On a mission to serve and grow Chicago's vibrant climbing community.

Working out? Don’t Go It Alone

Fitness can be a challenge, but with a close-knit community around you, working out is more effective and enjoyable.

Connecting with people who share your goals is an easily overlooked key to achieving those goals.Chris and Annie My wife Annie is a huge example of this principle at work in my life.  Years ago, Annie and I decided that we needed to make a change. Long story short, that decision to change is what led to my career as a fitness trainer. Over my years of training, I’ve realized that having a person or group of people that motivate and inspire you is not so easy to come by, but it’s an indispensable part of your fitness plan.


When you have consistent workout buddies, you get accountability built into your routine.DSC_1739 When you know that others will notice your absence from a workout session, you may feel guilty about skipping it, providing an extra push to make it into the gym. Many of my clients exchange phone numbers as they become closer, creating a great community of accountability partners checking in when they have not seen each other in a while. This provides fantastic motivation when life gets in the way or you may have fallen off of the wagon. The social pressure of having a group of workout friends is invaluable.


Working out can be emotionally tough in the moment. You may ask, “Is this difficult for me, or is it just difficult?” Surrounding yourself with others provides a gauge with which you can answer that question. Most of the time, you will find that you are just doing a challenging activity.


Occasionally, you will find that you are not quite on par with those around you – and that is fine, because you can take that knowledge and use it as inspiration. In a short while, you will find yourself providing that same inspiration for someone new to fitness. There are also times when my clients actively encourage each other through cheering each other on or helping them with their form. As the community grows, everyone becomes a coach for each other, making the training that much better for all parties involved.


All of these are great benefits. But the best part of having consistent workout buddies is that it makes fitness fun. Working out with others creates an atmosphere that combines social interaction with healthy intent. Whether you’re sharing a laugh mid workout or cheering someone on at the end of their set, you’re doing more than just slogging away. You’re building relationships. 

Maintaining a fit lifestyle can seem monotonous, but when there are others involved it makes your effort about more than just the workout. You’re not just there because you know you should. You’re there because you want to be.

BASECAMP: Fitness In Community

I believe in the importance of community workouts so much, I built the small group training format I utilize for BASECAMP with community at its core. BASECAMP gives you the chance to make connections with others who share your desire to get fit. I have seen unprecedented success among those who connect with others in small group training sessions. One-on-one training can be monotonous, and large format fitness classes can lack intimacy. BASECAMP’s small group format is the sweet spot for getting the most from your time at the gym.

Chris Swindell is a NASM certified personal trainer and creator of the BASECAMP small group training program at First Ascent.

The Road to Time Wave Zero, Part 2

In this two-part series, The Road to Time Wave Zero, Branden tells the tale of his preparation for an intense multi-pitch project, and all of the heart-breaking setbacks and eventual triumphs along the way. If you missed Part 1, read that first. Enjoy!

Back In Mexico

I stepped out of the airport and took in the sunshine and 80 degree weather. My friend Frank met me with his large live-in climber van. “Hell yes! I’m back!” I exclaimed. I jumped in, and we chatted about his new guidebook, developments in Potrero, and route plans for the week as I stared out the window, watching desert flatlands pass me by. I was finally on my way back.

In the distance, the fantastic range of El Potrero Chico began to appear, and a flush of excitement washed over me. We pulled in to El Ranchero Sendero, a great little spot to stay with a hostel, slack line, and a community kitchen – not to mention a stunning view of Potrero.

View from El Ranchero Sendero

I said hi to some climbers, then quickly got ready for bed. My goal was to back log my sleep for the next few days so I could get up at midnight on Friday for Time Wave Zero, the epic 23-pitch climb I had prepare for now for almost 2 years, and climb most of it in the morning before the sun gets out in full force.

The next few days, I focused on acclimating to the slab and vert limestone that I would have to confront for hours on Time Wave Zero. I got on a number of climbs, consistently getting my butt kicked but slowly adjusting my style and approach.

My climbing partner Ilya got in a few days later, and the real preparation began. Each morning, we hiked into the crag to continue acclimating, with Alex Honnold’s epic free solo, El Sendero Luminoso, staring us in the face. We were haunted by the majesty of this place, but determined to confront our project head on.

El Sendero Luminos is the tip top climb in the middle, 5.12d.

The desert climate of El Potrero Chico makes for nice cool temps at night (50-60 degrees) but sweltering heat (75-90 degrees) during the day. In this environment, climbers either seek the shade of the cliffs they are climbing or opt for early morning climbs. The sun beats down on the entirety of Time Wave Zero once it is has fully risen, so shade was not an option. We had to get on it early and climb it fast to avoid the midday heat.

After a few days of waking up earlier every day, planning pitches and beta for the big climb, and prepping our gear, the day before our push came. I decided to get to sleep early the only way I know how: a bit of Tecate and tequila at noon, a dip in the pool at 2, a shower, then some iPad time at 5. I started to doze off.

I woke up every hour for the next 3 hours. Going to sleep that early was hard! I eventually slept a full four hours from 8-midnight, just enough for a good day’s effort. The time came, and we got up, made a hefty bowl of oatmeal, grabbed our gear, turned on our headlamps, and started the hike. We were on our way.

Time Wave Zero: Zero Hour

Not re-scouting the trail since last year was as mistake. We hiked around an extra hour trying to find the climb, and I tripped into some cactus while slamming my knee into a large rock. Not a good start. We finally found the climb around 2:15am, and started up the wall at 2:30am. 2300 feet of beautiful limestone stood between us and the top.

I led the first pitch and Ilya led the next, which was the second hardest pitch on the whole climb at 5.11b. He sent it like a king despite the pitch black darkness and early morning chill in our bodies.

We gathered our wits, looked up, gave each other a pound, and then began linking pitches as fast as humanly possible. My job was timing pitches and tracking when dawn was coming. His job was guiding where the pitches go and tracking what pitch we were on.

Starting strong, we clocked in about 10 minutes per 200 feet. Pretty rad! We were on track for a 6 hour climb to the top. We just kept chugging away at the rock, switching over belays safely but quickly, eating and drinking only when we absolutely had to, and racing against dawn.

About 3 hours in we hit the half way point: the bivy ledge. We were feeling good, so we decided not to rest for too long, seeing light slowly starting to rise from the back of Potrero. We downed an energy bar, got pricked by a couple cacti, and then Ilya stepped up to lead the next pitch.

At about pitch 17 we started to feel it. The wind started to hit, a real nasty wind. It was nice at first, but quickly became a nuisance for the belayer and the climber, particularly on technical spots of the climb. We both started feeling our aching ankles and hips from hanging belays, and burning toes from all the slab pitches. We started to slow down, but we wouldn’t stop. Dawn had come, but the sun was still behind the looming rock face. We still had time and were doing well with rationing water, getting through most of the climb without the sun beating down on us and forcing us to drink it all. We were basically home free.

A few pitches later we met below the 5.10d at Pitch 20, Ilya’s last harder lead before I lead the 5.12, clocking in at about 7 hours. Feeling pretty beat up at this point, we were both sure this was going to feel much harder than it really was. 

Exposure was also hitting us. It was an interesting new feeling, something I haven’t yet felt until just then, at 2,000 feet. It felt like a slight nausea that you have to just breath through and divert focus from. The only way to explain it is feeling entirely small and so easily snuffed out with one wrong safety check.

Ilya’s View from Pitch 20

No turning back now, I thought to my self.

Ilya then set up the climb, methodically making it up without too many issues. It was my turn. I breathed out the nausea and made my own way to him.

Here comes the 5.12a pitch.

Luckily there was a ledge, I grabbed some water, ate a bar, then threw my aggressive shoes on. Time to grapple with the beast.

We swapped belays, then I started up the 12, placing the first draw. The movement felt good, powerful, but good. Two finger pockets, crimps, cracks, small jugs.

At the third clip, I started to feel like I could do it. The movement felt difficult, but I felt strong. At the 6th clip, the crux came. A very tension based move off of a small crimp, then a big pull off of a two finger side pocket.

I got a high foot, pulled up tight, and reached for the hold with all the effort I could. I caught the bad crimp, went for the side pocket, got it, then with all the effort tried to switch my feet and POP there goes my foot.

I fell.

After about 5 minutes of rest, I tried the move again, but didn’t get nearly as far.

I couldn’t do it.

I told Ilya I just didn’t have any power left, I only had enough for one go. After 2000 feet of climbing, I only had one bout of explosiveness left, and I had already spent it.

A bit disheartened, but not beat, I decide to aid the crux, then climb the rest. Sometimes you have to roll with the punches. Things rarely go exactly as planned. Ilya tells me he doesn’t blame me – he’s just going to jug up – so let’s just to get to the top.

After I aided that crux, I climbed the rest of the 5.12 pitch, which was quite fun but exhausting. Then Ilya juggled up the 5.12 pitch, which was difficult in its own way (Note: We should have brought an ascender). Afterward we got ourselves up the last two pitches of easy climbing, and met at the top.

The world just opened up to us like nothing I can explain. It was so beautiful.

Classic send pic from the top of Time Wave Zero


Taking it all in.

We made it, and all before the sun came out in full force! We hugged and took some pictures, taking in the scenery. We just enjoyed being on top of the world. Our bodies ached but our hearts were full.

After basking in the glory, we reminded each other that we still had our work cut out for us. It took another 5 painful hours to rappel back down. There is unfortunately no real walk off for this climb. You have to rappel the whole way day. All told, our clock time was about 13 hours for the climb up and down. It was an epic adventure, but something I won’t do for a while again because the rappeling was terrible!

In hindsight, I am little bummed I wasn’t able to send the 5.12 pitch, but local climbers tell me that 5.13 climbers aid that pitch most of the time. Its a stout 5.12. Hearing that, and still feeling the weight of the 23 pitch ordeal, left me happy to just have the adventure and get to the top.

The Trip Continues

A few days later, I started to think I’d like to redeem myself and see what I can do with my remaining time there. Ilya left and I became friends with Colton, a semi-pro rock climber who is known for his double digit highballs, as well as his girlfriend Kelly, a fun loving photographer.

We got to talking about where Colton was climbing next, and he got me super stoked on a so called bouldering cave at the base of El Sendero Luminoso. 

The next day came quickly, the hike into the cave was quite abysmal but well worth it.

The hefty hike up to Plutonia cave.

The cave was laden with tufas, cracks, crimps, and jugs. Everything I’ve ever wanted! After a bit of goofing around, we started warming up. The easiest warm up was a classic v3. We then worked a v4, and move on to my project: El Seis, V6.

Colton of course, made short work of the climb after sussing out some beta. My turn didn’t go quite as smoothly. His beta was a very difficult lay back type move on okay pinches that felt heinous for me when all of my weight was on them.

After a few tries, I realized his beta wouldn’t work for me, so I began hunting for an alternate sequence. Instead of the layback, I found a crappy, just-good-enough three finger pocket, that I could swing into a jug from. A few more attempts and I got the send.

Pulling hard on El Seis V6

We played around on a few other boulders, including Plutonia, V8, but I was feeling good after sending that V6. The day was rap with some sick sends!

A shot of Plutonia cave

With the V6 under my belt, I had one more goal in mind: onsighting a 5.12a. I knew I would feel like the trip was a success if I could make that happen, despite missing the chance to send Time Wave Zero by just one pitch. My mind was set on Surf Bowl, a little crag with monster overhung walls and extremely hard climbing. You’ll find nothing easier than 12a there.

After a day of rest and a bit too many margaritas, I headed over to Surf Bowl with Colton and Kelly. The wall was beautiful. Similar to the style climbing at the Red River Gorge, but instead of jugs, you have lots of tufas. The only problem: no warmups available.

I headed around the corner to warm up at The Dihedrals. It turned out to be a goofy time as I’m not huge into crack climbing, but it did the job for me. I warmed up on an accidental 5.11c, then 5.9. Not the most traditional warm up.

I headed back to Surf Bowl, and the crag was busy that day. Almost every route was taken up. It was a try-hard fest in there, full of grunt, sweat, and dust.  There it was, on the left side of the crag: Blue Fin. A beautifully streaked, tufa laden, powerful 5.12a.

I pulled out my binoculars and scoped out the route, finding every possible rest, clip stance, crux, or tricky move that I could discern from the ground. It was time to send.

While tying in, I quieted my mind, took a few deep breaths in, and blew them out. I envisioned myself climbing efficiently, quickly, and with purpose. I rehearsed every move as if I’ve already climbed it in my head. I pounded my partner, did the belay checks, took one more deep breath, then started up the climb.

It was on.

The first few clips felt good, delicate moves, okay feet, decent clips. At clip 3, the difficulty began: a reachy move to an undercling, then shuffle your feet up to make the next move. A few moves more and I was at the no hands rest. I took a second to take everything in. I felt great. Checking out the rest of the clips to the anchor, I felt ready to crush. “Its just a few boulder problems in a row to the finish.” I told myself. “I’m not pumped, so I’ve got this. No problem.”

I began up the next piece of rock, a few big moves, to a tricky crux. A high heel hook, to a lock off into a jug and boom – I was one step closer.

Before I new it, breathing hard, making methodical movements, I was at the chains. It all was a blur, but I was there. I wasn’t out of the weeds yet, though. I found myself struggling to clip the chains because the clipping hold was bad – a side pull tufa with bad feet to clip the chains.

I couldn’t clip the second anchor. “No!” I told myself. “I’m clipping both, I’m finishing strong.” I found a way to re-adjust my grip and with a slight incut in the sidepull, and just like that, I got the second clip. There goes my hardest onsight to date!

Mission: Accomplished

That night I celebrated with friends. We all seemed to send. One buddy sent Surfer Rosa on his last try that night, another sent Guppie, the 5.12b on the other side of Surf Bowl. I sent a 5.12a in one try. Margaritas and tequila shots were the celebration package for our group.

The next few days just washed over me in this incomprehensible contentment. I’ve never felt so good. Putting so much work into something and getting the payoff is just an amazing feeling.

I may have not been able to climb the 5.12a pitch at the top of Time Wave Zero clean, but I was able still get to the top of it, then later send a V6 in a few tries, and then tick another goal that I’ve had since I started to climbing: to flash a 5.12a. When you train hard for something, you may not accomplish exactly what you trained for, but you’re stronger, smarter, and better as a result. You will succeed, and the successes you attain may surprise you, adding to the joy of the accomplishment.

Overall, I left this trip feeling deeply satisfied. My training paid off. The effort was worth it. The trip was a success.

If there’s anything I took away from this experience, and anything I hope that you’ll take away also, its this: Never stop growing! I hope my story inspires you to set some ambitious goals, train hard, and push yourself to achieve them. The feeling is worth it.

Branden Lacour is a self-described climbing fanatic and a new addition to the First Ascent team. He just launched Redpoint Training, a guided climbing training program at First Ascent, with co-instructor Jayme Novotney. Redpoint Training provides climbers with a personalized plan to reach their climbing goals and the tools they need to execute that plan. With Redpoint, Branden brings together his love for helping people achieve with his experience training for climbing projects, recovering from injuries, and making accelerated progress in his bouldering and sport climbing ability.

#FACommunity Instagram Scavenger Hunt!!!

The Why

Couples draw near in the month of February, in part because of Valentine’s Day or to combat the cold with cuddles. Cute, right? Well, the month doesn’t just belong to the lovebirds! We want to celebrate the important relationships between everyone in the community, whether it’s a climbing partner, life partner, friend, family member, or someone you’ve never met. No “Hallmark Holiday” required.

From 2/1 to 2/28, you’re all invited to participate via Instagram in the #FACommunity Instagram Scavenger Hunt, a month-long contest that involves 14 different challenges, great prizes, and, most importantly, chances to connect with the important people in your life. Here are the details:

The Rules

  1. Get a photo or video that completes one of the 14 challenges below. 
  2. Write a shout out to the friends who helped you and be sure to include the tags #FAcommunity AND #letsclimbchicago
  3. Post photo/video on Instagram (your account must be viewable to the public so we can count it!)
  4. Include the challenge number in the post. Only one challenge per post (we saw you thinking about doing all 14 challenges in one post…)


partner boulder

Just me (@rian_smyth) getting challenge #6 checked off the list with Greg Wingate (@gregwingate). NBD. #FAcommunity #letsclimbchicago #partnerboulder #holdinghands

The Challenges

Take a photo/video of…

  1. Someone who inspires you with a description of why they inspire you
  2. A friend sending their project (route or boulder, either one works)
  3. You climbing with someone you just met
  4. You and your partner at the “Don’t Stop Belayin’” comp
  5. You climbing the partner rope route at Avondale with a friend
  6. You climbing the partner boulder at Uptown with a friend
  7. You meeting an FA staff member you’ve never met before
  8. You doing AcroYoga with a friend
  9. You doing a partner workout with a friend. Some suggestions: Wheelbarrow Push-up/Squats, Medicine Ball Pass During Sit-up, Supine Leg Lift Push-downs
  10. You and a friend spelling FA with your bodies somewhere interesting
  11. You in one of our partner-themed Special Workshops at FA Avondale or FA Uptown
  12. You bringing a friend or family member to climb for the first time
  13. You carpooling with someone to First Ascent
  14. You sharing an after-session meal/drink with someone

The Prizes

There are some awesome prizes up for grabs in this scavenger hunt!

  • Anyone who completes all 14 challenges will receive 2500 FA Bonus Points! Use those points for guest passes, retail discounts, and more.
  • Each completed challenge gets you in a raffle to win some awesome prizes, including:
    • A free month of FA Membership
    • A pair of So iLL climbing shoes (one guys, one girls)
    • An Organic chalk bucket + Friction Labs chalk
    • A book of choice from the FA library
    • A free enrollment to an FA workshop of your choice
    • Gift cards from Yusho and Sugar Hills Bakery

The more challenges you complete, the better your chances of winning prizes. Contest ends Tuesday February 28th – winners will be announced March 1st. What are you waiting for – get your #FAcommunity on!

PS. Thanks to FA member Henry Chan for pitching this awesome idea! Look out for Henry in the contest – he’s sure to be a strong contender.