Free spirit and free soloist Dean Potter, 43, died yesterday evening, May 16, when he and a friend, Graham Hunt, 29, attempted a wingsuit jump off of Taft Point in Yosemite Valley. Hunt was also killed.
Potter and Hunt jumped from the promontory overlooking the Valley then failed to respond to a friend’s radio calls and did not appear at a predetermined meeting point. They were found Sunday morning by a police helicopter. Neither Potter nor Hunt had deployed their parachutes. The cause of the accident is pending an investigation.
Dean Potter was one of climbing’s most spiritual personalities, doing what felt right rather than what would earn him more money or fame, although he earned the latter in abundance, his lanky unkempt person always drawing onlookers. Potter said that his three “arts” were climbing, wingsuit flying and slacklining. He excelled in all. He set the Nose speed record, made the first free solo of the Alien Roof on the Rostrum—he wore a parachute, “Free BASEing, the climb, as he called it—and slacklined the the Lost Arrow. An all-around athlete, Potter only last week set a new record for getting to the top of Half Dome and back down in 2:17:52, soloing Snake Dike (5.7) along the way.
Whatever Potter did, he did it his way and was troubled by watching the sport of climbing go from being a gang of rebels and even misfits who did their thing, flaunting conformity and regulation to err on the wild side, to a bunch of what he saw as clean-cut Wheaties-box athletes. “This homogenization of the Outdoor Industry has lasting ramifications,” he told me last fall after he was fired as a sponsored athlete by Clif Bar for what he said was engaging in high-risk activities such as soloing and BASE jumping. “Outdoor Arts are beyond sport and for many of us it’s our spirituality. The wilderness is infinite in what it offers. Shouldn’t we question when the leaders of our community try to manipulate our culture into a monocrop?”
Despite a ban on BASE jumping in Yosemite that his been in place since 1980, BASE jumping remains popular in the park, creating a cat-and-mouse game between jumpers and park rangers who try to catch them. Potter, who was featured in the recent film “Valley Uprising,” was one of the sport’s most ardent practitioners and shown wearing a mask to hide his identity in the video’s closing segment as he cut loose and flew off a cliff in Yosemite. He BASE jumped, he said, not to flaunt the law but to express his freedom as a human being.
“We are the last of the Wild,” he recently wrote. “If we keep excluding the next most-wild-creature, sooner or later there will be nothing left.”
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