R.I.P. Dean Potter

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Dean Potter, free solo climbing with Whisper on his back.

The only very loose connection to Richard Armitage here was a reference to Dean Potter in my Armitage? At The Vet Office dream, when Richard told me he wanted “a dog like Dean’s” who would be capable of riding in a harness while Richard went downhill skiing… the little male dog in that dream was no doubt based on the real Dean Potter’s dog, Whisper. She happens to be a female dog, but otherwise Whisper was basically the same rough and ready little Australian Cattle Dog mix who so impressed Richard in my ridiculous dream… it was just this type of macho dog that Richard Armitage was looking for (and I was naturally able to provide for him.) The real Whisper rode in a harness on Dean’s back during BASE jumps, extreme mountain climbing and even wingsuit flying. So there’s the admittedly tenuous connection to RA. And, ok, now that I think about it, Dean did look a little like Richard Armitage, same height, and was about the same age as well.

Yosemite National Park, California: Dean Potter dancing with the moon at Cathedral Peak. (Photo Credit: NGT/ Pablo Durana)

Yosemite National Park, California: Dean Potter dancing with the moon at Cathedral Peak.
(Photo Credit: NGT/ Pablo Durana)

Yeah, so I may have mentioned once or twice that I have this thing for rock climbers. I don’t actually climb myself (and I don’t really want to), though both my kids are in beginning climbing classes at the local climbing gym and they love it. And, well, Mommy enjoys hanging out watching *all* the climbers. My interest has always been more of a fascination with the lifestyle and the mindset of some of these guys. Let’s face facts… a lot of these men are just hot. (NSFW example of climbing hottie Chris Sharma). I have quite a collection of videos featuring lean male muscle, ropes, harnesses, gorgeous rock formations… And one of my favorite guys was always Dean Potter. Just something about him, the free spirit, the brooding intensity, living life to the maximum. A controversial figure who was dropped by more than one sponsor, but I followed him on Instagram and felt like he was a really cool guy. Not my kind of guy, but still someone I felt such a fascination for.

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At Yosemite after setting a running record from the valley floor to the summit of Half Dome and back… pic posted within the last 2 weeks by his girlfriend on Instagram.

Dean Potter was world-renowned for his extreme pursuits. Not only the free soloing, which is basically where they climb with no harness, no ropes, which is absolutely insane, but also for pushing the free-soloing to new extremes and pushing his own comfort-zone limits by starting what he called “free basing” which is where he would wear a parachute as he free solo’d, just in case. If you really want a great video of some amazing male and female free solo climbers, I’d suggest this link. I defy you to watch this and not get sweaty palms. And the guy that falls- that’s Dean. He survived the fall in the video because that was a parachute on his back.

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Dean Potter, Moonwalk, Cathedral Peak, Yosemite. Part of a National Geographic video.

As if free soloing and free basing weren’t enough, Dean Potter was also known for his talents at highlining, or high altitude slack lining, which is where they walk across a rope. Sometimes he had a harness or parachute on, sometimes he didn’t. This mystifies me. I can admire it, but I’d never wish to see any of my own loved ones attempt such stunts!

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Dean Potter and Whisper in wingsuit flight. There’s a movie on Vimeo about this… controversial! I haven’t watched it.

And then there was the BASE jumping and the wingsuit flying. Basically, BASE jumping is parachuting off of an object or cliff rather than out of an aircraft, and wingsuit flying is when they dive off and fly for a minute or two in a special type of “winged” garb before they deploy the parachute. Dean was a pioneer in the fringe sport of wingsuit flying, and he even would do it with Whisper on board. The veterinarian in me does not approve of subjecting the dog to this level of risk. It was Saturday, May 16 when Dean Potter and a friend of his, Graham Hunt, were simultaneously killed in a wingsuit accident at dusk in Yosemite National Park in California. Whisper was not on board. I only heard about it yesterday, though. Sigh.

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R.I.P. Dean. Photo from a friend of his, Cedar Wright on Instagram.

BASE jumping and wingsuit flying are illegal in all the National Parks in America. To my knowledge, this is mainly because of the risk involved and the expense involved in rescue/recovery. I think there are many places around the world where it is not illegal, but here in the USA, it is punishable by arrest and hefty fines. This means a lot of the jumps happen around dusk to reduce the risk of being caught by park authorities. Unsure exactly what went wrong, except that the word in the climbing blog circles is that after jumping off of Taft Point, the fliers had to navigate through some sort of a cleft or notch before they would be over the valley where they could deploy the parachutes. I can only assume that poor visibility or a some kind of forceful wind draft drew them off course, as neither had a chance to deploy their parachutes. It’s said it was a flight that both had successfully navigated multiple times.

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It must be a rush unlike any other. Dean Potter in recent wingsuit flight.

I don’t understand the mindset that allows people to take such extreme risks. Compelling as the personalities may be, it just saddens me sometimes. I read a statistic that there is a fatality rate of something on the order of 1 fatality per 2300 BASE jumps, compared to 1 per 200,000 traditional parachuting fatalities. And that some 75% of people involved in the sport had directly witnessed a fatality or life-threatening/near miss/serious injury incident. I don’t condemn it, though I do feel extremely sorry for their loved ones when the inevitable happens.

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This is the last photo posted by Dean himself on his Instagram account. He did love this little dog, and I’ve no doubt she is mourning, too.

I don’t believe that either man in this case had dependents, unless you count little Whisper… although I know Dean was a father figure to his girlfriend’s 3 children, as I saw a lot of pictures of him with those kids on his Instagram account. I do realize that the day will come for all of us… that death is inevitable no matter how safe you play it. And many in the climbing community believe that at least Dean Potter and others who met death in an extreme sports accident died doing something they were passionate about, and that they did live life in the fullest sense.

Anyway, I’m saddened. I had a fascination for him, and now he’s gone. I’ll miss his beautiful pictures and his unique outlook on life. So fly free, Dean Potter. You were one of a kind. 

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11 comments

  1. Servetus · May 19, 2015

    It’s a horrifying story. Still, Jon Krakauer sort of made the fascination with extreme climbing intelligible to me in his book about Everest. It’s a fever some people have.

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    • jholland · May 19, 2015

      I haven’t read that, but perhaps I should. It’s a fascinating subject. I am always up for a new documentary on climbing. I love those rough-living free spirits. I admire their athleticism and their “testicular fortitude” and their determination to achieve these feats. Yes, I love to watch. From the couch. =)

      Like

  2. Servetus · May 19, 2015

    I avoid even climbing slight rises, lol, but I read that book right after I had finished my dissertation, or maybe a year after, and I thought, I get it. It’s a lot like getting a Ph.D. You become totally preoccupied, your friends think you’re crazy, no one understands why you are doing it, you can’t even really explain it to yourself as you get further and further invested, you make a huge financial sacrifice and often a health sacrifice to do it, often you have to go off into a particular “place” to do it, the journey changes you, sometimes damaging you, and when you get back you are completely altered and still no one gets it … and if you’re successful, you try to recreate the experience in your professional life.

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    • jholland · May 19, 2015

      Interesting parallel. I suppose there are many pursuits that we might have in life that don’t make sense to others, at least in our circle of real life people… but there are others out there who do understand even if from what might seem on the surface to be a completely unrelated perspective… i.e. extreme climbing and pursuit of Ph.D. =) I think I tend to glide through life without often challenging myself. Not that I haven’t achieved my goals… just that I don’t tend to pursue anything extraordinary. =) Well, unless you count my 14 quilts in 2013. I impressed myself that year. LOL

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      • Servetus · May 19, 2015

        Just reading that makes my fingers hurt.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jholland · May 19, 2015

          Extreme quilting. It’s my sport. LOL

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        • Servetus · May 19, 2015

          I’m sure there’s some club out there that protects thimbles against oppression or is concerned about pathological finger punctures …

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Mimi Cruz · May 21, 2015

    Sad ending, but like you said, and I wholeheartedly agree, we all die. Might as well do something we are passionate about. Thank you 😔 Mimi

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    • jholland · May 21, 2015

      It is sad, and seems to happen so often. A number of the guys in YouTube free solo climbers video are no longer with us. =(
      However, they knew the risks and in their passion, they accepted them, so who are we to judge? I can’t help but admire them even as I shake my head, confused.

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      • Mimi Cruz · May 21, 2015

        I was reading though a Men’s Health mag with an article discussing why men generally die before women. It was a while ago, but I recall the biggest reason is they involve in higher risk activity. That alone sums it up for me. I can’t tell you how often I’ve lost my temper with two of my friends when they have, along w/hubs risked their lives having fun. Gets me steamed just thinking about it. 😡

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  4. Pingback: Thorin F-ing Oakenshield, Or: Hubby Scowls, The Family Howls | preoccupiedwitharmitage

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