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    The Wizard - Dean Potter

    By Duane Raleigh

    In memory of Dean S. Potter—fly free.

    Potter after making the first free solo of <em>Heaven</em> (5.12d), in 2006. Photo: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.stonenudes.com/">Dean Fidelman</a>.Dean Potter said he could fly.
    That was 10 years ago.
    Maybe he could fly.
    Who knows?
    He made so many spacey statements and did so many dreamy things they could seem as natural as a flower opening its petals.

    For those 10 years I meant to write a feature profile on Dean. We e-mailed and talked, and one idea was to use a séance as the device for the story. We’d go to a medium in San Francisco (he knew a few) and filter the questions and answers through the spirit world.

    "Cool," Dean said, "I'm into it."


    Of course he was.

    When Dean was a child living in Israel he fell off the roof of the family house, hitting his head on the patio. Bedouin women rushed to his aid. They chanted a magical song and to cast out evil spirits, tossed salt on his bleeding head. After that, Dean said he lost his fear of heights. In 1993 at Hueco Tanks, a series of visions told him of the innovations and failures he would have in the coming decades. In 2003, when he began skydiving and BASE jumping, he realized that the winged beings that had appeared in his dreams when he was an infant had been teaching him all along how to align his body in the air for flight.

    He was superstitious, part Schaghticoke (a northeastern tribe), and believed he had joined with the spirit of a dying swift he saw on the floor of the Sotos de las Golondrinas, a pit cave in Mexico so deep a person without a parachute would fall 10 seconds before impact. When Dean, with parachute, had jumped into that hole, his chute famously tangled around a free-hanging rope a photographer had fixed. Dean saved himself by grabbing the line and riding it 300 feet straight down to that dying bird.

    Wind blowing the wrong way could spook him.

    The séance didn’t happen and the years dragged on and Dean might have become frustrated at my inaction. Sometimes, when we spoke, he wouldn’t shut up and sometimes he would hardly say a word. I couldn’t tell if he was angry, being cosmic or avoiding the media. He’d become reticent after his free solo of the Delicate Arch in 2006 when the press, sponsors and nearly everyone had burned him. His ascent of that little span of sandstone, which is to Utah what the Statue of Liberty is to Americans, really chapped a lot of people. It took him years to recover.

    Solo on <em>Separate Reality</em> (5.11d) in 2006. Potter admitted to being initially nervous on the solo, but locked into a mental space that only he and a handful of climbers have been able to visit, and romped out the exposed roof five times "in a trance."<br />Photo: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.stonenudes.com/">Dean Fidelman</a>.But it wasn’t because of Delicate Arch that the interview didn’t happen. It didn’t happen because I kept waiting for him to do his next bigger thing, the career capper. Since Dean never said what he was up to, it was impossible to know when he had finally done the Big One, something bigger than free soloing Separate Reality five times in a row, bigger than free soloing all but about 100 feet of the Northwest Face of Half Dome, bigger than wearing a parachute to solo the Alien Roof on the Rostrum and a .12+ on the North Face of the Eiger and inventing FreeBASE along the way. Bigger than, in three weeks, setting the speed solo record for climbing Cerro Torre, and doing the first solo of Super Canaleta on Fitz Roy and establishing, solo, California Roulette (VI 5.10+ WI5). Bigger than climbing El Cap, Half Dome and Watkins in a day. Bigger even, than establishing the Nose speed record or the longest wingsuit flight record or walking, untethered, the Lost Arrow slackline or that even crazier one in China.

    Man, how do you go bigger than all that?

    Dean practiced a magical realism of his own brand: slacklining, free soloing, BASE jumping and wingsuit flying all bundled into a single life designed to lead him to mastery of the physical and spiritual worlds.

    When he made the first free solo of Heaven, that lofty 5.12d roof in the Valley, it seemed as if he had achieved complete control, and maybe that was the Big Thing, but with Dean how could you ever know?

    Earlier this year he did say that he had “something big in mind. Come to the Valley and you’ll see.”

    A free solo of Free Rider on El Cap seemed possible. Already he had down soloed the top 600 feet of Lurking Fear then soloed back up the Free Rider exit, a circuit he called Easy Rider. Maybe he would wear a parachute. Or maybe not.

    Or, was he really going to fly? It might sound crazy— Dean’s words—but he believed that by studying birds and practicing, he would someday fly and land, unaided. No wingsuit or parachute.

    Imagine that. Free soloing El Cap and swooping away like a swallow.

    Only Dean could.


    When Potter soloed the 40-foot <em>A Dog’s Roof</em> (5.12b) in 2006, “I couldn’t lead it," he said. "The climbing is on rattly jams that could just slip out. The crux is right at the top..." "...But I meditated hard at the base, and on the solo I felt like I could break my fingers [because] I was jamming so hard. I actually had to ease off a little.” Photo: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.stonenudes.com/">Dean Fidelman</a>.





















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


    More on Dean Potter

    Dean Potter - What I've Learned

    Dean Potter Killed in Wingsuit Accident in Yosemite

    Dean Potter: Life at the Edge of Realization

    Dean Potter On Laws, Modern America and Soloing Delicate Arch

    Dean Potter Free Solos Separate Reality and A Dog’s Roof

    Dean Potter: When Dogs Fly

    Dean Potter Sets New Half Dome FKT

    Dean Potter Moon Walks

    Niall Grimes: Stalking the Raven, or Rather Dean Potter


    Climbers We Lost in 2015

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