The 13,025-foot Eiger, an iconic limestone buttress jutting out from the ridgeline, is highly visible even among taller peaks in Switzerland’s western Alps. Its dramatic north face towers nearly 6,000 feet above the mountain pass below and is known in mountaineering as one of the six great north faces of the Alps for its difficulty and height. Since the first ascent in 1938, more than 50 climbers have lost their lives attempting Eiger’s north face. In 2008, climber Dean Potter selected it for the first ever free BASE (parachute-protected free solo) climb.
“Since childhood, I had always been a free soloist, a climber without ropes or any protection, where falling meant splattering upon the ground,” Potter says. “[Free BASE] was completely foreign to me and it broke every rule I trusted to change falling on a climb from dying to flying.”
He ascended a route known as the Deep Blue Sea (5.12+) with only a five-pound BASE parachute strapped to his back for protection. “This [climb] was a complete transformation for me,” Potter says. “I struggled with the emotions of doubt, going insane, and life's meaning, while meditating in a limestone cave during two summers before the weather cooperated with my mood and I went for it.”
Rock Climber/BASE Jumper
Rock climber Dean Potter has spent more than 20 years ascending noteworthy big walls—without ropes—and is one of the pioneers of both slacklining and BASE jumping. In 2008, he invented free BASE, a form of free solo climbing that uses a parachute for protection. In 2012, he flew the longest, most technical BASE jump to date off of Switzerland's Eiger, descending 9,265 vertical feet and traveling 26,247 feet forward. He stayed aloft for more than 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Read his Adventurers of the Year profile.
Dean Potter's Gear Pick: Therm-a-Rest
“The most important piece of gear for me on any adventure is a Therm-a-Rest air mattress. Getting a good night's sleep is essential for performing well in any outdoor pursuit—and not to mention just plain good sense. I prefer the largest, most comfortable model—the DreamTime. But if I have to go light, I slip the svelte NeoAir Therm-a-Rest into my backpack.”