There are few people, men or women, who have mastered more adventure sports than pioneering athlete Steph Davis. Her expertise spans climbing, free-soloing (climbing without a rope), skydiving, BASE jumping, and wingsuit flying.
“I'm kind of a maverick personality, and that’s what attracted me to climbing and living that wild lifestyle,” says Davis, who started climbing in 1991 and lived out of various vehicles along the way to support her habit. She has left her mark in Yosemite (first woman to free-climb the 35-pitch Salathé Wall on El Cap) and Colorado (first to free-solo the Long Peak Diamond). She’s also climbed difficult routes on international expeditions in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Baffin Island, Argentina, Italy, and Patagonia.
In 2007, she started skydiving, BASE jumping, and wingsuit flying. Now she does between 200 and 300 jumps — with and without a wingsuit — each year.
“Free-solo climbing does involve a lot of risk analysis and self-regulation, which is really useful when applied to jumping,” Davis says. “And they both require being able to balance confidence with humility.”
But her brushes with death have not been while flying in a wingsuit. “My closest calls have been while climbing in the mountains. Once I was almost hit by a huge block of ice while at a hanging belay on Cerro Standhardt in Patagonia,” says Davis, who lives in Moab, Utah. “There's really nothing you can do in a situation like that — you either get lucky or you don't.”
While raising the standards in her sports, she has outlasted many. Her late husband, Mario Richard, died while they were wingsuit flying near Moab in 2013. Her ex-husband, Dean Potter, died while wingsuit flying in Yosemite in 2015.
“Climbing and flying daily for the last 25 years, I’m happy to be healthy and here right now,” she says, “and to understand the dynamic between respecting and pushing limits.”
- 2004: Second woman to free-climb El Capitan in less than 24 hours.
- 2005: First woman to free-climb the Salathé Wall (5.13b) on El Capitan in Yosemite.
- 2007: First to free-solo the Longs Peak Diamond.
- A handful of first ascents around the world.