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Remembering Michelle Kranz, 58, Longtime Boulder Climber

Michelle lived an adventurous life filled with energy and enthusiasm, and climbing was a core passion for nearly 30 years.

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A tribute to a true friend and inspiring partner by Bob Siegrist, with thoughts and images shared by Liza York and others.

On a day like this in years past, I would have enjoyed a hard training session with Michelle at the Boulder Rock Club and excitedly talking with her about plans for climbing trips for the year ahead. I would have also been amused to hear her scheming about adventure travels with others to photograph wildlife in some remote part of the world. But this year is so starkly different… Michelle is gone.  

In June 2022 Michelle was involved in a serious climbing accident in Eldorado Canyon where she suffered severe traumatic brain injury and multiple orthopedic injuries. She fought hard to survive and recover but on February 10, after an eight-month struggle, Michelle lost her battle and left this life behind. Michelle is survived by her husband, Dan, and sister, Tracy, and an expansive community of friends.

Michelle enjoyed being colorful and had her own style, as shown here during her last trip to one of her favorite climbing areas, the Red River Gorge, in October 2021. (Photo: Courtesy of Grant Walker)

Michelle lived an adventurous life filled with energy and enthusiasm, and climbing was a core passion for nearly 30 years. Michelle loved all things climbing—she emphatically pursued traditional and sport climbing, bouldering, ice climbing, and big wall climbing. She loved the people, places and all the gear associated with the sport. She set up her car with neat gadgets—a memory foam bed, curtains, a foldable table, a cell service booster, and more—and kept it on standby for the next climbing trip. She loved the sun and proclaimed so with her license plate, which aptly stated SUNCHCR. Michelle was fascinated by the process of training with particular goals in mind, and she loved traveling to beautiful places to share climbing with existing close friends and new friends she knew she would meet there. Her climbing friends would often refer to Michelle with words and phrases like: independent, strong willed, driven to succeed, infectious enthusiasm, creative, playful, always planning, can’t sit still, loves old movies, gear fanatic, generous.

Michelle’s climbing life had a foundation in other athletic pursuits, initially as a competitive and club gymnast in Oregon. Her childhood years included traveling across the country competing for the Oregon Gymnastics Academy and the Gym-Nest Academy. She eventually went on to compete for the University of Montana on a gymnastics scholarship. Michelle loved the process of perfecting movement, flexibility, strength, physical artistry and expression—all attributes of great value to the climber she would become years later.

Michelle loved sport climbing and enjoyed pursuing her goals with friends. Here, she is sport climbing in another one of her favorite areas, Ten Sleep Canyon in August 2015. (Photo: Courtesy of Dan Gottas)

After gymnastics Michelle began to pursue outdoor sports including trail running, backpacking and climbing. Her growing passion for the outdoors led her to pursue a career in the outdoor industry. After earning a degree in business administration at San Diego State, she embarked on a successful career in the outdoor industry working since 1990 as a brand and product developer and product manager initially with Nike in Oregon for eight years. It was during that time that Michelle fell in love with climbing at Smith Rock. In 1997 Michelle moved from Oregon to Boulder for the climbing and outdoor opportunities, and she continued her career with Kelty, Golite, and then Spyder.

Eventually, Michelle’s drive would lead her to become a successful entrepreneur. Michelle had a gift for combining function with visual detail, color, and originality. She launched her first company called Flying Daisies in 2008. The brand was built around the tagline “find your carefree” and included custom designed and handmade purses, shoulder bags and jewelry. Feeling drawn to apply her business and creative skills to climbing, she launched Pure Grit Climbing a few years later and sustained a highly successful business until winding it down in 2021. Many climbers around the USA continue to enjoy the functional, durable, fun design of her Pure Grit chalk bags, buckets and tarps.

Michelle showing the author how to be playful even while on an expedition in the Himalayas. She danced during an acclimatization day hike above Namche Bazaar during their expedition to Ama Dablam in November 2019. (Photo: Courtesy of Bob Siegrist)

When Michelle arrived in Boulder in 1997 she quickly became immersed in the outdoor endurance culture of the Front Range. During this time she met her life partner, Dan, as she pursued long distance trail running and long ultra-light backpacking excursions across the Western USA. But as time passed she increasingly focused her energies on climbing. With her infectious joy and her drive for new adventures, Michelle rapidly developed a network of friends and climbing partners throughout the Boulder climbing community. 

Michelle and Dan enjoyed long distance running and high traverses. On this day in October 2018 they are scrambling in the Palisades of the Sierra Nevada. (Photo: Dan Gottas)

I met Michelle in Boulder in 2009. We became close friends and climbing partners. For over a decade we enjoyed training at the Boulder Rock Club and climbing outside several days each week at local crags, including Eldorado Canyon, the Flatirons, Boulder and Clear Creek Canyons, and in Rocky Mountain National Park. We took multiple trips each year, often with the same core group of friends, to many of our regular areas including Shelf Road, Rifle, Maple, Red Rock, Ten Sleep and the Red River Gorge. We often had “try hard projects” on our minds—both of us were working to climb 5.13a—and we would adjust our plans to support each other’s goals as well as those of friends among us. Even though we were routine climbing partners, Michelle always tried to stay connected with her many other climbing friends, notably enjoying gym sessions and climbing trips with her girlfriends. During the years I knew Michelle she volunteered often to support the climbing community and in 2019 we served together on the Board of the Boulder Climbing Community.

Michelle also relished mountaineering. She climbed scores of high peaks in California and Colorado. She traveled to Nepal with her husband, Dan, where they trekked and climbed Island Peak and Lobuche East. Michelle always yearned to return and we went back together in 2019. I had led a winter attempt on the South Ridge of Ama Dablam in 1982 and always dreamt of returning. In January 2019, I was seriously considering going back that fall and, when I told Michelle this, she said with an enthusiastic smile that she wanted to go too. We teamed up for the expedition and Michelle’s meticulous planning skills, her enduro fitness, and her drive to perform were invaluable to our preparations, training, and success. One special memory is of a two-day session in RMNP, during which we hiked 20 hours and covered 30 miles with over 12,000 feet of elevation gain. Michelle pushed us through this and it was perfect training.

Michelle loved wildlife and being able to advocate for their conservation through her work as a professional wildlife photographer. Here, she is shown photographing mountain gorillas in Rwanda in March 2019 during one of the many trips she took there. (Photo: Courtesy of Dan Gottas)

Michelle had an enormous love for wildlife, especially mountain gorillas and other endangered species. During recent years she became keenly interested in professional-level photography and she developed her talents through workshops and wildlife excursions throughout the USA and around the world ( After returning from her trips, Michelle would have slideshows with friends at her house and we would all be in awe of her images and the tales of her adventures. Michelle worked diligently to become a professional wildlife photographer and in recognition of her efforts, during the 2022 African Wildlife Foundation competition that included over 10,000 entries from 60 countries, Michelle was awarded Grand Prize for a photo she took of a pensive mountain gorilla in Rwanda. 

Michelle touched so many people in so many ways and her presence will be sadly missed by all who knew her. But Michelle’s spirit lives on and her infectious enthusiasm will continue to permeate our daydreams and inspire our planning. We will all be smiling and thinking of Michelle as we scheme about our future life adventures.  

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