The AT50: BASE Pioneer Dean Potter (#6)

"The Man Who Can Fly" lets go of the rock on purpose
Staff Writer

Mikey Schaefer

Age: 41
Sports: Rock Climbing, BASE Jumping, Highlining
Highlights: Climbed The Reticent Wall in 2006, cutting five days from the previous record time; the first person to FreeBASE The Eiger; first solo ascent of Glacier Point in the Yosemite Valley
Quote: "My feet look like hooves—like, fake-leather bottoms and funky toenails—and I scrub them with a big stiff-bristled nylon brush you’d use for scrubbing the side of your house."
Fact: Potter dropped out of the University of New Hampshire after 3 semesters.
AT50 Point Total: 48.5

It's some kind of miracle that Dean Potter is alive and well today. The daredevil climber has been rubbing elbows with death since the late 1980s, when he first made a name for himself as a dirtbag climber, eating salt-sandwiches and working $3 days to support his rock habit. From there, he moved on to free-soloing—that is, climbing without ropes for protection—big walls. Always a pioneer, he's invented new ways—freeBASEing is one example—of accommodating the climber's rush. FreeBASEing is essentially free-soloing beyond your known limits with the protection of a BASE jump parachute. When Potter is high above the ground and misses a crux move, rather than fall to his death he simply pushes back from the wall, starts a sickening swan dive towards the ground and pulls his parachute. His most famous feat to date is freeBASEing the Eiger's North Face.

Lately, though, he's been pushing the limit with "highlining," which is slacklining hundreds, or even thousands, of feet above the ground. What makes Potter crazier than almost anyone else highlining, is that he often does it without any protection—no tether, no rope, not even a BASE jump parachute (another technique he invented, called BASElining)—to save him if he falls. Last year, he highlined unprotected 6,000 feet above the floor of China's Enshi Gorge Canyon, in addition to his now-famous "moonwalk" on Yosemite's Cathedral Peak. When his feet are on solid ground, Potter enjoys a relaxed life in Yosemite Valley with his dog, Whisper, and the rigorous training regimens that allow him to defy gravity and, it would seem, sanity.
—Brian Berkovitz

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