Internet forums wouldn’t be the same without their villains and heroes, would they? Franco Cookson appeared on the UKC forums back in February 2008. He began posting prolifically from the off and rarely stopped to consider the responses from others. In those early days, he was the classic antagonist, cocksure and loudmouthed, but also somewhat detached from the climbing scene at large. He was also only 16 at the time, but in many ways his obsession with the North Yorks Moors and new routing means that he is operating in his own scene.
Franco’s early climbing career played out in an unusually public manner through the forums. A couple of months after his first post he went on a winter trip to Ben Nevis with friends Ian Jackson and Dave Warburton. It proved to be an eventful trip, with Franco being avalanched, an ascent of Point 5 gully and Dave being dropped a full rope length when Ian’s belay ripped on an attempt at a variation to Smith’s Route. Mike “Twid” Turner rescued Ian that day and wrote a short piece for UKClimbing detailing the incident and some lessons which could be learned from it.
Ian was a couple of years older than Franco and had become something of a mentor to him, introducing him to the wider climbing world. Twid’s advice was considered and didn’t name names. Franco responded angrily to the perceived criticism. He hadn’t been on the mountain that day, but felt that facts were wrong and showed no inhibition in attacking people who thought otherwise. Ian responded calmly, correcting a couple of misconceptions and thanking Twid for helping him out.
Just four months later Ian was killed in an accident while threading a lower off on a sport route in Chamonix. He was just 19 and made one of those mistakes that we’re all aware of, but that can be made so quickly and catastrophically.
Franco was in the Alps with a young team at the time. Losing his friend and mentor has had an understandably profound effect on him, but not necessarily in the ways you might expect. Rather than turning away from climbing he plunged headlong, often literally, into seeking out dangerous and difficult first ascents. His internet persona may have calmed down, but his appetite for unusual routes and not playing the game the way that’s expected hasn’t changed at all.
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