Aging with Grace

Wendy Williams stays cool on "The Path" (5.13c) in Rifle Mountain Park. Derek Franz photo.

Wendy Williams stays cool on “The Path” (5.13c) in Rifle Mountain Park. Derek Franz photo.

Every year I set out to make this climbing season the best. Until now, there’s been no question that next season will be the best. At 32 years old, though, I’m quite aware that the steady upward trend I’ve enjoyed since I started climbing at age 11 is on borrowed time.

There was a day in my early 20s when I gave no thought to proper training. Why should I? I’d never suffered from more than a bloody flapper. Then my arms locked up at the elbow five days into a Yosemite trip. I’d never heard of “tendonitis” until then. Turns out that a week of nonstop climbing, drinking and midnight bouldering is quite bad for the recovery process. I was forced to take two weeks off during a one-month trip to think about this life lesson. That wasn’t the end of it, either, as I wrestled with inflamed tendons the rest of the summer.

The year after that, my goal was, of course, to climb harder than ever, but also to not lose any days to tendonitis. I did a slightly better job of that than the previous year.

Then I started snapping pulleys and straining fingers from climbing in such undisciplined manners. It’s worth noting that my finger injuries always seem to happen in the moments of peak frustration; hurling myself at the rock with self-destructive abandon.

By the time I hit 30, my goal of climbing harder took a back seat to the goal of “just not getting injured.” I finally managed that more or less last year – except for the fact that my season ended with open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve.

Since the surgery Oct. 30th, I’ve had plenty of time to consider my new New Year’s climbing resolutions while my sternum heals back together. Here are five goals that have become more important for me than sending big numbers:

Darek Krol is psyched to climb. Derek Franz photo.

Darek Krol is psyched to climb. Derek Franz photo.

1.) Quantify less and enjoy whatever climbing days I get all the more. It’s true that no one really cares how hard a person climbs as much as how pleasant that person is to be around. Detaching from my ego as I recover from surgery is probably going to be a big challenge at a time when it will be wise to foster a better sense of humor and friendship with the people around me.

2.) Stop spraying so much! This is one I’m always working on. I get to having beer and blathering with my buddies, and we lure each other into talking shit about a climb, or another climber or a particular style of climbing. So-and-so uses kneepads on Sprayathon, so what? In my condition, I’d be happy to be doing anything remotely close to climbing Sprayathon with kneepads. Another part to “no spraying” is to refrain from yelling unsolicited beta from the peanut gallery. That can be hard to do when caught up in the excitement of an onsight, or eagerness to catch the attention of those oh-so lovely climber girls (who will probably never need our beta anyway).

3.) Become a better belayer. Climb long enough, and anyone is bound to have some close calls while belaying. My buddy once left his shoes where I stood for the belay; I slipped on one, fell to the ground and almost lost control of the rope as it slipped through the Grigri. Now I move anything that might interfere with a safe catch. There are other habits I’m always trying to improve as a belayer, too, such as paying out slack exactly when it is needed. That can be as important for safety as not leaving too much slack in the system. Bottom line, the key to climbing with good climbers is to be a good belayer.

Jack Cody fires the enduro corner on "Stoned Oven" (V 5.11+) in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Derek Franz photo.

Jack Cody fires the enduro corner on “Stoned Oven” (V 5.11+) in The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Derek Franz photo.

4.) Trad climb more. I used to be in the “sport climbing is neither camp,” and now sport climbing is mostly what I do. Where I live, it’s just more convenient and less stressful in terms of life and death. On the other hand, it’s hard to match the feeling of onsighting a 2,000-foot wall with a backpack on. That’s the whole reason I embraced sport climbing in the first place (to get stronger)! It’s easy to forget that deep sense of adventure. I don’t want that to happen. Ever.

5.)  Age with grace. Sick and tired of seeing 13-year-old grommets show you just how easy 5.14 is? Yeah, me, too. Just remember that today’s kids wouldn’t be where they are without the previous generations. In fact, wouldn’t it be great to be supportive and possibly remembered as an influential mentor by someone? Though I’ve surpassed most of my early mentors in the sport, I still hold all of them in high esteem.

Ultimately, my climbing resolution this year is to crush in a whole new way. So much of success is in the mind. Free it

Derek Franz writes a blog for the first week of every month. To find more of his writing, visit


Locals Corner

Bulldog Creek Dog Walk (IV WI 4+)

Hayden Carpenter and Tom Bohanon recently repeated an obscure ice climb on the south side of Mt Sopris. Given a brief mention in Jack Robert’s ice guide, Bulldog Creek Walk is described as being 100 meters of WI 4. What they found was seven pitches of ice in a remote setting that makes for one […]

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