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Dean Potter in 2012
Photo by Christian Pfanzelt / adidas
Dean Potter during the first FreeBASE of Deep Blue Sea on the Eiger (5.12+/7b+)
Photo by Beat Kammerlander

Dean Potter and Graham Hunt die in Yosemite accident

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On Saturday, 16/05/2015, the famous American climber Dean Potter and Graham Hunt lost their lives in a wingsuit accident in Yosemite Valley, USA.

Dreadful news comes from America’s Yosemite National Park where 29 year-old Graham Hunt and 43-year old Dean Potter were killed last Saturday in a wingsuit accident. Potter was recognized as one of the most famous climbers in the world. According to preliminary reports provided by the park rangers and published by The Guardian, the two had launched from Taft Point. The alarm was raised when they failed to return and the bodies were recovered on Sunday morning.

Dean Potter was one of the world’s leading climbers; highly talented, eclectic and at times controversial, he had chosen Yosemite as his second home. During his prominent career he set numerous records and was a pioneer and a reference point for a myriad of different disciplines, many of which pushed the extreme limit of what had been considered possible.

The climbs he carried out in the Moab desert, on Yosemite’s granite and on that in Patagonia are far too many to list comprehensively. Certainly though those done solo, without a rope, are truly legendary, such as Astroman (2000), the strikingly beautiful Heaven (2005), Separate Reality and Dog's Roof (2006) and, in 2008, The Rostrum. His speed ascents are legendary, too, and early on in his career he pursued this art with careful dedication. In 1999 he achieved the hitherto unthinkable - El Capitan and Half Dome solo and in under 24 hours - while in 2001 together with Timmy O'Neil he made the first one day ascent of three Yosemite big walls: Half Dome (Regular Route), Mt. Watkins (South Face) and El Capitan (The Nose). It was in that year that Potter and O’Neil also set the new speed record on The Nose, and in 2010 he and Sean Leary bettered this time to reclaim the record and stop the clock after 2:36:45.

Potter took his capabilities all the way to Patagonia where he had made the first solo ascent of the Supercanaleta route up Fitz Roy, followed by a fast solo repeat of the Compressor route on Cerro Torre, climbed in 11 hours starting from the glacier. His outstanding Patagonian climb however was the first ascent of California Roulette (VI 5.10+ WI5) up the West Face of Fitz Roy; climbed solo in 9 hours and 50 minutes, at the time Potter explained: "Standing on the top, I knew it was my ultimate climb. It was the biggest, hardest thing I’d ever done, but also the most pure."

This search for "purity" led Potter to dedicate greater attention to BASE jumping. After returning to Patagonia in 2005 and leaping off the East Pillar of El Mocho, in 2008 he carried out one of his boldest climbs of all, perhaps the one that struck most for its audacity: Deep Blue Sea, a 300m 7b+ up the North Face of the Eiger. After months of careful preparations Potter climbed the route solo and with only a tiny parachute strapped to his back, to be used in case of an emergency. Potter obviously did not fall and instead lept from the summit and flew back down into the Swiss valley, thereby giving rise to a new discipline, FreeBASE.

Not everything that Potter did was free of controversy though, such as his solo ascent of Delicate Arch, the symbol America’s Arches National Park. But Potter continued to stay true to his ideas and these often also interested the mainstream audience, far less experienced than the tight-knit climbing community. In 2009, for example, the prestigious National Geographic magazine selected Dean Potter as one of the ten Adventurers of the year. Potter was also renowned for a further art, his legendary highlines in Yosemite which include, famongst many others, his gracious Moonwalk, planned in minute detail and carried out at Cathedral Peak in Yosemite on 12 July 2011.

A few days ago Potter made headline news once again for his sprint up to the summit of Half Dome and return back down into Yosemite valley. A long circular route carried out by mixing the disciplines trail running trail and solo climbing. At great speed, as always.

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