The Art of Rogue Ascents

Dean Potter wouldn’t cut it in Fight Club.The first rule of rogue ascents is you never talk about rogue ascents. In 2006, Dean Potter not only climbed the aptly named Delicate Arch in Utah’s Arches National Park, he blatantly defended the ascent. And filmed it. It’s a bizarre asterisk in the career of a guy whose climbing resume needs no embellishment. Both Outside Magazine and park rangers saw evidence of damage to the fragile sandstone (you can read the archived article here). For a fearless climber with a brain with a hardwired immunity to fear, it was bad style.

Which brings us to the rogues of Colorado. I have a friend, let’s call him Pengo, who would gladly share his (supposedly) awesome route to the summit of Culebra Peak with trusted pals. If you don’t know, Culebra is a privately held 14er that a couple of fat-cat Texans charge hikers $100 a pop to visit. Pengo has good style and follows a few basic rules:

  • Good style means knowing the difference between good, healthy civil disobedience and potentially harmful intrusion. With something as truly delicate as Delicate Arch, a sliding rope accelerates erosion, even by small degrees. Likewise, staying out of nesting areas and protected wildlife habitat is important. Climbing a mountain “owned” by an oil tycoon hoping to pad his pockets at peak baggers expense is perfectly acceptable (so says Pengo).
  • Take “Leave No Trace” to the next level — you want to be a mountainous ninja. Climb at night, or better still let fresh fallen snow cover your tracks. And if you want to get up that beautiful icefall in front just off I-70 in Idaho springs, wear white in a snowstorm. And bring a white rope. So says Pengo.
  • Limit your bragging and photos to trusted companions, not to your Facebook pals. Revel in your secret and keep your lips shut. Geocachers might know a thing or two about a few secret symbols waiting on the summits of Kiowa and Arikaree Peaks in the Indian Peaks watershed; you’ll know them when you see them.
  • This isn’t a lame fraternity where your big secret was getting paddled by a drunk senior while you were all dressed like Oompa-Loompas. If you encounter another rogue climber en route, you’re officially bonded — brothers and sisters. Never reveal your partners in perceived crime.
  • Know thy enemy. About a decade ago, the Rhode Island state highpoint at Jerimoth Hill (a 7 inch high rock at the end of a dirt driveway) was meticulously guarded by a crazywatchful old man who would confront hikers while armed with a shot gun. Many a camera was smashed and a few tires flattened by this gentleman. Play the odds; hike at night in a storm, lightning disguises a flash quite well. Or better yet, check the TV listings for Matlock’s time slot. (Note on Jerimoth Hill: despite the singular truth that mean old people live forever, the guardian of Jerimoth Hill has gone to that big complaint desk in the sky and the current owners allow access days for hikers. Much better.)
  • No poaching for poaching. Leave animals out of it.

And finally, a tale from Pengo’s rogue-ish past. In state vaguely shaped like a chicken nugget many years ago, there was an awesome 40 foot tower one could leap off of into a reservoir. It was guarded by the eponymous “Rez Guy”, a fat, angry man in an orange truck who spelled doom for aspiring rogue leapers.

This brings us to the final rule of pirating the outdoors: if the fuzz is in the house, it’s every man for himself. One particular incident was well-known in those parts when a portly lad nicknamed (we hope) “Pasta” chickened out  atop the tower when the Rez Guy came ’round the bend. When every other person lept into the water and swam to safety, poor Pasta was left trembling, unable to muster the courage to hurl his portly frame into the water and wade/waddle into the safety of the woods.

To this day, no one knows Pasta’s fate.

So do I condone the rogue ascent? Good heavens, no! I’m no Pengo. But, if that mountain bike trail, lofty summit or forbidden trail is calling, be stealthy, strong and respectful — to the land. And chisel that smile off your face, you’re giving yourself away.

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