American free climber Dean Potter looks on after walking a 41-meter-long and two-centimeter-wide slackline over Enshi Grand Canyon at an altitude of 1,800m on April 22, 2012 in Enshi, Hubei Province of China.
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
By Kevin McSpadden
May 18, 2015

The death of rock climbing visionary Dean Potter, considered to be one of the most influential outdoor athletes of his generation, during a wingsuit BASE jump Saturday has sent shockwaves through the extreme sports world.

The 43-year-old and his fellow climber Graham Hunt, 29, died from impact after failing to clear granite cliffs off Taft Point in California’s Yosemite National Park, which can be seen across the valley from the infamous “El Capitan” rock formation. Rescuers said neither jumper’s parachutes deployed, according the to Associated Press.

“We as climbers are really good at justifying what we do. And those of us who push the safety aspect convince themselves that they are invincible,” said climbing contemporary Tommy Caldwell, who in January made the first ever free ascent of the Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. “I definitely felt Dean was invincible and when something like this happens I get shattered and it makes me very introspective and makes us pause and take a reality check.”

Caldwell described Potter, a childhood acquaintance who was awarded the 2009 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, as “a total larger than life person in terms of the amount of emotion in him. He believed anything was possible and the times climbing with him were some of the most high-energy times of my life.”

Potter was renowned for pushing the limits of extreme sports. He slacklined over deadly precipices and climbed thousand-foot cliffs with no ropes and then BASE jumped from the top. Recently, he became a hit on YouTube for BASE jumping with his dog.

In 2006, Potter courted controversy by climbing Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, which was not illegal but drew rebukes as the rock is considered especially fragile.

On Sunday, the climbing, mountaineering and extreme outdoor sports community, including free-soloing star Alex Honnold, took to Twitter to pay tribute to a lost icon.

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