The Aerialist aka Dean Potter

Dean Potter, 39, is the modern master of risk-taking on rock, a towering physical specimen who speed-climbs the biggest walls in Yosemite, flies off cliffs wearing a wingsuit and a parachute, scales steep, technical rock faces without a rope, and walks on bobbing slacklines set thousands of feet above the ground—sometimes without any kind of safety device. Among climbers, he’s equally famous for his king-of-the-dirtbags ethos (he’s been known to live in a cave), his intense demeanor, and a rebellious streak that has made him a counter­cultural icon, irritating some and inspiring many more. Potter was married in 2002 to fellow climber Steph Davis, from whom he divorced last year, and these days lives just outside Yosemite Valley with his dog, Whisper. For our oral history, former Climbing editor Matt Samet spoke with family, friends, and the man himself to get a glimpse of a life lived way over the edge.

Potter began climbing in 1988, at 16, doing most of his apprenticeship near his home in New Boston, New Hampshire, on the granite cliffs of Joe English Hill, a 1,273-foot mountain that sits on federal land controlled by a local Air Force base.
DEAN POTTER: In the early days at Joe English, my friend John and I climbed a lot by pushing on each other’s feet and pulling on each other’s hands. Later, some older guys—the Adams brothers—ran into us and said, “Damn kids, you guys are going to die!” They told us to get a harness, and they said you can’t use a laundry line for climbing. We were doing top ropes with stuff we got from John’s father’s garage.
PATRICIA DELLERT (Dean’s mother): I wasn’t aware of Dean’s love of climbing until his high school years, when he was going over to Joe English Hill. I didn’t know he was climbing on the cliff, because it’s a military reserve, a satellite-tracking station. He was in there illegally. I thought he was just climbing the boulders below.
POTTER: My parents didn’t want to believe their son was 200 feet up, free-soloing. They liked to go on long walks and runs, and they would go right by Joe English. Later they’d say, “Hey, we saw someone climbing up there.” They would describe what they saw, and I’d be wearing the exact same outfit. And I’d say, “Oh… Nope, wasn’t me!”
CHARLEY BENTLEY (early climbing partner from New Hampshire): The first few times I climbed with Dean, in 1991, I was on a different level, but he closed that gap quickly. At the end of spring, he moved to North Conway and was living in the woods between Cathedral Ledge and Whitehorse. He probably climbed every day on granite, which is a really slippery, technical rock that hones your footwork. By the fall, he was climbing 5.13’s. I don’t think Dean understood how shockingly fast he’d progressed.



  1. CARBON DIOXIDE said...
  2. man. JUST DO IT!