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Letting go to hang on

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

The power of belief – that’s the root of my rock climbing addiction.

Last Saturday I found myself clinging desperately to a cliff west of New Castle. My forearms swelled with lactic acid. My lungs burned, unable to breathe deep enough to feed my starving muscles much longer. The top was only 10 feet away, but the overhanging rock was getting steeper and blanker.

“Come on, Derek!” my friends hollered from the ground. Their voices were distant, drowned out by Main Elk Creek in the valley below.



“Come on,” I whispered to myself in a forced breath. The words might not have actually made it out of my mouth but I thought them. I thought them just as I thought, “No, you’re losing it,” in the next breath.

I was climbing better than I thought I would. I surprised myself as the toes of my sticky-rubber shoes danced precisely up little near-nothings, allowing my arms to make long reaches. But I had doubted myself all day.



Sixty feet off the ground, I reached a reckoning. To keep myself safe, I had to clip my rope into the quickdraw to catch me if I fell. A quickdraw – two carabiners on a loop of webbing – dangled from the last bolt in the rock before the anchor, which was at a ledge 10 feet above.

My hands were positioned wrong. Perched on my right toe, my left leg dangled in the air, flagging for balance. The fingers of my right hand curled around a small edge where I should have had my left hand. To clip the rope into the quickdraw, I had to pull up slack with my left hand and reach under my right arm. A puff of wind might’ve blown me off. I concentrated so hard I forgot to breathe for a second. My world shrunk down to the hand hold, the foot hold, the rope and the quickdraw.

“Don’t blow it!” my brain bubbled as my fingers fondled the quickdraw, trying to snap the rope in. The thought was enough to distract me – I fumbled the clip and sent the quickdraw swinging.

I took a breath and tried again. I missed again but got the rope clipped on the third try. Success was two moves away.

“Maybe you’ll do this first try today!” I thought.

“Probably not,” countered the coin flipping in my skull.

I grabbed the next hold with my right hand and stepped up as high as I could.

“This doesn’t feel secure,” I thought.

“Shut up,” I said, launching for the left-hand edge I didn’t believe I could hold on to. My hand whiffed through the air, and I zipped toward the ground until the rope came taut.

On the next go, I found myself at the same point of reckoning. I clipped the last bolt smoothly and allowed myself to imagine success. Any internal dialogue is generally bad in these situations, however, and the voice of hope stirred its nemesis.

My arms quivered. I set up for the move. I zeroed in on the little edge, which started to feel farther away until I took a breath. I latched the edge but the next move was harder, and I suddenly felt wobbly.

“Crap!” I thought as I started reaching for the big hold at the top.

My reach stalled out, an inch away, and there was a sense that I was already falling just as my mind stopped thinking altogether. With nothing telling my body not to, something inside me hit the gas pedal.

I’m not sure where the extra mustard came from to propel me that last inch, but it triggered as soon as I had pushed out all thought. It felt like I had punched through a wall of bricks as my hand latched the “jug” hold.

“You were looking good,” my friend said later, “then I saw you pause up there and wasn’t sure you were going to make it.”

Climbing reminds me I’m the one holding my baggage. I need to let go of some things – like hoped-for outcomes – to hang onto others.

Once you’re committed to something, don’t think about it. Just do it.

“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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