Above it AlL
Dean Potter's account of his record breaking 3m20sec / 7.5km wingsuit flight in November 2011, using his Apache.
"November 2, 2011
I climbed the West Ridge of the Eiger with my friend Ivo Ninov. We weren’t expecting the Eiger to be climbable so both of us hadn’t packed any alpine gear. We navigated our way up the icy face, wearing blue jeans and sneakers. Lucky for us we did have some gear; we both had Fiveten shoes and Stealth, the stickiest rubber on earth, on our feet. Ivo was pretty much styling with his high top ‘Insights’. He strutted through some snowy sections and even kicked a few steps. I on the other hand, had on the Dirtbags. This is a fine shoe for most things, but come on, climbing the notorious Eiger in velcro closure friction loafers, what was I thinking?
On the way we found some metal spikes and a small wooden stick. We improvised these into our ice tools. A little further up the trail we found two ice screws so we discarded our ‘garbage spikes’ and each gripped onto a single ice screw hoping that somehow we could self-arrest if we slipped.
We were heading for the ‘Ecstasy Board’, the world record wingsuit BASE-jump, diving board, that I found and opened with my friend Andy West during the summer of 2009. When you drop a rock off the Ecstasy Board it hits a ledge within 8 seconds. In 2009 I was able to fly with my ‘Tonysuits XS’ wingsuit for 2 minutes and 50 seconds, descending vertically 8800 feet while moving forward 5.5 kilometers. Since then the worlds best flyers have been trying to break this record.
Ivo and I laughed and picnicked our way up the alpine face. Our route was covered with black ice and crusted snow but luckily we could zigzag our way up, gripping with our Stealth rubber on mostly dry rock. One slip though and we would have slid the length of the Ridge to our deaths. Five hours passed as if minutes during our moving meditation.
We suited up at around 2:30 in the afternoon. We’d be screwed if we had to walk down…. Ivo pulled on and squirmed into his Phoenix-Fly ‘Vampire 4’ and I, my favorite ‘Tonysuits Apache’. The Apache was starting to feel like my second skin lately as I’d been focusing on the efficient glide more than normal lately. A few ravens like birds called Alpine Choughs, came and flew within feet of us for about 10 minutes just hovering there as they ridge soared on the edge of the North Face.
I noticed that they were facing into a strong south wind. It seemed like the birds were trying to tell us something. We had intended on flying west but now could easily see by the birds’ flight pattern, that we would be held back by a strong side wind. I decided we should fly north, with the south wind at our back.
Ivo and I had such a carefree attitude now when climbing and flying together. We both realized that the way we pursue winged flight is quite safe and I guess we’ve become used to pouring on total concentration as well as the idea that if we make a bad error we pay with our lives.
I remembered watching Ivo on his first wingsuit cliff jump. He plummeted like a rock. Now though I watched my Brother launch and fly for miles until he was out of sight. His form was perfect in the air, so calm and fluid. He made one hell of a flight for a Vampire and it looked like he made it to the town of Grindlewald.
I scanned down the valley many miles further to the town of Grund. This was my destination. I zipped my suit completely up, felt to make sure my pilot chute was still tucked in perfectly and then turned and faced the south wind allowing the gusts to inflate my suit to almost full pressure. Then I turned back towards the drop-off and tread carefully out the diving board making sure not to trip over my leg wing. I felt lucky that my wingsuit’s booties were also soled with Stealth dot rubber as my toes stuck over the edge of one of the most dreaded alpine walls on earth, The North Face of the Eiger.
I crouched and sprung, launching horizontally with all my leg and core strength as I’ve watched flying squirrels do in the forests near my home in Yosemite. Immediately I spread my wings. This hard push, pre-inflated suit, strong tail wind, high altitude and probably a little pour form sent me extremely head down. I watched the icy North Face and just calmly relaxed even though I knew if I flipped that I’d impact and smear down the wall into nothingness. This steep dive gave me massive forward speed when I eventually came out of it. I guess I must have been flying nearly 120 miles per hour horizontal, while my downward speed floated out to about 35 miles per hour. I reached the town of Grund quite easily and made a hard left turn down the valley, rocketing just above the river and directly over quaint well built houses. I scanned below at happy cows grazing on plentiful moist grass, tractors preparing the fields for winter, people waiting at the train station, cars zooming within inches of each other as they passed and oh, wow, awesome, a local bar…. Right then I decided to reach for my Asylum Designs ‘Toxic’ pilot chute and end the wingsuit flight. The 38-inch Toxic snatched my 240 Feather out of my favorite purple, custom tailored, lightweight Vertigo-BASE container. I had a perfect on heading parachute deployment and landed safely, just beyond town in one of many empty fields and very close to the bar.
I carefully gathered up my second skin, Feather, goggles and stash bag. I thought of Ivo for a few seconds and then he called. Within a half hour Ivobro rolled up in the Fiveten van with a super huge grin on his face. “Dudely, you flew forever…” We knocked fists and he parked the action van and we went into the dimly lit tavern and each had ourselves a frothy Weise Beer. For sure we were digging Europe…
After checking out our GPS and Goggle Earth we concluded that I flew a new longest wingsuit BASE-jump to date. My flight was: 9200 feet vertical, 7.5 kilometers horizontal and approximately 3 minutes 20 seconds of flight time before opening my parachute.
I had been dreaming of this flight for over 2 years. I thought it would take me dozens of tries to surpass my 2009 record, but it took me just one flight to totally smash it. Wingsuit technology is getting better and better. But maybe there are some other reasons too? I guess all the night flying I do to avoid being arrested must teach me to feel the air more acutely than daytime flying. Also I’m starting into my ninth year of winged flight. Plus most importantly, lately I think of myself as more bird than human. Who knows?
It’s still not right that I’m a criminal in my home town and that I can’t legally fully spread my wings in ‘The Land of the Free.’ I’m lucky though and for some reason I have the special skill of floating above it all.