Dean Potter

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Dean Potter
Dean Potter
Potter on August 28, 2009
Dean Spaulding Potter

(1972-04-14)April 14, 1972
DiedMay 16, 2015(2015-05-16) (aged 43)
Cause of deathWingsuit flying crash
OccupationRock climber
Known forRock climbing, Alpinism, BASE jumping, highlining, FreeBASE (climbing)
Height1.96 m (6 ft 5 in) [1]
(m. 2002; div. 2010)

Dean Spaulding Potter (April 14, 1972 – May 16, 2015) was an American free climber, alpinist, BASE jumper, and highliner.[2] He completed many hard first ascents, free solo ascents, speed ascents, and enchainments in Yosemite National Park and Patagonia. In 2015, he died in a wingsuit flying accident in Yosemite National Park.[3]

Early life[edit]

Dean Potter was born in 1972[4][1] to an Army officer in a military hospital at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas[5] and grew up in New Hampshire. He taught himself to climb when he was in 10th grade in southern New Hampshire. He attended the University of New Hampshire, where he rowed varsity crew. Potter quit college and pursued his passion for climbing.[6]

Climbing career[edit]

Free solo[edit]

Potter climbed many new routes and completed many solo ascents in Yosemite and Patagonia. He free-solo climbed a small part of El Capitan in Yosemite, where he pioneered a route he called Easy Rider by climbing down the slabby upper pitches of the route Lurking Fear (hardest moves rated grade 5.10a) and then traversed Thanksgiving Ledge to complete the last six pitches and six hundred feet of the route Free Rider (hardest pitch 5.11d, two pitches of 5.10d, 5.10b, 5.10a and 5.7). This was the first major section of El Capitan to be free soloed, but his path avoided the significantly more challenging climbing on what is the easiest way up El Capitan below (several 5.12 pitches, with difficulty up to 5.12d on Free Rider).[7][8]

Big wall[edit]

In July 2006, Potter climbed The Reticent Wall, one of the hardest routes on El Capitan in Yosemite Valley, in 34 hours and 57 minutes with Ammon McNeely and Ivo Ninov, slashing five days off the existing time.[9] Potter and Sean Leary set a new speed record for climbing up The Nose of El Capitan in November 2010. They ran up the 31-pitch route in 2 hours, 36 minutes, 45 seconds. This was twenty seconds quicker than the existing record, set the previous October by Yuji Hirayama and Hans Florine. Potter's record was later surpassed by Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds followed by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, who completed The Nose route in 1 hour 58 minutes in June 2018.[10]

Delicate Arch climb[edit]

Controversy surrounded Potter after his 2006 climb of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, for which he lost his sponsorship from the Patagonia clothing company. "There wasn't any legal reason for me not to climb it," Potter said of Delicate Arch, despite well-established tradition forbidding climbing named features in the park. This incident resulted in a blanket ban on the activity within Arches National Park. Potter had previously created conflict with Park authorities by slacklining between the Three Gossips.[11][failed verification]

"I didn't see any moral reason not to climb it. I didn't hurt it,"[12] he said, though rope grooves in the soft sandstone were later found, possibly created or enhanced by the professional photographers Potter brought along to publicize the climb.[11]

Potter said he would not climb Totem Pole, the spire in Monument Valley that Navajo imbue with religious significance. Delicate Arch, despite its prominence on Utah license plates, did not have the stature of the sacred Arizona tower, he said: "I didn't see a reason why it's wrong, why we shouldn't mesh with nature."[12] An account said: "At first Potter's handler at Patagonia spread the word of his climb by calling the Salt Lake Tribune. Public outrage was immediate, though, especially in Utah, where many see Delicate Arch as a symbol for the state's wild beauty."[11]

Potter's Delicate Arch climb was memorialized in hip hop artist Chris "Odub" Hampton's song "Not All Roses," which chronicles the controversy surrounding the climb. Odub's later "Cease and Desist" responds to the cease-and-desist order that Potter's attorney sent the artist in response to "Not All Roses."[13]

Highlining, BASE jumping, and FreeBASEing[edit]

Potter was also known for highlining and BASE jumping. He was introduced to slacklining by Charles Victor Tucker III, known as "Chongo", one of the first three people to highline across Lost Arrow Spire.[14] Potter completed a variety of highline-crossings without the benefit of a safety lanyard, backup line, or BASE jumping parachute. Some included lines suspended as much as 3,000 feet (910 m) above the ground in Yosemite National Park.

On August 6, 2008, he completed the first "FreeBASE" ascent of Deep Blue Sea on the north face of the Eiger.[15] Potter invented freebasing, a combination of free solo climbing without the assistance of ropes—but with a BASE parachute rig attached on the climber's back. In the event of a fall, a climber can revert into a base jump and survive.[16]

In 2014, he released a 22-minute-long film, When Dogs Fly, that chronicled the extreme adventures of his hearing dog, Whisper.[17] The film became a viral phenomenon, but was criticised by animal rights activists.[18]


On May 16, 2015, Potter and Graham Hunt died attempting a proximity wingsuit flight from Taft Point above Yosemite Valley.[19][3] The route they were attempting, which they had flown before, required them to clear a small notch in a rocky ridge line. Hunt hit a side wall during the flight while Potter cleared the notch before crashing. Both died on impact.[20] Neither of them had deployed their parachutes.[21][22][23] Potter's and Graham's deaths brought the total number of BASE jumping death in U.S. national parks in 2015 to five.[24]

Notable ascents[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Dean Potter, Graham Hunt Killed in BASE Jump". May 17, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
  2. ^ "Real Water Productions: Moonwalk". Vimeo. July 12, 2012. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Kaplan, Sarah (May 18, 2015). "Dean Potter, extreme climber, dies in Yosemite base jumping accident". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  4. ^ Dean Potter Archived April 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine on
  5. ^ "Dean Potter: What I've Learned". Archived from the original on October 4, 2018. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  6. ^ Arnold, Katie (2007). "The Man Who Thinks He Can Fly". ESPN. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  7. ^ Roy, Adam (February 10, 2012). "The First (almost) Free Solo of El Cap". Outside Magazine Blog. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  8. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (May 18, 2015). "How Dean Potter Reinvented Climbing, Jumping, Flying". National Geographic News. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  9. ^ McDonald, Dougald (July 26, 2006). "Reticent Wall in a Single Push". Climbing Magazine. Skram Media LLC. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  10. ^ a b "The Nose, new record on El Capitan by Leary and Potter". Planet Mountain. November 8, 2010. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c Neville, Tim (June 2006). "How Delicate Was Dean?". Outside Online. Mariah Media Inc. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  12. ^ a b Thuermer, Angus M. "Climber Potter, Patagonia agree to split the synchilla". Jackson Hole News & Guide. Archived from the original on July 13, 2011. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  13. ^ Levine, Whitney. "Not All Roses: Climbing Rapper in Hot Water over Delicate Arch Parody". Climbing Magazine.
  14. ^ Janice Ahn, Brian Murphy, Ritesh Batra, Daniel Patterson, Keith Davis (December 18, 2008). Chongo (Short film). Cisco. Archived from the original on July 23, 2011. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
  15. ^ Thomasma, Melissa (August 13, 2008). ""FreeBASE": Dean Potter on the Eiger Nordwand". Alpinist. ISSN 1540-725X. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  16. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (May 18, 2015). "How Dean Potter Reinvented Climbing, Jumping, Flying". National Geographic.
  17. ^ Dean and Whisper: Climbing, Base Jumping Service Dog
  18. ^ "US daredevil Dean Potter dies during flying stunt". BBC News. May 18, 2015. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  19. ^ Friends Remember Graham Hunt and Dean Potter on
  20. ^ Lucas, James (May 19, 2015). "Dean Potter and I Recovered Dead BASE Jumpers". The Daily Beast Company LLC. Retrieved May 19, 2015.
  21. ^ Branch, John (May 17, 2015). "Dean Potter, Extreme Climber, Dies in BASE-Jumping Accident at Yosemite". The New York Times. Retrieved May 18, 2015.
  22. ^ Schaffer, Grayson. "Dean Potter Killed in BASE Jumping Accident". Outside Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  23. ^ Bisharat, Andrew (May 17, 2015). "Pioneering Climber Dean Potter Killed in BASE Jumping Accident". National Geographic. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  24. ^ "Dean Potter's GoPro camera captured deadly Yosemite cliff jump". San Jose Mercury News. May 20, 2015. Retrieved June 30, 2015.
  25. ^ MacDonald, Dougald (January 8, 2009). "Haley Solos Fitz Roy's Supercanaleta". Climbing Magazine News. Skram Media. Archived from the original on January 18, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  26. ^ Pegg, Dave (June 24, 2003). "Immaculate Concepcion". Climbing Magazine News. Skram Media. Archived from the original on August 27, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  27. ^ Hansen, Holly (September 11, 2006). "Potter in Free Solo Heaven". Climbing Magazine News. Skram Media. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  28. ^ MacDonald, Dougald (November 10, 2006). "Scary Half Dome Route Gets Second Free Ascent". Climbing Magazine News. Skram Media. Retrieved May 27, 2009.
  29. ^ Thomasma, Melissa (August 13, 2008). ""FreeBASE": Dean Potter on the Eiger Nordwand". Alpinist. Alpinist LLC. Retrieved February 15, 2011.

External links[edit]