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A strange itch

Derek Franz
Open Space
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

Even my girlfriend is asking why.

“Why not wait until April?” she said at least twice today and once before.

I don’t have much of an answer. I’m scared … but somehow it’s important for me to face this fear. So I will go out of my way to do so.



Tomorrow I will pick up my friend at 7 a.m. and drive into Glenwood Canyon. We’ll hike up to the 600-foot, snow-covered Grizzly Creek Wall and attempt to climb it. It will be cold. It will be dangerous, and above all, pointless in many regards.

Many people would probably ask, why try to climb such a thing in any season? I’m asking myself why is it so necessary for me to try it in winter.



I’m not sure how far I can get, to tell the truth. That’s one reason, maybe the main reason.

I like walls around me. Barriers stacked like teetering bricks of doubt make such clean, logical goals. They are tangible. There aren’t many walls of rock I doubt myself on these days. In other realms of my life, however there are plenty.

When I started rock climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park as a teen, I was scared all the time. I couldn’t be sure what would happen. Many nights I lay awake, too jacked up for when my alarm would go off at 3 a.m. Would I be good enough to lead us to the top, or even crafty enough to get us down if necessary? I thought so, but the only way to know was to find out.

The first time I tried to climb the Diamond – the 1,800-foot east face of Longs Peak – it got ugly. I was 15. The rock was wet and I took a 40-foot fall. We bailed.

The second time I tried to climb that steep granite face, which sits above 13,000 feet in elevation, it was even uglier. I was 16. Lightning struck the wall. We were mildly electrocuted. Sleet soaked everything. We started rappelling down, but our ropes got stuck, which meant we were stuck, for three hours. But we found our way out, and two weeks later we tried again and stood on top of the wall.

What could happen? What will happen? That question keeps nagging me with every little thing lately. Everything but climbing, anyway … until tonight, that is. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this about a climb. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I tried a big climb. I’ve been playing it safe in recent years, sticking to recreational crags.

It seems I’ve also lost some confidence in the more mundane parts of life. When I was 20, I thought I had life by the tail. Now I catch myself second-guessing which wireless plan is right for me or if I’m eating enough fiber. It’s like I’ve retreated into a corner, begging Life not to hurt me any more.

That’s why it’s good that I found this steep, loose monstrosity on which to focus my collective will. I’ve been sitting on the couch too long. Tomorrow’s objective will require initiative, strategy and prowess – things I’m not sure I have of late.

So it is a test. What in life is not?

Pointless as tackling a snow-covered cliff may be, life is considered the same in some philosophies: “What is the point of life?” Maybe there is none.

Nonetheless, what are we in life if not tested, and what is the point of a test, anyway? To separate the weak from the able. And some tests prepare us for others to come.

Maybe that is why I feel this need to suffer and endure – to earn my beer – tomorrow. The irony is that I think I might actually sleep well tonight.

Like Ernest Bramah wrote, “One learns to itch where one can scratch.”

Postscript: This column was written on March 2, a week ago. Our climb was successful and a tad scarier than I imagined. Hopefully it will be a while before I feel the need to do something like that again. My right big toe still has some numbness to it from climbing through so much snow.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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