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    The Great Unknown - Graham Hunt

    16-May-2016
    By Zeno Wicks

    In memory of Graham Hunt—fly free.

    Graham Hunt. Photo by Shawn Reeder.In early May this year, Graham Hunt and Jeff Shapiro touched down in the Tule Valley of Southwest Utah. It was their third two-way—a flight where wingsuit BASE jumpers launch simultaneously and fly together—off Notch Peak that weekend.

    Notch Peak, the second-tallest mountain in the House Range, towers 4,450 feet over the valley floor. It’s the second-highest pure vertical drop in the United States behind El Capitan in Yosemite. For Hunt and Shapiro it was memorable, but just one of dozens of two-ways shared over the years.

    “At the end of all three [jumps], we landed, laughed and hugged,” Shapiro says.

    And that’s how it always went.

    That evening they camped together and chilled before parting ways the next morning. Shapiro planned to head to Yosemite in early June and would stay with Dean Potter, his other favorite BASE-jumping partner. Hunt would convene as well, and the three would BASE jump, climb and hang out in the Valley.

    “Hey, man, I’ll see you in a couple of weeks,” Shapiro told Hunt. “Be safe.”

    But on May 16, Hunt, 29, and Potter, 43, died attempting a jump off Taft Point, a 7,500-foot promontory that stands 3,500 feet over the Yosemite Valley floor. They were aiming to fly through a notch in a granite outcrop.

    In the aftermath of the accident, much was written about Potter, but Hunt wasn’t just the other guy—his loss is also deeply felt in Yosemite and among BASE jumpers.

    A twinkle-eyed, sandy-haired go-getter, Hunt unofficially moved to Yosemite at 22 after meeting a longtime Valley climber, Sean Jones, at the Pipeworks Climbing Gym in Sacramento.

    “We were super-bros instantly,” says Jones, who admired “the conviction behind the way [Hunt] did things. It was just really methodic and precise movement."

    Graham, the son of Cliff and Anne Hunt, grew up in Placerville, California. Cliff and Anne split up when Graham was young, but Anne kept the last name and kids. She’s worked at the same grocery store for the last 35 years to raise and support Graham and his sisters, Victoria and Samantha.

    Growing up, Graham was a natural athlete in soccer, baseball—you name it. Victoria says he was the silent teammate who led by example and chose friends he could learn from. Over time he also excelled at individual sports. Anne writes of his lifelong “self-determination and studied skills.”

    “Nothing Graham did was done recklessly,” she writes. “He sought out the best and learned from them.”

    Bouldering at Rock Creek, Eastern Sierra. Photo by Shawn Reeder.Following high school, Hunt worked summers as a hot-shot firefighter based out of Sacramento. After their meeting at the gym, Jones convinced Hunt to spend off-seasons climbing in Yosemite. Jones owned a house in El Portal and was eager to introduce Hunt to the community. The two climbed together almost continually, though Jones was a father of four.

    “We would always take big bandwagons of children out,” Jones says. “Nobody would ever come with me on a 10-kid day, but Graham would.”

    In less than a year, Hunt was climbing harder than Jones, working his way up from the Cookie Cliff to one-day ascents of El Cap, the first ascent of First Blood, a stunning 5.11 crack at Jackass Rock, and flashing highball problems such as The King (V7) at Yosemite’s Cathedral Boulders. He nabbed the second ascent of Close to the Edge (5.12c), a prominent arête on Yosemite’s Nuts Only Wall, nearly 15 years after Jones got the FA.

    As Hunt honed his climbing chops, he also became interested in BASE jumping, making friends with Shapiro and others at the Parachute Center in Lodi, California, and later at Skydive Elsinore at Lake Elsinore, California.

    By age 26, Hunt was jumping El Cap and Half Dome with the BASE jump pioneer Sean “Stanley” Leary. In time he quit firefighting and moved to El Portal, working freelance construction and cleaning jobs.

    Through Leary, he met Potter. When Leary died BASE jumping in Zion National Park in March 2014, both Hunt and Potter mourned the loss.

    “I mean, my mentor just died,” Hunt says about the risk of BASE jumping in a commemorative YouTube video. “But then there’s the cliché of, well, you can die driving your car, and it’s fully true, man. So, I mean, I have to believe that we don’t have to die doing this.”

    In January 2015, Hunt began dating Rebecca Haynie, and they could often be found climbing together around Yosemite.

    As focused as Hunt was, Haynie says he was also quietly playful and funny.

    “Baby,” Hunt would say as he got down on one knee facing Haynie, pausing for effect. “Nah, I'll ask you later.”

    Haynie watched as Hunt and Potter grew closer, together “opening exits”—making the first wingsuit BASE jumps off particular cliffs—on more and more difficult terrain.

    In 2013, Potter and Hunt climbed the Eiger’s Mittellegi Ridge (5.8 A0), and opened the South Face exit. Their flight circumnavigated the Eiger and descended nearly 10,000 feet. On that same trip to Europe they opened exits off the Mönch and other Bernese peaks.

    Hunt pushed the limits like Potter, though not always alongside him. He and Shapiro opened various exits in Montana and, in the weeks before he died, Hunt opened low, quick-start exits off the Dragon’s Nest and Castleton Tower near Moab. People had jumped off these towers before, but never with a wingsuit.

    “Those exits in Moab are as cutting edge as anything that’s been jumped in the world,” Shapiro says. “It takes three seconds to get the wingsuit flying, and then the jump is four and a half seconds to impact. So if you don’t get flying perfectly, you’re going to hit the ground.”

    Unlike Potter, Hunt didn’t have sponsorship. He didn’t look for it either, says Jones, who likens him to a younger Potter.

    “Dean was just such a badass. And when he became such a badass, sponsorship kind of chased him,” Jones says. “And Graham was probably on the same path. People were going to start recognizing him more and track him down.”

    Shawn Reeder, who met Hunt in 2007, says Hunt had no Facebook account or other technology. A year could go by without the two of them communicating, but whenever they met, Reeder says, “It was like not a day had passed.”

    On the day Hunt died, he texted Shapiro that he was excited for him to come out and “rage” in Yosemite in a few weeks.

    “It was obvious to everyone around him that he really enjoyed what he was doing because it fulfilled him as a human being, and not because he was trying to be something or accomplish something,” Shapiro says. “Everything that Graham did had nothing to do with ambition and everything to do with fulfillment and happiness.”

     

    Rock and Ice intern ZENO WICKS is a writer based out of Missoula, Montana.

     

    Fly Free—Tribute to Graham Hunt

     

    This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 228 (August 2015) in tribute to Dean Potter and Graham Hunt.

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