“Holy s%&t, it’s Dean Potter,” I said mid sentence on the phone with Erika. It was my second week in the valley. I was standing out back of the deli. He was walking Whisper down the back loading area of Degnan’s straight towards me. Forgetting what I was talking about with Erika completely, I couldn’t manage to do anything but stare. I was that typical star struck girl with no shame. That was my first pro climber, stone monkey experience in the valley.
A few weeks later, I was hiking up the the Grack to lead trad for the first time ever. I was so nervous. A few people were hiking down and passed us, they said hi. I was looking at my feet, clanking with gear on my harness and said hi, as you do when you pass a stranger on the street. I then looked up to see that it was Dean Potter walking down and said “oh s%&t, HI” He looked amused and said “have fun” and we kept hiking up. I was super stoked and inspired to lead after that brief meeting.
The morning of the 17th I was riding my bike to work through the meadow. There was a helicopter hovering over the meadow trying to land. I laughed to myself thinking YOSAR must be trying to find some tourist that got heat stroke on the lower falls trail. Little did I know what they were really doing. When I read that Dean Potter and Graham Hunt had died, I scoured the internet hoping to find some source that prove it was a joke. But the more articles I read, the more the sad truth sunk in. The mood of the rest of the day changed. The loss felt more real because we have interacted with him. It wasn’t some celebrity that had died. He was a real human being. He was the leader of the Stone Monkeys. He was the master of fear. He was the king of crushing comfort zones. He inspires all of us to be the most badass version of ourselves that we could be.
Recently on Facebook, Alex Honnold posted his thoughts on all of this. I think he had it right. No matter when you die your loved ones are going to hurt. Whether you are 43 or 93, you will be missed. But at least Dean lived each day to the absolute fullest. He died doing what he loved and he had a life filled with many more accomplishments and exciting adventures than someone who lived twice as long. Dean Potter only wanted freedom. He wanted to fly with the birds and not be held down by the laws. He is definitely missed by those who actually knew him and loved him. He is missed by hundreds of people who have never met him. But we shouldn’t let his ideas die. When we have been unsure about doing something outside our comfort zone lately we have been saying “Do it for Dean.” He wouldn’t want the stoke to be lost. He is flying free now and we shouldn’t let it be a waste.
His death makes us feel mortal. We seem to live day to day and forget this. We get so caught up in our routine and the petty things that we forget how quickly life changes or ends. We forget how quickly the thing you were upset about stops mattering. We plan for next week or say “I’ll do it later” because we assume we will have time. What I take away from this situation is to stop treating each day as though you have years of life left. Stop putting off things to next week because you might not have a next week. Stop fighting about small things or being stressed and upset about things that you can’t change or that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Do something that completely terrifies you!
Do it for Dean.