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Photo: Si Litchfield


Franco Cookson: conquering his fears one climb at a time

FRANCO COOKSON is sponsored by Petzl and La Sportiva, this is his climbing story.


FRANCO COOKSON likes nothing more than conquering his fears one climb at a time. He started climbing at 15 when living in the North York Moors even though he didn’t have much to work with at that time. However, Franco has gone on to complete first ascents and climbs which have got him noticed throughout the climbing world. He feels 2017 has been his best year of climbing yet and to get all the details of his achievements over the last nine months you can visit his blog at


In this exclusive interview Franco talks to us about how his passion for climbing began and talks about some of his biggest climbing achievements to date. Read on to find out what he wants to achieve next and learn more about his  vision to share his love of the sport with as many people as possible.


When did you start climbing and what kind of the opportunities did the area you grew up in give you to climb?


I started properly climbing aged about 15, although living in the North York Moors as a kid, you’re always messing about on the local outcrops. The Moors seemed to give us limitless possibilities. There was a rich history in the west of the region, with the antics of climbers like Terry Sullivan, Paul Ingham, Tony Marr, John Redhead, Nick Dixon and Francis Monty recorded across various editions of the local guidebook.


Franco Cookson

Franco started climbing when he was 15 in his local area of the North York Moors

This was contrasted to the middle and eastern Moors, where there was little recorded climbing and a huge amount of undocumented rock. This juxtaposition gave us a testing ground and a realm of expression – a place of humbling reality and a world of creative opportunity. It was great – a dream childhood you never want to let go of. As we’ve got older, I’ve been touched by the climbing community as a whole. I always say you never meet a climber you don’t like – they’ll lend you gear if you need it, share energy for routes, rescue you. I think in other walks of life that can sometimes be rare these days.


Who were some of your biggest mentors and supporters when you started out?


Initially there was no one. We nearly got into a few spots of bother, not knowing anything about climbing ethics or traditions and thinking we were the real deal. People shunning new, keen, annoying climbers is nothing new and it was only the Cleveland Mountaineering Club and a couple of locals who took us under their wing – Luke Hunt and the late Ian Jackson. Ian became a close friend very quickly and I owe much of my obsession to him. He was refreshing and talented and his death when we were in the French Alps hit me hard.


Franco Cookson

Franco pictured on the  ClubBoubly Wall. Photo Russel Lovett

Which climbers did you aspire to?


I think there are inspiring traits of loads of climbers. I think the determination and hard work of someone like Dave Macleod or Steve McClure is admirable. Similarly of the strong and the good – Alex Megos, Matthew Ferrier. Most of all I like those who do not try and demystify climbing. There is something magical about movement on rock in dangerous places – to debase it to numbers and statistics is to miss the point. People seem to use “strong” and “good” as synonyms these days, which of course they’re not. I think some of the most inspiring ascents are those that touched on the fringes of insanity – John Redhead on Master’s Wall, Julian Lines on Hold Fast Hold True. These are moments when people have decided a line is of absolute importance to them and they devote themselves in body and mind.


Franco Cookson

Franco pictured on Psykovsky’s Sequins. Photo Jake Hampshire

What have been some of your biggest climbing achievements?


I think what attracts a lot of people to climbing is actually their fear. I would class myself as someone who gets scared quite easily and as such the things I’m proudest of are probably those moments where I’ve fully committed myself to climbs. When I free soloed the first ascent of Sky Burial (H9/E10 6b) I was alone at the crag, on insecure moves, staring death in the face. If it wasn’t for the video, I’d question whether I ever did it.


It certainly doesn’t feel like something I’m capable of. More recently on the first ascent of Nothing Lasts (H10/E11 7a) I had to climb bouldery moves that were really at the limit of my ability, in a position where I thought injury was certain if I fell off. I actually fell off first time round on this one and fell 10m to the ground, landing on my back. The standard of the climbing on that, whilst very hard for me, is a long way off the pace in terms of world-class bouldering, but it proves that people can operate at their limit in settings previously thought too bold. That is the tantalising future afore.



Franco Cookson

Conquering his fear is one of the biggest buzzes Franco gets from climbing. Photo: Si Litchfield

Where in the world has the sport taken you?


Climbing can take you all over the world. One of the great things about climbing is that it has so many facets to it. It can be an exciting walk, where you’re in a wild setting, but not testing yourself physically. It can be purely about the movement and athletic discipline, which is the sport side of it. Conversely, it can be what you encounter on bold traditional climbs. I spent my youth exploring much of the rock in Europe – Chamonix granite, Spanish limestone, Austrian gneiss, Scottish islands.


These are beautiful places that provide playgrounds for the modern climber. But after years of looking out, I realised that the richest experiences and the most vibrant images are in fact on the inside. That sounds like a platitude, but it really is the case. If you are always going further and further to find the answers, one day you’ll come home and have to deal with reconciling the two worlds. Eventually, you have to settle in your own mind. You’re not missing out – there’s truly an infinity in a grain of sand.




The Cleveland Mountaineering played a pivital part in Franco’s introduction to climbing.

Ultimately I’d like to climb things that others haven’t been able to. The smaller the holds you want to use in climbing, the lighter you have to be. I suppose my style is to make weird moves between tiny holds – flexibility, contortion, dynamics. I’ve often deliberately wasted muscles away for projects, so that I was light enough to pull on the holds and feel solid on them. I like the feeling of focus – and focusing your body on a single movement to the extent that you retain only those muscle groups you need for the move is a magical experience. The Holy Grail for me is to do these kind of moves in a position where you’re not allowed to fall off. Historically these kind of routes have been worked to the point where the first ascentionist could do the moves with their eyes closed. The future of hard Trad climbing is in setting out on routes with dangerous falls that you don’t know you can do. The madness and vision that kind of ascent would require is mind-boggling.

How is life at the moment and how often are you climbing? What big climbs and climbing products do you have coming up in the near future?


This year has been my best year of climbing without a doubt. The first ascent of Nothing Lasts was a huge personal goal that I managed to lead in April, after 2 years of effort. I’ve also managed the first ascents of The Boulby Wall (E8 6c), I am You (E7 7b), The Futuristic Herring Gull Project (E8 7a), Boomerang Wall (E7 6c) and The Aghori (H8/E9 7a). Most of that list are routes that I’ve been trying on a top rope for ages. To have finally climbed them is a piece in the puzzle of life.


Franco Cookson

Franco believes this has been his best year of climbing ever. The Aghori. Photo Anna Healy

I was up at Sandy Crag by myself last night actually, and it was the first time since April that I felt ready to start another big project. Nothing Lasts was such an all-consuming experience that it left me half-dead at the end of it. I’m perfectly open about my desire to climb for difficulty’s sake and I feel ready to try and do that. Finding the right project becomes harder at every step. Finding outstanding lines is hard in itself and getting them with difficult moves on is even harder. In the meantime there are still some old projects in Northumberland and The North York Moors that I’m trying – some really aesthetic lines. These are all being filmed as part of the film project haRdsAnD, which is going to be a looney film probably out next year.


Tell us about your blog and how our readers can connect with you there?


Yeah, if you google “Franco Cookson” it should come up. I think blogs are dying a bit of a death these days, but they still offer a good platform for longer pieces of writing. These days I only post to it when I feel really moved to do so. I’m fortunate enough to have been doing it since I started climbing and I love looking back on what I was doing 2/5/9 years ago.

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