Jonathan Thesenga Speaks Out

“Hindsight is indeed a deeply painful lesson. I speak from experience because in the past month I?ve appeared before a federal magistrate, pled guilty to a misdemeanor, lost my dream job, and seen my reputation shattered by misinformed fellow journalists and climbers.I want to clarify the facts concerning an incident in which I was involved this past New Years Eve. On December 31, 2002, while camping with friends in Joshua Tree National Park, I lit afire some white gas on a granite rock during a New Year?s Eve celebration. Park Rangers immediately ticketed me for ?disposing of smoldering or lit material in a manner to create a public safety hazard.?I am very sorry for my actions on New Years Eve. Never did I intend to harm the Park or think this juvenile prank would throw my life into such turmoil. In the end, my foolish prank cost me my wonderful position as Editor of Climbing Magazine. The entire episode has had a negative impact on my former co-workers at Climbing Magazine and climber/ranger relations at Joshua Tree National Park. There is no excuse for what I did, and, as I have said from the beginning, accept full responsibility for my actions and the resulting ramifications.However, I feel it is important to set the record straight. Apparently because I was editor of an outdoor magazine, the National Park Service has chosen to make me their example of climber misbehavior in national parks. This has resulted in inaccuracies, and exaggerations on the Internet and newspapers about the incident. Most important is the fact that I most certainly expressed remorse and regret during my court appearance on April 4, 2003. The Park Service has issued a press release on the court action suggesting something different. In court, I was ashamed and embarrassed, not arrogant or cavalier. My impulsive, drunken actions on New Years Eve showed extreme poor judgment, as I told the magistrate judge. I related to the judge how much I loved the park, how I had been climbing there for over 10 years, and would never purposely cause harm to it. I also told the court that what I had done was something I would regret for the rest of my life, and that I would accept whatever punishment the court deemed fair.The Park Service claims I told the rangers that I wanted to start more fires or that I would perform the same stunt next year. After receiving my citation, I did return to the campsite campfire with other climbers. There were plenty of facetious remarks, fueled by alcohol, by nearly a dozen of us concerning what had happened earlier in the evening. I never proclaimed to any rangers that I would repeat my actions. I did not, nor have I ever, plotted or schemed to light fires in Joshua Tree National Park.Using the National Park Service´s misinformation as a source, Aspen?s daily newspaper proclaimed in a front-page story and headline that I?d been convicted of ?felony arson? and vandalism. That simply isn?t true, but I am now viewed by acquaintances and within the climbing community as a convicted felon vandal and arsonist. The fact is that I was charged with, and pled guilty to, the misdemeanor offense of ?disposing of smoldering or lit material in a manner to create a public safety hazard? — not arson or vandalism as the Park Service press release states. The arson allegation belongs with more serious firesetters — torching buildings, and trying to collect insurance money.I did not attempt to flee or run away from the rangers. After lighting thegas (which was on a 10-foot tall block, high above the campground andaway from endangering anyone or any vegetation), I went down the rock slab and was immediately apprehended by two rangers. There was no pursuit, nor was I handcuffed or taken to jail.My actions on New Years Eve have taken me from a job that I truly loved. That?s my fault, and my responsibility. I do not seek forgiveness, but only ask that the truth, not exaggerations and falsehoods, be known. Eventually I hope to rebuild my reputation and my standing in the climbing community. Until then, my greatest regrets are any harm I may have caused to the National Park for my error in judgment, and the public perception that I do not love and respect the outdoors in which I have made, and hope to continue, my career.” By Jonathan Thesenga, Former Editor, Climbing Magazine Original report is here