Dean Potter always preferred to call himself an artist rather than an athlete. If that’s the case, Yosemite was his canvas, and the various ways in which he moved up, down, and across its colossal granite walls were nothing short of masterful. It would be many, many years before these “art forms” became known to the rest of us as free-solo climbing, highball slacklining, and wingsuit flying. “I’ll always call myself a climber,” he once told Men’s Journal. “But I’ve evolved climbing to be more than just grabbing rock and moving upward.” It was Potter’s creative restlessness that inspired him to begin climbing Yosemite’s big walls alone and without ropes 15 years before anyone had ever heard of Alex Honnold. He was the first free-solo climber—a person using no aid or ropes for protection—to wear a BASE chute on his back in order to catch a fall (as he did on Switzerland’s infamous Eiger in 2008). And not long after, Potter’s favorite means of descent was by wingsuit—occasionally with his dog Whisper along for the flight. Basically, Potter’s simple Zen-like need to express himself creatively opened the door to an entire generation of climbers and extreme athletes, many of whom have now become the most famous faces in the game. Sadly, in 2015, Potter was killed in a wingsuit accident during an evening flight near his home in Yosemite. But even at the time of his death, Potter was, of course, continuing to evolve his art forms, and the climbing world couldn’t wait to see what he came up with next.
· He free-solo climbed parts of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park and pioneered a route named “Easy Rider,” the first significant section of El Capitan to be free-soloed.
· In 2006 he climbed the Reticent Wall, one of the most difficult routes on El Capitan, in 34 hours and 57 minutes.
· He set the record for the longest ever BASE-jump wingsuit flight in 2011 (3 minutes, 20 seconds) after a jump from the top of Switzerland’s Eiger Mountain.
The Last Word
As a climber, Dean Potter will always be remembered as the one to finally “free climb” (with ropes, but without aid gear) some of the most difficult routes around the world (notably Supercanaleta, on Cerro Fitz Roy). However, his legacy will be transforming free solo climbing from stunt to legitimate personal expression, and he will always be known as one of the founding fathers of wingsuit flying.
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