The first three words I ever heard spoken by Steph Davis were yelled at the top of her lungs.
“ONE, TWO, THREE!”
She flew off the top of the Tombstone, a tower in Utah, and accelerated toward the ground. Her chute deployed, cracking thunder off the red sandstone walls. She floated down to the road, narrowly missing being hit by a car. After gathering her chute, she walked up with her arm extended.
“Hi, you must be Keith. I’m Steph.”
The last few years for Davis have been up and down, in more ways than one. She redpointed the Utah crack climb Conception (5.13b), and free soloed Pervertical Sanctuary (5.10c) on the Diamond face of Long’s Peak.
In 2006, Davis—who supports herself through sponsorships and speaking engagements—and her husband Dean Potter both lost their largest sponsors after Potter soloed Delicate Arch, tacitly understood as “off limits” to climbing, in Arches National Park. The resultant furor over what some called a media stunt damaged both climbers’ reputations.
In July 2007, the Moab resident went skydiving for the first time. By October, she was BASE jumping, and by December, wingsuit BASE jumping.
This spring, Davis combined both her passions when she free soloed the North Face (5.11a) of Castleton Tower, and jumped off the top.
“You can get hurt really fast BASE jumping,” she says. “But the more skill you have, the more chance you have. Soloing is more committing in some ways ... mentally, it takes a lot.”
Out at the crags, Davis is upbeat and always laughing. You have to wonder if all the negative press—not to mention the anonymous Internet comments, such as those criticizing her solo of Pervertical because she pre-placed tick marks—of recent years affects her, or if she is as stoic as she appears.
“I haven’t had much to say about the Delicate Arch stuff,” she says, “except that I learned a lot from it. I didn’t understand how image could affect an athlete. I was deeply hurt and disappointed by the whole thing.
“I don’t like to criticize anyone, because I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. Usually, negativity comes from unhappiness. Happy people wish good things for others. The best thing to do if people throw that energy at you is to wish them well, and hope they can be happier. Community is a huge part of climbing and jumping for me.”