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THE EL CAPITAN CLIMBING WAR
Yi-Wyn Yen
August 05, 2002
Two speed demons have turned the most famous big wall of all into a vertical racetrack, but as they rush to glory, their peers wonder: How long before a spectacular—and lethal—crash?
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August 05, 2002

The El Capitan Climbing War

Two speed demons have turned the most famous big wall of all into a vertical racetrack, but as they rush to glory, their peers wonder: How long before a spectacular—and lethal—crash?

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"There's no question that Dean is way competitive," says Rick Cashner, a speed climber and close friend of Potter's. "He says he's not because he doesn't want to look like Hans."

One morning in early May, Potter's thoughts drift to other death-defying ascents as he maneuvers up 420-foot Tombstone, a nearly vertical face along Kane Creek in Moab, Utah. Even if Florine succeeds in pinching their Nose record, Potter and O'Neill aren't likely to answer with another attempt until the fall. Under consideration is slacklining, or tightrope-walking, across 120 feet of the Grand Canyon on a one-inch-wide piece of nylon rope. (Potter will wear a safety harness to prevent his falling to the canyon floor.)

Two ravens circle overhead as Potter sneaks a peek at Tombstone's summit, some 30 feet above him. After letting out a deep sigh, he rappels safely to the base of the wall. "I felt distracted," he says. "One more move and I would have slipped. I've told myself so many times that falling means death. I'm totally afraid of falling."

Still, he acknowledges, you'll probably be able to spy him high above the Yosemite Valley sometime before year's end, chasing history yet again. Just then a chilling caw echoes off Moab's brilliant sandstone walls, and Potter watches the first raven fly off into the distance, the other raven in pursuit. He understands this too: Florine won't be far behind.

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