Denise Crosby: 90-year-old Sugar Grove woman scales heights
By Denise Crosby email@example.com September 20, 2013 7:26PM
Ninety-year-old Frances Wickman makes four generations of mountain climbers. Here, she's pictured with great-grandson Francis Wickman, his father Mark; and Frances' son Don Wickman as they hike the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on Mount Baker in Washington State a week ago. | Submitted
Updated: October 23, 2013 6:31AM
At age 90, Frances Wickman isn’t looking back.
And she’s certainly not looking down, especially when she’s hiking mountain peaks that, one small misstep, could send her plunging 3,000 feet to her death.
The Sugar Grove great-grandma started climbing not long after her husband Chuck died in 1993. Grandson Mark Wickman had moved to Colorado, and scaling those 13,000-foot peaks, she recalls, helped her deal with the grief of losing her long-time life partner.
Her latest feat occurred Sept. 14 when the nonagenarian took on Washington State’s Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, at 6,000 feet, on Mount Baker for the fifth year in a row.
And she has ever intention of keeping this tradition alive … for at least another decade.
“I know that will put me at 100,” Frances noted with a chuckle. “But I like to give myself goals.”
This latest climb was a four-generational thing. It included 44-year-old Mark, as well as his 5-year-old son Francis — yes, named after her — and Frances’ 65-year-old son Don Wickman, a long-time Fox Valley builder.
Mark described the day as abnormally hot, and the climb itself was “a moderate trail” with a big drop-off. The rock slides had narrowed the path more than last year, which made it a bit tougher. “There were so many rocks,” Frances added. “I couldn’t have done it without the walking stick.”
Fear, however, never once entered her mind. Nor did she experience pre-climb jitters.
“I was anxious to get going,” she said. And once she and her family were on the mountain, all Frances thought about was how truly big and beautiful this world is.
The climb up and down Mount Baker took about four and a half hours, with the descent being the toughest because of the relentless pressure of “your toe hitting your boots.”
But Frances learned long ago all about no pain/no gain. Exercise and the outdoors, she said, have always been part of her life. She used to ride 20 miles a day on her bike, until age stole some of her balance. She also was once a regular on the trails of Bliss Creek with her friends — they were all at least 10 years younger — until each one gave up on walking.
Now Frances stays busy tending her garden that’s three-fourths of an acre, and walking three miles a day around her subdivision off Wheeler Road in Sugar Grove.
And of course, climbing mountains.
“Don gave me a computer a few years ago,” she said. “I sent one email … and told him to take it back … I don’t watch TV either. I need to stay active.”
Which is why the Wickman males are in such awe of the family matriarch.
“She’s the most determined woman I know,” said her grandson.
Frances agrees. “When I set my mind to something,” she said, “I do it.”
Her mind, as it turns out, is set on making that climb next year … and the year after… and the year after.
And why not?
“Everybody knows I’ll do it again,” she said. “You’ve got to keep moving.”