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“FreeBASE”: Dean Potter on the Eiger Nordwand

Dean Potter, who recently “freeBASEd”–climbed solo and without a rope, but with a BASE chute in case of a fall–Deep Blue Sea (5.12+), Eiger Nordwand, Switzerland. [Photo] Beat Kammerlander

On August 6, 2008, Dean Potter completed the first “FreeBASE” ascent of Deep Blue Sea (5.12+) on the north face of the Eiger (13,025′), Switzerland. He scaled the slightly overhanging limestone route solo, sans rope but with a five-pound BASE parachute for protection against the consequences of a fall.

Dean Potter on the first “freeBASE” of the Eiger Nordwand, Switzerland. [Photo] Beat Kammerlander

Last year, Potter was introduced to Deep Blue Sea by mountain guide and photographer Beat Kammerlander. While they were stormed off the face on Pitch 5, Potter said he recognized the potential that the route held for a FreeBASE ascent. He saw the opportunity, as he described, for “solo mentality and freedom without instantaneous death.” Had it not been for the inclement weather conditions, he would have tried it then, he said. He returned to make his attempt this summer, and though weather conditions were similar, Potter was positioned for success.

For half of the month, Potter lived in a cave 9,500′ up the Eiger’s west ridge. For the other half, he lived at the Horner Pub in Lauterbrunnen, as he describes, “dipping into a sort of a barfly existence.” He filled his days with pushing his limits on overhanging limestone routes, honing his technique, and BASE jumping the cliffs in the mountains surrounding Lauterbrunnen a few times a day. When the weather offered a window, Potter made his climb.

From the northwest arete of the Eiger, Potter traversed along a ledge to the base of the 600′ headwall. The route from the arete allowed Potter to avoid the lower sections with loose rock–should he have sustained a fall so low, he would not have been able to deploy his parachute with enough time to land safely. He describes the first part of the climb as “gently overhanging, pumpy limestone sport climbing. The upper crux seems a little harder, with bouldery 5.12+ side pulling flared jamming.”

“During this FreeBASE, I was able to relax and fully groove during the climb. Additionally, it has opened my emotions and mind to the limitless possibilities. FreeBASE climbing Deep Blue Sea has stirred my way of thinking more than anything in the past,” Potter said.

Sources: Dean Potter,