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Naked on the intangible mountain

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

When I see Mount Sopris in winter – its sharp angles shrouded by clouds and snow, craggy slopes pouring down from the unseen summit in the gray sky – I’m reminded of blind ambition.

The first time I tried to climb the peak was in December on my 23rd birthday. It was a nauseating ordeal. My car got stuck in deep powder while driving to the trailhead. It took hours of work to extract myself. Then, with nothing better to do but continue in pursuit of the goal, I started up the mountain just after sunrise, already frozen and exhausted. My high-point that day ended in bottomless snow drifts near tree line after hours of wallowing my way onward in denial.

A year later, I related the adventure and some of the lessons learned in the very first installment of this column. Today’s 102nd installment of Open Space marks its fourth year and a lot more lessons learned and relearned.



I’ve since climbed our valley’s iconic mountain a few times in summer, but I have yet to make another winter attempt. It haunts me a little. I want to go back, but I’m afraid of how many more unknown miseries I might encounter.

So it weighs on my mind when I take my dog for a walk, bundled in my down jacket, and look to the south as the empty breath of the season stings my face and paints a storm across the heavens.



On my first attempt, I was overconfident largely because of my background with solo climbing. I’d climbed many massive cliffs without a rope. I didn’t think a pile of snow would be so difficult. What I failed to consider is that a pile of snow is less tangible than rock; its intricacies and the proper path through it are not as fixed or apparent.

My writing career and my life in general seem to be a similar experience.

When I started up the peak, I could see the top, but I had only the slightest idea how I was going to get there. By the time I turned around, the mountain was bigger than it was at the trailhead. When I started writing this column, I could not begin to see all the worms in the can I was opening.

As I revisit some of my old work, I notice that I was shyer in writing than I was in person. Now it seems to be the other way around.

When I started writing, no one knew me except for friends. The more my column appeared in the paper, the more strangers recognized me in random places.

It was exciting at first, the idea of fame. Not that I’m famous now, but I am recognized from my expired mug shot in the paper often enough that I find myself more withdrawn when I’m out and about. I can’t guess when someone might see me picking my nose at a stoplight and know who I am – or think they know who I am, anyway; that’s the whole issue.

I feel vulnerable in ways I didn’t fully consider when I started my career. It’s like I put a bag over my head and started running around naked in the dead of night, but now the sun is up and I’m lost in the heart of the city, and the bag blows off here and there and I have to scramble for the shelter of anonymity, which gets harder to find.

Don’t get me wrong, Glenwood – indeed, the whole region of Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin counties – it is a pleasure to share my life with you. This place is Home. I’ve traveled enough to know that.

But here I am, wallowing in the middle of the early part of life, almost 29 years old, and some days I still feel so stupid and lost (as I imagine every person must from time to time). The only thing I can think to do is to continue along the path to which I committed long before I knew enough.

That’s why, when I look up at that cold, towering tooth of a mountain this time of year, I shiver and bide my energy for the day I will face the storm at the summit and all that is in between. I know I’ll go back up there, and that is the scary part as I continue to write this column.

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


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