Monday, May 18, 2015

Participants And Spectators In Life: RIP Dean Potter

Dale Matson

I never met Dean Potter but have seen his amazing exploits often on YouTube videos, read of his record setting ascents in the newspaper and magazines and watched him in the movie on the History of climbing in Yosemite, “Valley Uprising”. He will be remembered as one of the best rock climbers in the history of the sport. In a sense, it is rather ironic that he died BASE jumping (Building, Span, Antenna and Earth), not falling off Yosemite granite.

Dean is one example of many individuals that I admire. There are others like Orland Bartholomew and Norman Clyde Sierra Nevada adventurers. There are others like Mike Horn who circumnavigated the earth at the Arctic Circle and Helen Klein, who ran a 4:31 marathon at age 80. I ran with her for a time at the annual “Cool Canyon Crawl” as it was called then.

Galen Rowell wasn't just a wonderful photographer he was an adventure photographer. You can sense his presence in his landscapes. I remember meeting a group of female airline pilots who were making their annual trek up to Amelia Earhart Peak in Yosemite to honor this pioneer of flight. I remember a woman so terrified climbing the cables at Half Dome that she was crawling on her hands and knees. Her mustering that kind of courage made me forgot about my own fears and I finished it out after two previous failed attempts.

I read the obituaries daily since at age 70 there is a kind of survivor’s guilt that has set in. In at least one obituary a day there is a comment like, “He was a lifelong sports fan”, or "He lived to watch Dodgers baseball.” In my mind’s eye, I imagine someone sporting a cap and shirt with the team [fill in the blank] name. They also have the rear window sticker and license plate brackets. There is little else to say. They were born, they watched, dreamed, identified with the exploits of others and they died. They were primarily spectators. They are the majority. The stands are filled with hundreds and thousands of them. The playing fields in particular and life in general seems destined to accommodate only a few participants.

I am not and never was the caliber of the folks I mentioned but they provided the motivation for me to leave my seat as a spectator and become a participant also. Like Christ breathing life into His disciples, these folks exhaled and we took in what remained of the spirit of their lives. It was adequate for us. They extended human boundaries by simply doing what the voices in their heads called them to do. They had to ignore the fearful voices (for that is what courage is really about), jealous insults from spectators and threats from those who enforce proper conduct.

It is difficult to finish this because of the sadness I feel for Dean Potter, his friends and family. Even in death, he will still breathe out the life giving motivation for those who shared his passions. At age 43 he had already packed in two lives. Society needs these participants, those who push the boundaries, who incarnate the spirit of adventure and through their actions inspire us to follow even if only a safer and surer path behind them. Thank you.   


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