Dean Potter, R.I.P.: Colorado Connections to Climber Who Died in BASE Jump Attempt

In May 2014, legendary climber Dean Potter was in Telluride for the premiere of the controversial film When Dogs Fly — controversial because it features scenes of Whisper, Potter's dog, joining him on numerous high-flying BASE-jumping adventures.

The trip to Colorado was hardly unusual for Potter, who's spent plenty of time over the years challenging himself against the state's incredible peaks, outcroppings and overlooks.

But no more: On Saturday, Potter died in what's described as a BASE-jumping accident in Yosemite. He was 43.

Potter grew up in New Hampshire, but he gravitated toward the West — and a 2002 Outside magazine profile headlined "Climbing at the Speed of Soul" makes several mentions of stops in Colorado. 

The article notes that Potter's relationship with fellow climber Steph Davis "started after a chance 1994 encounter on the Diamond, the 2,000-vertical-foot east wall of Colorado's Long Peak." And in 1999, when Potter learned that his rival, Hans Florine, planned "back-to-back solo ascents of Yosemite's two greatest big-wall routes, The Nose and the Northwest Face of Half Dome, in less than 24 hours," he immediately left Estes Park, where he'd been climbing at the time, and managed to achieve the feat first.

Yet Yosemite was his passion, as he made clear in this Facebook post from February.
I've been climbing in #Yosemite over half my life. It never seems to stop giving. The simplicity of breathing fresh air and drinking pure water is becoming more and more important as these basic necessities waste away. Out West we've all been seeing the rivers, reservoirs and lakes drying up in front of our eyes as temperatures rise and fires ignite. I thought I was insulated from harm within these massive granite walls but I was wrong. We cannot just stand back and watch any longer or our Mother will become too far gone. The #OutdoorCommunity needs to stand together and #Lobby our #Government to #Conserve and #Change its corrupt and outdated ways! 
As for Potter, he spent his career pushing the envelope, as When Dogs Fly demonstrates. In its piece about Potter's death, Outside acknowledges that after images of his beloved pooch wearing goggles as he was cinched between Potter's back and his parachute pack became an online sensation, "some people worried about Whisper's safety."

Although there were plenty of similar concerns about Potter, they didn't stop him from continuing to challenge himself against the elements. But something went terribly wrong on Saturday evening, when Potter and fellow BASE jumper Graham Hunt attempted what Outside calls "a wingsuit flight from Taft Point, a 7,500-foot promontory that overlooks Yosemite Valley and El Capitan."

Their bodies were found the following morning, at which point it was learned that their parachutes hadn't deployed.

Whisper wasn't with Potter on that jump. The dog survived, as did Potter's girlfriend, Jennifer Rapp.

We offer our sincere condolences to Potter's family, friends, loved ones and fans.

Here are three videos: a trailer for When Dogs Fly, followed by two videos Potter made in conjunction with the movie's premiere at the 2014 Mountainfilm festival in Telluride.

When Dogs Fly: World's First Wingsuit BASE Jumping Dog from Dean S. Potter on Vimeo.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts