"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for May, 2015

Heroes and Dark Wizards Never Die

Dean Potter

Entranced by the flight of a raven, I watch its shadow move effortlessly against golden, shimmering granite. I long to be that free, flying above the cluttered world of normalcy, where so many are half alive.

-Dean Potter



A masked “unknown” climber decked out in Adidas gear pulls up over a roof, presses down the rail and extends up for a crimp at the edge of his reach.  The camera cuts to a close up of calloused, cracked finger tips touching a granite crimp and sliding off.  The man jumps away from the wall as begins to plummet to the ground hundreds, if not thousands, of feet below.  A plume of chalk trails him as he waves his arms and legs to stabilize himself.  He gains composure and flies for several more seconds before deploying the BASE rig on his back.  The last words of Valley Uprising still resounded in my mind: “but in an era of increasing good will, there remains at the heart of Yosemite climbing, a spirit that’s not so easily tamed.”

I never met Dean Potter.  But that’s far from saying he never affected me.  I may be naïve and I may attribute qualities based on media representation, but I don’t think that’s important.  To me, Dean wasn’t a person; he was a hero and heroes don’t need to be real.

Dean captured the essence of what I considered climbing and did so in a larger than life way.  He was never just out there climbing hard, he was the one out there climbing bigger, scarier, faster and then maybe soloing those routes and hucking himself off the top.  Dean challenged the world to keep up as he pushed climbing to explore new possibilities and new concepts.  He pushed soloing and speed climbing harder and was ok with “no gear, don’t fall” when it came to pushing the limits.  Limits are broken when someone challenges the way they approach them and that’s exactly what Dean did.  When climbing wasn’t enough he took on highlining, BASE jumping, and wingsuit flying.  Whatever the discipline, he pushed the boundaries of imagination, literally flew in the face of danger, and embraced it all with the mentality that “with everything I’m doing, I’m trying to become more free.”

Dean took risks, pushed boundaries, and stepped on toes of those who got in the way.  Whether it was speed climbing, BASE jumping or climbing, Dean’s approach was: “it’s just about doing my art and being free.  And unfortunately that means that I need to evade the law.”  This is exactly what’s lacking in today’s world.  In our gym-breed climbing culture, where kids can climb V10 before they have ever set foot outside a gym, it’s easy to forget or bypass the heritage that brought us to where we are today.  Climbing was forged in dirt and grit.  While popularity and mainstream attention is making climbing into a polished, viewer friendly sport, we need to remember that our tribe came from the outlaws and outcasts.

In a world moving toward luxury, excess, and soft, Dean stood fast as a hard man.  From living under a boulder in Yosemite to honing his skills while on a diet of free crackers and ketchup packs and embraced the true meaning of the word dirtbag.  He came off as a wild man, a bit coarse, and never false.  He always seemed to me to be the new type of cowboy.  Not all about spurs and show, but wild, free, and uncaring about how society judged him; willing to go where few else dared, and live by personal ethics not by the dictates of others.  He described living in camp 4, saying “It was just all about now.  Enter into the freak show and be free.”

Late Thrill Seeker Dean Potter…, Dean Potter’s Final Flight: One Risk Too Many, In Defense of Thrill Seekers like Dean Potter.  The names of the articles alone are enough to annoy the hell out of anyone with an inclination toward sports more active than watching golf.  The slew of articles and comments after Dean’s death questioning or justifying “thrill seekers” fail to grasp the very heart of why climbing and BASE jumping are so integral to the lives of some people.  In every video I’ve ever seen, Dean mentions his pursuits, not as the next thrill, but the drive to be free.  I imagine the ideas of freedom, moving unhindered up rock, and flying back down are equally indescribable as to the pains of child birth or loss of a loved one.  If you haven’t experienced it, you really can’t understand the feeling.  I think we all, or at least most climbers I know, have the same pull toward beautiful, pure movement on rock and in the air.  The difference is that Dean was the one bold enough to act out his dreams, while the rest of us cower in our mediocrity.  I guess in the end, Dean was acting out the truest life anyone from New Hampshire could: “live free or die.”  He did both.

I don’t think that everyone should be just like Dean, frankly most people don’t have the commitment and care too much about norms to even come close, but I do think that as with any great person, there are a lot of good things to take away.  I just hope that when people see that a climber or BASE jumper died, they don’t just shake their heads and say “there’s another pointless death,” but take the time to think about the legacy build by lives in pursuit of passion.  We live in a dangerous world and you could die any day.  I for one would much rather die doing something I love than exist without it.  William Wallace said “Every man dies.  Not every many really lives.” By any measure I use, Dean lived more than anyone else I can find.  Today, his bio on the Five Ten website still reads “Claim to fame: I haven’t died yet.”  That must be because heroes and Dark Wizards never die.



The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

-John Muir


I picked up my drenched backpack off the luggage carousel and hefted it onto my back.  Two months of rain in Turkey didn’t seem to be enough; now it was raining in Barcelona as well.  I donned my rain jacket and found the bus headed into the city.  After some relative painless navigation of the Barcelona public transportation system I worked my way down a narrow street and saw my name on a door.  I’ve been a lot of places and even known where I’m going at times, but nothing has ever been as good upon arrival as seeing that nice little note with my name to let me know that 1, I was in the right spot and 2, someone is nice enough to let a stranger sleep on the couch and make an entire note explain what’s going on and where to get food.

It also explained that I couldn’t get in at the moment, so I followed the precise map on my note to a café just down the road.  I unloaded my bags in the back corner and got a beer and sandwich while I waited.  It had been nearly 24 hours since my last meal so my first sandwich was quickly followed by a falafel.  By then I headed back up the road and met Viki for the first time.  I spent the next few days hanging out in Barcelona and for the first time in my life discovering there is a city I actually really like.  I borrowed a bike and cruised around checking out the architecture, looking at the amazing works of Gaudi, and loving how fun and easy it is to just ride around the city.

After a few days waiting in Barcelona for my friend Ro, then for his bag to arrive, we eventually headed out to Siurana.  We made it in the afternoon in time to squeeze in a couple pitches before heading to the campground to set up shop.  Siurana, I had the impression, is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the world and would therefore have lots of people around for the peak season starting in March.  The campground did not reflect this.  The two tents we added doubled the evident population of the dusty, lumpy, dirt campground.

The next couple days we explored Siurana, just walking up to walls that looked good and either trying things that looked good or taking a look at someone’s book to make sure we weren’t getting in over our heads.  The climbing was great, and even better, wasn’t hurting my elbow.  Hooray for vertical crimpy climbing.

Over the first couple days I managed to run into half a dozen people I knew, many of whom mentioned staying in Cornudella for cheaper than the campground.  On our first rest day Ro and I decided to check it out.  By the end of the rest day wandering around Cornudella asking in shops we had a decent little flat right in town.  It came with all the normal amenities and even included an exceptionally loud bell tower directly across the street.  It might not have been annoying, but its occasional inconsistencies definitely took their toll; ringing out the hour twice sometimes and other times ringing 80 times before stopping.







For the next two weeks I climbed, hung out with Ro, met a bunch of new friends, and caught up with some old ones.  Cornudella really is an awesome place to be for a trip.  The town is tiny, but has a few nice little shops and bars, it’s centrally located for Siurana, Margalef, Montsant, and tons of other crags, the beach is only an hour away, and did I mention its right next to Siurana!  With so much climbing around and an elbow on the mend I found it hard to stop long enough to try any route two days in a row.  As a result I spent a lot of time check out fun 7a’s and b’s.  I sent some, I flailed on others, but almost all were really fun.

Then Ro’s time in Siurana came to an end and he headed off for Barcelona.  It was weird to all of a sudden be back to searching for partners, not having anyone around in the evenings, and needing to hitch places.  Sometimes you don’t realize a person’s effect on you until they’re gone.  I realized that without Ro’s constant happy psych and with four days of rain, I was going out less and watching a few more movies.  To make up I stepped up my workouts, basically leaving the living room set up to work out any time, all the furniture and tables pushed out of the way and my layers of blankets and towels for a mat in the middle of the room.

Quickly the weather returned to the amazing dry, sunny conditions known is normal here and my psych stepped up again.  I climbed with a bunch of new people including an awesome couple traveling in the tiniest van I’ve seen two people try to live in.  Their Subaru Sambar only had two seats, no headroom, and could probably fit into any sprinter, but it did come with a double section sun roof.  I even picked up a little bit of a project, a really fun route called La Crema, that has some tough vertical climbing and powerful moves on crimps.  I tried it a couple times, but didn’t figure I would have the opportunity to do it since it gets blasted by sun all day.

The time I had paid for the in the flat was ending and, although I had planned for at least a full month in Siurana, I started thinking about heading to Rodellar early.  That did not happen.  Just when I was ready to leave I met some more fun people and found it hard to leave again.  I moved into the spare room of a new friend and spent a week hanging out with some new German and Spanish friends.  My routine quickly did a 180, going from normal days of climbing, mellow hanging out with people and a beer at Goma, the climbing shop/bar/restaurant, and heading back to the flat to read and sleep by 11to full Spanish style.  We would climb some, get back and have a beer before diner, maybe have dinner, then hang out until I would look down to see it was 3am.  Mornings were spent hanging out with the Germans for an hour or so while we waited for the Spanish guys to show up, always an hour late.

I even managed two days of trying La Crema where I kept falling on the crux move at the top and taking 30+ft whips every time because I was skipping a bolt.  For the first time of my trip I even got some photos of myself thanks to Jule.  I had postponed leaving a couple times and finally decided that I would leave on my next rest day.  The only problem was I was just having too much fun.  Not wanting to break my agreement with myself, I found the loophole and just didn’t take a rest day for nearly a week.  But as with all things in life, nothing good can last.  I had a couple great last days of hanging out and laughing until I cried, but then it was time for the Germans to and Benjamin had to fix his car.

I managed to send off my application to be a language assistant in Spain in the fall, then spent two more great days in Cornudella, including one last try on La Crema where I took the long whip once more and some delicious calcots, traditional Catalan food which is basically tasty grilled green onions with sauces, for my birthday thanks to the Spanish guys.  And then that was it, I packed up and walked to the edge of town to catch a ride to Rodellar.