It’s truly a sad day. Dean Potter and flying partner Graham Hunt died this past weekend BASE-jumping in Yosemite off of Taft Point. They were not climbing, but BASE Jumping with Wingsuits for controlled gliding. Because they were high profile members of the climbing community (esp. Dean), there has been much press, conjecture and opinion. Regardless, we lost two important individuals who will forever impact and inspire the climbing community.
Ironically, at the exact time of their fatal jump I was at a gathering of the core climbing tribe honoring many of the unsung heroes of recreation advocacy in our country. The Access Fund annual ‘Solid Protection’ Summit and evening gala brought many of the luminaries, pro athletes and passionate advocates together. The event was sponsored by Patagonia, and many of the visionary climbers of our era were in attendance including Lynn Hill, Tommy Caldwell, Malcolm Daly, Jeff Lowe, Bobby Bensman, Timmy O’Neill, Kate Rutherford, David Lama, Conrad Anker, Peter Croft, Michael Kennedy, Rob Raker, and many others; and of course Doug Robinson (the keynote of the evening).
As I sat with attendees of the event in the impromptu afterglow session in the lobby of the Westin, I talked at length with friend Jimmy Hopper, who (as Patagonia’s athlete and sponsorship manager) brilliantly had the foresight to reprint and give to each attendee the 1972 Chouinard catalog that first introduced Doug Robinson’s missive on ‘The Whole Natural Art Of Protection’. Though over 40 years old, this booklet shares so much wisdom about impact, and style, and stewardship and mindfulness that only a bit of the gear and pricing were obsolete. The idea of climbing in the best style, with only the necessary gear is still a lofty goal for the spirited trad climber.
Jimmy and I talked at length about our passions, but parenthood was heavy on each of our minds. Of course I have a trio of teenagers, so my cup runneth over… he was a fairly new father though, with a toddling daughter who was matched in cuteness only by Access Fund ED Brady Robinson’s daughter (both dads had their cellphones set on stun-ing daughter close up as the opening screen image). I knew Jimmy was an experienced wingsuiter himself, but that topic never came up… we hadn’t heard anything about the accident, and I am most certainly no BASE jumper. I did accidentally perform a backcountry luge of around 1000 feet before, but that’s a different story…
Jimmy announced recently on an fb post that he is finished with wingsuiting. It’s got to be a gut-wrenching decision, fending off the feeling that you are dishonoring the spirit of so many who have perished pursuing this version of human flight. Truly going after a dream of the ages for humankind. But to take what he has learned, what he has experienced, and take it forward into the future with his family and all who care for him and who will… that is a great gift he can never lose. In fact it will grow with him, I think. He can be old, AND bold.
‘Our mortality is both our greatest weakness and the universe’s most profound gift to us. It’s precisely this transience that makes life precious. We can’t always walk around in an enlightened state of embodying these virtues. But we can try harder to return to them, every day.” – Andrew Bisharat, Rock & Ice, TNB Feb 2015
None could claim the ‘spirited’ high ground above Dean. And who would feel the need to? We can all carry his love for the cleanest line, the purest/purist edge forward in our own lives and apply that to our own challenges, along our own lines and in our own time. That’s what inspiration does when it’s allowed; and we don’t need the whole package. We can be inspired by aspects of a person, and not have to become that person. Dean was a modern day practitioner of the ultimate clean climbing art (soloing). I will likely never don a wingsuit and BASE jump, rarely if ever solo. But to boldly and confidently move into fear, I can envision myself confidently walking a line or flying off and sticking the landing, like he did so many times. Here’s to you, Dean Potter. To the feasts of the Good…