Dean Potter writes about his world record wingsuit flight off of the Eiger—an endeavor that won him the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award!
"I am considered a criminal in my hometown Yosemite, California, for pursuing the dream of human-body-flying. The United States is supposed to be ‘The Land of the Free’ but I have to cross boarders to be emancipated and explore man’s fundamental desire to soar.
B.A.S.E. is making me more spontaneous. When it’s time to exit, I jump. When it’s time to deploy my parachute, I reach back and pull. When there are tops of cliffs unexplored, I go have a look.
It’s August 2009 and I’m on the train from Lauterbunnen to the Eiger. This season I’ve made dozens of jumps from the legendary Mushroom and after many attempts I finally made the first wingsuit flight from there to the valley floor of Grindelwald. Additionally, with my friends Wayne Crill and Ian Augenstein, we opened two new exit points further up the Eiger’s West Ridge. I doubt I’ll return to those jumps (‘Peyote Button’ and ‘Heiger’) as ledges flashed within a body length of my face and keep doing so vividly, night after night.
I know the ultimate exists and this time I’m drawn to pure ecstasy. My friend Andy West boards the train at Wengen. He sits down beside me with a gleam in his eyes. “What’s going on?” He asks. “I’m heading to the summit. It has to be there.” I provoke. A silent minute or two passes as I stare at our reflections in the train windows and ponder reality. My mirror image mingles with other passengers across the isle. “Can I come?” Andy stares. “ Of course, let’s do it.” My smile broadens reflecting back in Andy’s gaze and I know it’s going to happen.
We’re going to dreamland. The steps up the West Flank of the Eiger feel like the stairs to my bedroom. It must be even more familiar to ‘West-man’, as he’s been coming here since the mid-nineties. The untainted scent of evaporating glaciers scours my lungs and essence. My feet know all the contours and limestone textures of the route. The jagged grey crest slices through cobalt sky, mesmerizing me as I scan to the summit.
“We’ll need to rope up.” I gesture towards the grey exfoliating vertical limestone. “I’ve got a carabiner.” Andy chuckles. “Let’s bootie a sling. I’ve stashed a rope higher up.” I say automatically, as if the rope is in my closet. Andy and I have spent the summer together, hiking and flying and somehow communicate the rest telepathically.
I uncover my 6mm cord, buried under rocks and fresh graupel. We tie into the stiff, damp line and I start leading, then hip belay Andy up to me. We repeat this over and over, following the ridgeline searching for acceptable exit points.
Carrying the weight of the rigs and wingsuits makes the terrain challenging. We have no protection to place in the rock. As I lead on, scree skitters from under my feet and I almost tumble, barely managing to clutch a loose flake. We are roped together and our entire existences hinge on the loose rock as it flexes under my weight. I sit down on a half-butt cheek-ledge and start taking in the rope. West’s sling harness rides up under his armpits as I tension him and I pray that he doesn’t cut loose and fall onto my body-weight belay.
We stop briefly to nibble on fragrant cheese, bread and high cocoa content chocolate. Enamored with the landscape and void, we drop rocks and negotiate snow zones while staying conscious of a cloud layer that threatens to engulf us. No safe exit appears but a drumming tone draws us upwards.
“I know it’s here.” I yell down to West. “It has to be here.” I say again and again, chanting it erratically. Andy grimaces keeping up the pace. The final summit ridge appears ahead of us. It’s easy scrambling now so I run forward. “Diving board bitches” I yell to no one. “It’s here! “ I holler again and again. ‘The Ecstasy Board’ trembles beneath my feet now. Grindelwald teems with life, almost 9000 feet below the ice streaked Norwand and immaculate jade hillside. I reach down, grasp a course hefty rock, and toss it out. 8.5 seconds later a faint thud echoes below. “We’ve got exit! “ I screech. Andy glistens with sweat and his posture relaxes.
We stand on the edge with wings. The future has already happened. The longest wingsuit flight in the world emerged in our minds; Andy and I were airborne in the train, when we made the decision. The Eiger offered up a new line for the people, a perfect combination of alpinism and B.A.S.E. First we had the vision and then we made it happen."