Dean Potter 1972-2015

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 20/05/2015

One of the world's most notable rock climbers, highliners and BASE jumpers, 43-year old Dean Potter, was killed on Saturday the 16th May when attempting a wingsuit flight from Taft Point on the southern rim of Yosemite Valley.

Launching in close succession and near dusk, as BASE jumping is illegal in Yosemite, Potter and his regular flying partner Graham Hunt, planned to track through a notch in a cliff line.

They didn't make it, nor did either deploy their parachutes.

Potter started climbing in 1988 and from around 1993 had lived in Yosemite Valley. By the end of the decade he was making a big impact on American climbing with his bold undertakings, solos and speed climbing.

In 1999 he strung together a solo ascent of the Nose on El Capitan and Half Dome's northwest face in a little over 23 hours, the first time the two great monoliths had been linked by a solo climber.

Then with Tim O'Neill he made the first triple link-up of Half Dome, Sentinel and El Cap, the pair finishing in around 22 hours.

In 2001, and again with O'Neill, he became the first to link three Yosemite grade VI walls in under 24 hours, the Northwest face of Half Dome, South face of Watkins, and the Nose on El Cap, climbing more than 80 pitches.

In 2002 he set the speed record for the Nose on El Capitan with a sub-four hours ascent, and the same year made, for that time, an astonishing free solo of the Northwest face of Half Dome.

As late a 2010 he again broke the speed record for the Nose, this time climbing with the late Sean Leary. Their time of 2h.36 lasted a couple of years until beaten by Hans Florine and Alex Honnold.

By 2002 he was already getting into BASE jumping and outrageous highlines, pursuits in which he would go on to excel. In 2009 he was made National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for setting a world record for the longest timed Wingsuit BASE jump, which he made from the Eiger.

However, Potter was certainly not averse to controversy. In recent years he'd gained some notoriety for flying with his (small) dog strapped in a harness on his back, whilst in 2006 his much publicised climb of Delicate Arch, although not strictly illegal, led to a media uproar and a heated widespread community discussion.

It ended with both Potter and his then wife Steph Davis being dropped by their major sponsor Patagonia.

On the 6th August 2008 Potter brought together two disciplines in spectacular fashion, in an art that he would term Free BASE.

On that day he free solod Deep Blue Sea (7b+) on the right side of the north face of the Eiger.

This 2001 Rathmaier-Ruhstaller route on the wall right of the Geneva Pillar is gently overhanging and outrageously exposed. Potter climbed it without a rope but carried a light parachute, which he had previously practised deploying from smaller cliffs in the event of a fall.

Whilst best remembered for his solos, flying, and spectacular highlining, Potter's contribution in the alpine world should not be underestimated.

This mainly took place in Patagonia, where his ability to climb fast through short weather windows produced results.

Many of his adventures in the Fitz Roy massif were carried out with his wife Steph Davis, who described Potter as a 6' 5" giant, and her complex relationship with him in her autobiographical work, High Infatuation.

In March 2001 the pair climbed a new route on the north face of Poincenot in a 25-hour round trip from Paso Superior (7a A1 75°)

The same year Potter soloed a combination of the dangerous Pippo Frasson (a.k.a. Poincenot) Couloir and California Route on Fitz Roy to create California Roulette (5.10+ WI5)

Back again in 2002 Potter made the first solo ascent of the 1,600m Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy in just six and a half hours (his first route of the season), and followed this with the third solo ascent of the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre, in eight and a half hours.

In 2006 using the Italian-Titanic combination and some variants, a line now known as the Martin-O'Neill Link-Up, Davis and Potter made the first one day ascent of Torre Egger (and the first female ascent). They reached the top in 23 hours, having retreated from a point just 20m below the summit mushroom on an earlier attempt.

The same season the pair climbed a new route on the east face of Standhardt, making Davis the first woman to stand on its summit.

Earlier that year he had teamed with American Stephen Koch and Slovenian Marko Prezelj to climb The Long Run, the lowest of all possible sit-starts to Cerro Torre. The 2000m line climbs El Mochito, then over El Mocho, to finish up the Compressor Route (7a A2 M6 75°).

Later in the summer he joined Thomas Huber in the Dolomites to make an attempt to climb the three main summits of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the space of 24 hours, by hard routes, and using parachutes for descent. They were on target and starting up the final route, when Huber damaged his shoulder and was unable to continue.

He also climbed in the Waddington Range of British Columbia, where in 2011 he put up a new free route on the west face of Mt Bute and descended by wingsuit.

After his marriage to Davis broke up, Potter settled in with girlfriend Jenn Rapp and her children. Davis went onto marry another BASE jumper, Mario Richard, who sadly died during a jump in 2013.

 



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