April 14,1972–May 17,2015
Dean Potter and a wingsuit flying partner have died after a BASE jump in Yosemite National Park went badly wrong. The two men are believed to have flown from Glacier Point.
Potter, 43, was one of the most innovative, energizing, and controversial figures in modern climbing. He broke barriers in speed and solo climbing, including repeatedly setting the speed record for the Nose of El Capitan, climbing with Timmy O’Neill or the late Sean “Stanley” Leary. In 2001, he and O’Neill became the first climbers to link Yosemite’s three biggest walls—Half Dome, Mt. Watkins, and El Capitan—in a single day. He also speed-soloed Half Dome and El Capitan in a day. In Patagonia, among many other bold climbs, he free-soloed Supercanaleta on Fitz Roy and later did the first ascent of California Roulette, also free solo, on Fitz Roy.
Potter also became famous for bold high-line walks and BASE jumping, and he combined these skills with climbing in an invented sport: FreeBASE, in which he wore a parachute for protection in case he fell from a solo climb. Using this technique he free-soloed the long 5.12+ route Deep Blue Sea on a limestone pillar on the right side of the Eiger north face.
In 2006, his solo ascent of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park caused a storm of controversy and led to the loss of his sponsorship from Patagonia. More recently, the film When Dogs Fly featured Potter’s tandem wingsuit flights with his Queensland heeler, Whisper, an activity that left some viewers in awe and others in anger.
Standing 6 feet 5 inches tall, but always speaking softly, Potter was a larger-than-life figure who fully lived up to the much-overused term “extreme sports athlete.”