Dean Potter is an easy guy to write about, for all the wrong reasons. Not ‘wrong’ because they’re uninteresting. Far from it. Just wrong because they only scratch the surface of the man. When you do things as extraordinarily as Dean does them, it’s easy to get pigeonholed: Dare devil. Adrenalin junkie. Wild man. None of these reflect the man I met in Telluride last May. A man more visibly centered and at peace with himself than most of the twitchy film goers whispering about him.
If you aren’t familiar with Dean Potter, the mythology goes roughly like this. He’s a rock climber of singular abilities, who made a name for himself in Yosemite free soloing the big walls without protection, and with the kind of unrestrained attack that set records and left jaws hanging. From a young age, he was haunted by dreams of free fall. An impending death from great heights. And he seems to have shaped his life to confound these visions. Which is your first clue that the mettle of this man lies far beneath his outer accomplishments. Whereas most of us run from our fears (or at least shuffle sheepishly away) Dean ran towards his. Full on.
Not long after he began climbing in earnest, Dean encountered a veteran climber of Yosemite, “Chongo Chuck” Tucker who introduced him to the art of slack line walking. Dean took to it with remarkable ability and was soon setting lines over Yosemite’s most formidable outcroppings. Walking a nylon rope over chasms that would make your head spin. If that wasn’t enough – he walked them untethered, with the kind of zero-sum outcome that would stop anyone else cold. But again, these are the wrong reasons to write about Dean. These are the pencil sketches. The outline of a superman. They are not Dean. The fastest climber. The fearless line walker. The man who man who scaled the Eiger and jumped off it, scoring the longest, most resplendent BASE jump on record. Impressive, but they are not Dean. I mean, they are not all of him.
The Dean I met has just turned 40 and although his projects are no less ambitious, HE is less ambitious. He has seemingly settled into an inner peace that belies the dangers of his work. I don’t know him well enough to say where this tranquility comes from, but I sense it is genuine. Whatever demons caused him to attack those mountains with such abandon – seem to have been quieted. And I think I know the road he took to get there.
I think it is well revealed in this video that Xpedition.TV has pulled together, from our interview with him and from existing footage of one untethered line walk. This is a picture of a man confronting not just a physical challenge – but the bigger challenge we all face. On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Can I do this? Do I believe in myself? Am I willing to let go the safety of the familiar if it grants me the possibility to soar? To live life to its fullest?
The more life I witness, the more I can affirm that learning to trust our own inner strengths – “making it happen” as Dean calls it – may very well be the ONLY road to inner peace.
I suggest you do not try this across Lost Arrow Spire. Start with the small stuff. That project you’ve been putting off. That place you need to go. That thing someone told you you could never do. Screw them. You know what I’m talking about. It has already popped into your brain as you read this. Make it happen. There is nothing more powerful than achieving what you feared you could not. Ask Dean.