Meet Whisper, the Daring BASE-Jumping Dog

Dean Potter tells us about his Australian cattledog, who is following in his master's footsteps.
Clearly not upset by a precarious situation © Dean Potter
By Annette O'Neil

Whisper Potter is more than just a pretty face: she’s a BASE-jumping superstar. She blew our socks off with her recent wingsuit leap from Switzerland’s iconic Eiger. She regularly can be found high in the mountains. Oh, and she’s a dog.

“Miss Whisp,” an Australian Cattledog, was born into adventure. Her adoptive dad, Dean Potter, is famous for his first ascents, free solos, speed ascents and enchainments in both Yosemite and Patagonia, and her mom – Dean’s girlfriend, Jen – is a formidable adventure athlete in her own right. Whisper was catching up on her rest when we called, so Dean took a moment to answer some questions on her behalf.

Whisper just hanging at the Eiger © Dean Potter

“Whisper” is an interesting name for a cattledog. How’d that come about?

All of my friends and family told me not to name her Whisper – cattledogs are notorious barkers. I stuck with it because I wanted a dog that could quietly cruise around with me in my hometown, Yosemite National Park, where both BASE jumping and dogs are illegal in the backcountry. I’d hoped that I could teach Whisper to recognize Park Service Rangers and keep hidden and silent during our illegal activities. Even though Whisper and I go everywhere together, I kinda have to hold her snout shut if we are hiding from the Man during our clandestine climbs and flights.

© Dean Potter

What went into designing a combination BASE parachute system/dog harness?

It took Pete Swan and me about two years to create a BASE rig to fit Whisper safely and comfortably. In that time, we made two prototypes that never left the shop before we finally arrived at one that everyone, including Whisper, was comfortable with. After some really successful test runs with her favourite stuffed animal, Whisper and I hiked up Half Dome with two other jumpers and she became the first wingsuit BASE-jumping doggie. You should have seen her afterwards – she was so happy.

Whisper and her family © Dean Potter

BASE jumpers are notorious gear nerds. What are you working on in regards to Whisper’s kit?

Oh, lots. The most important part for all of us was to make the rig design absolutely safe and comfortable for her, of course. As it stands now, the “Whisper-rig” is still a bit too bulky and not very aerodynamic. I’m hoping to design a fourth prototype that will be more streamlined and allow us to be more agile in flight. I’d also like to make a full-face helmet for Whisper for our high-speed adventures. I feel like the Doggles aren’t enough protection for Whisper’s eyes, and I bet she’d enjoy the experience more from the quietness inside a custom full-face helmet, so that’s in the works.

This is Whisper. She's a good dog. © Dean Potter

What’s Whisper’s personal favourite extreme sport?

Whisper seems to like mountaineering the best: the longer the hikes, the better. She’s built for it, and she’s amazing – she uses her claws like built-in crampons, and she has a naturally warm, furry coat. And she loves snow. Whenever we come across some powder, Miss Whisp slides around like a seal, digs like crazy and chomps playfully at any snow within reach of her mouth. It’s hilarious.

Whisper isn’t just your jumping and climbing buddy, but your service dog, too – has she ever saved your life in that capacity?

Whisper helps me live a full life with a serious hearing deficiency, and she has likely saved my life several times. In California, we have a lot of poisonous rattlesnakes. After some rattlesnake avoidance training when she was a puppy, she keeps an eye out for them for both of us. Two times while walking the trails in Yosemite, Whisper has stopped me right before I was about to step on a coiled rattler. She also alerts me to low tones that she knows I’m unable to hear. She takes it very seriously. It’s a beautiful partnership.

Editor's note: On May 16, 2015, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt died tragically during a proximity wingsuit flight in Yosemite. (Potter's dog, Whisper, was not with him.) You can read more about it at the New York Times.

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