Potter running it out on Epitaph.Photos by Eric Perlman
Dean Potter and Steph Davis Epitaph
We had some strong contenders for this broad category — Didier Berthod’s 12-meter roof crack Greenspit, in Italy’s Valle dell’Orco; Lisa Rands and Ben Heason’s exploits on British gritstone; a Steve McClure on-sight of Survival of the Fittest (5.13 techy trad) in the Gunks. Yet our vote for best effort of the year goes to Dean Potter and Steph Davis, for Epitaph, a 450-foot route on the Tombstone, near Moab, Utah. Typical of the best climbs on the towers and walls of southeastern Utah, the line is awesome — angular in its geometry, unrelentingly steep and smooth, and free climbable only with world-class endurance. The line was first done, on aid, by the master 1970s desert free climber Jimmy Dunn, who, overmatched, recommended it to the next generation. Jim Surette was first up, and quickly recruited the then-unknown Potter for the early free attempts. Potter became obsessed with the route — and the style in which it should be climbed. The project would last nearly a decade. In 2001, Potter and Davis finally free climbed the route using the original hanging belays, creating an impressive 5.13b line that went unclaimed, awaiting Potter’s dream: a clean, ledge-to-ledge ascent. In early January of 2003 Potter finally redpointed his version of the crux, a 70-meter rope-stretching pitch capped with go-for-broke 5.13 tips laybacking. (During his attempts he took repeated 50-foot falls onto micro-cams.) The pair had agreed on a “team” style, where for full credit — and the end of the obsession — Davis had to follow the crux pitch free, cleaning the gear, and lead the final loose and runout 5.12 pitch to the summit. This she did for the send and the Piton.