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Flying Fearless

Utah woman's book charts rock climbing connection to base jumping

Davis jumping off the High Nose, Lauterbrunner, Switzerland. (Mario Richard photo) Davis jumping off the High Nose, Lauterbrunner, Switzerland. (Mario Richard photo)

By: Elizabeth Miller

Permitted use provided by: Boulder Weekly

Even after hundreds of skydives and base jumps, Steph Davis says, stepping to the edge of that cliff still brings up a bubble of fear. But she’s spent her life pushing the line for fear that holds you back and the freedom that lies beyond it.

So despite that fear — or perhaps because it’s still there to study and explore — she base jumps off that cliff, stepping into the abyss with a single parachute she packed herself and no back-up determined to take freedom over fear.

“I think love and fear are the strongest emotions, but the thing about fear is it can just stop you from doing the things you want to do because there’s just such a strong instinct to avoid fear that a lot of times we’ll make decisions based on that instinct or feeling, but then in the long run we look and we see we’re limiting our freedom more and more,” she says. “So for that reason I’ve always been really interested in fear.”

Davis has been a climber for 20 years, and was the first woman to free-climb Salathé Wall in Yosemite National Park and to free-solo the Diamond on Longs Peak. But after her now former husband Dean Potter made a controversial ascent up Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in May 2006 that ultimately cost both of them a key sponsor, Davis saw her world, her climbing career and her marriage crumbling.

After hunting a reclusive Potter down in Yosemite for an encounter that left her convinced there was no fixing their relationship, she started driving east, passing her Moab house, a favored climbing area near Rifle and on toward the Front Range.

She landed — or, more appropriately, began taking flight — in Boulder, crashing on a friend’s couch before she rented a place for herself and her dog, Fletch, in Eldorado Springs, and spent most of a summer at the Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, jumping out of airplanes.

When the time came to move back to her home in Moab, where there wasn’t a similar skydiving outfit, she had to look for an alternative, and the logical — if the word can be applied to a decision that landed on an incredibly risky undertaking — answer became to learn to base jump from the cliffs she had climbed.

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