Dean Potter had quite the first memory as a child. It was a dream, and in it he was flying, until he fell. He often wondered if it was a premonition of his own death.
Some people look at a majestic, vertical rock face and think nothing of it. Others think, “Wow, that’s beautiful” Still others think, “I’d love to climb that.” Then they put on a harness, rope up, and have a trusted companion belay their ascent.
Then there was Dean Potter.
Potter, a Yosemite icon, was probably the most talented free solo, big wall climber of our time; an absolute prodigy. This fearless, climbing legend ascended some of the most difficult routes in the world for 20 years; often unroped. He walked slacklines hundreds of feet in the air without protection, and basically invented freebase climbing. He was also a BASE-jumper.
Freebase climbing is a blend of free solo climbing and BASE-jumping. A climber has a parachute on for protection. No rope or belayer, just a chute in the case of a fall. Potter once said in an interview with Outside Television that, “…If you fall you don’t die – you fly.”
This video is a short compilation of some of his thoughts and bits of his unique talents caught on tape.
Potter, 43, and a friend, Graham Hunt, 29, jumped from a near 3,000-foot tall rock tower in Yosemite Valley on Saturday with the intention of flying, not dying. They wanted to pass through a gap in a granite wall on their way to the safety of the ground. Both men wore wing suits and also had parachutes. However, both men collided with the rock face in quick succession, and neither man pulled their chute.
It’s too early to know for sure why this happened, and I won’t speculate.
Dean Potter undoubtedly lived more in his 43 years than most will in a thousand lifetimes. He was a spiritually deep thinker, never more at home or happy than when on the side of a big wall ascending an incredibly difficult route.
Most people don’t get the dramatic appeal of rock climbing in general; especially unroped. But what they do not understand is the need for some humans to push their limits to the extreme, to feel alive, such as those who venture to outer space, or the North Pole, or those who skydive regularly.
These gifted athletes are not adrenaline junkies, as they are often referred to. They seek higher planes of existence, and wish to not only think outside of the proverbial box – they want to blow it up. They do not totally disregard fear, but they have developed the ability to harness it, and derive power from it at the same time.
They have learned that life has much more to offer than profits or material wealth. These people do what they do because they love their pastimes, not because they want to be famous or rich. You can bet Dean would lived his life no differently, had he never been noticed in the valley of Yosemite.
Potter basically had no equal in the world of free solo climbing until Alex Honnold came along. Honnold has set numerous speed climbing records and also frequently climbs free solo. He may now be the singular, living free solo climbing legend of our time. There are probably many of his friends, family members and fans who wish he would slap on a harness, tie a figure eight knot and throw a nut or bolt into a crevice here and there in between long runouts. But that will more than likely not happen any time soon.
Honnold, like Potter was, is a driven and gifted extreme athlete. He basically lives in his van just outside Yosemite’s boundaries so he can stay as close to the park as legally possible, and climb as often as possible. Camping for more than a few days in a row has become illegal in the park, as the numbers of visitors and the need for sharing the resource have grown.
Talk about devotion.
I don’t want him to put on a harness and rope up if he doesn’t want to, but when he comes to the point of realizing he has nothing left to prove to himself or anyone else for that matter – no one in the climbing community will lose any respect for him.
Rock climbing is a unique sport. Not only can it be an unbelievable confidence booster, teach us to trust others, to value that trust, and a great way to get outside and become physically fit; but it’s a window into a realm of an unseen and unknown world, where a person can be lost in a vertical place – alone, but also in unison with all of those who have come this way before – and dared to reach for what many see as completely unattainable.
R.I.P. Dean Potter. You beat that one fear you had as a child, without a doubt, and lived a life more inspiring to others than even you could have ever known.