of their sports. In the course of their actions, sometimes they unintentionally create unavoidable controversy.... Patagonia had no prior knowledge of Dean's intent or plans to climb Delicate Arch. As a policy, Patagonia neither endorses nor condemns our Ambassador's individual activities. We trust that our athletes are the best judge of their own actions, and rely on them to act with care for themselves and the natural environment.

"'From the early days in the Tetons to the rebelliousness of Yosemite's Camp Four, every generation of climbers has had its run-ins with government regulations that attempt to restrict climber's freedom of expression,' notes Casey Sheahan, Patagonia's President and CEO. 'At Patagonia, we don't control the ways our sponsored athletes conduct themselves except to encourage respect for environment and uncommon approaches to every challenge. Dean is at the pinnacle of clean, solo climbing, makes decisions for himself, and has our complete support.'

And later: "We are currently looking into the situation and working with Dean to make sure we come to a reasonable resolution. We have always been a group of people that mixes things up and we tend not to work with people that are 'by the book.' The last thing we want to do is alienate people, especially our customers and long-term cohorts."

My guess is that very soon (probably today, before the weekend) Patagonia will take a much more public and stronger stance, and that we'll soon see if Potter is canned or enters a Kurt Smith-style rehabilitation campaign.

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