Dean Potter, the extreme climber and wingsuit BASE jump pioneer who died over the weekend while wingsuit BASE jumping, said he was driven to extremes by intensely personal reasons. But he shared his feats with the world through video, which also allowed him to validate some record-breaking stunts. Here are 7 videos that capture some of his biggest accomplishments:
1. The Longest BASE Jump Ever
In 2009, Potter set a world record for the longest BASE jump ever, flying in a wingsuit from a tongue of rock high up on Switzerland’s Eiger mountain (see video above). He glided for two minutes and 50 seconds, over some 9,000 vertical feet (2,700 meters) and nearly four miles of distance.
“Everybody kind of fantasizes about it, flying,” Potter, a former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, said in this video of his record-breaking feat. “It’s an amazing point in history right now that man actually has the skills to pull it off.”
Potter also explained how he often combined various adventure arts (as he called them) in new ways, combining climbing, running, highlining—walking across a slack rope stretched over a drop—and BASE jumping. He often climbed without a rope, known as free solo climbing, but wore a parachute in case he fell. He did the same when walking across a highline (like a tightrope only slack instead of tight) strung between peaks.
2. Flying With His Dog
Potter often flew with his best friend, his dog Whisper, strapped to his back. This video is a trailer for the film he made about those experiences, called When Dogs Fly.
“The joy we have is just off the chart,” Potter said in the video about climbing and jumping with Whisper, a mini Australian cattle dog. “We love it up there.”
But in a moment of eerie foreshadowing, Potter continued: “Will this joy lead to harm or death?”
The film led to some controversy, with some questioning whether the dog was unduly stressed and whether it was forced into something it wouldn’t have chosen on its own.
Potter said he trusted his own life with the same equipment and skills he employed for Whisper and that he took the utmost care to keep her safe. He added that he felt it was important to take his dog with him as much as possible, so it wouldn’t be left alone.
3. Highlining Over Yosemite Falls
In 2011 Potter walked a highline over California's iconic Yosemite Falls, contending with water spray and high wind, at a height of 1,400 feet (426 meters).
Discussing Potter’s feat in this video, fellow climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin noted that Potter used to be the young guy hanging around other elite athletes. But after he matured in his sport and became a veteran, the new younger guys got “kind of scared of him.”
They called Potter the “Dark Wizard” because “he’s a very intense character,” Chin said.
4. Closer Look at Yosemite Falls Highline
This video takes another look at Potter’s walk over Yosemite Falls.
“Yosemite really brings out my creativity," Potter said. "It’s such a powerful place, there’s some sort of amazing energy going on that fuels me.”
“People think I’m a lunatic or adrenaline junkie, but that’s not what’s going on with me," he continued. "The beauty is what I’m most concerned with.”
After years of searching, Potter found a highline walk with a dramatic backdrop at Cathedral Peak in Yosemite National Park.
In 2011 climber and photographer Mikey Schaeffer perched his camera over a half mile away to catch Potter in front of a full rising moon.
6. Moonshot Explained
Adventure filmmaker Bryan Smith explains how he and Mikey Schaeffer captured the “moonshot” of Potter in Yosemite. The initial idea was Potter’s, and the team spent time getting to know the landscape and the moon's nightly trajectory to execute the video.
7. Spirit of Adventure
In this “sizzle reel” of explorations and adventure supported by National Geographic’s Expeditions Council, Potter can be seen walking a highline, climbing, and wingsuit jumping, among other explorers around the world.
“None of us are afraid of the dark, yet,” Potter says in the video, while climbing a sheer face.