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

Find It – The Balance

In this installment of FA Community Voices, climber, mom, and FA Team booster Jerry Steele reflects on the challenges of parenting a competitive climber. Her son, FA Team crusher Vincent Lee, took home 1st place in Sport and Speed at Divisionals this season and is on his way to Nationals in July with 12 other FA Team kids. 

I’m strugglebussisng my way up this funky conglomerate rock on a hot-as-hell day in Montserrat, Spain. I’m thankful for the helmet I’m wearing as a goat above has loosened rock that bounces off my head and crashes below toward the covered cabezas of my belayer and my 12 year old son waiting his turn on something more challenging.Jerry Climbing

“Find it – the balance,” Toti Vales, well known Spanish climber and our guide for the day, yells up to me as I shift my feet and wonder where the “better” holds are.

This advice would be shouted vertically the entire trip, to me as well as to Vincent as he attempted hard routes in the Pyrenees.

Two years since that amazing experience and Toti’s words ring in my head even though I’ve never really believed in life “balance”. Life is more fluid than that. Tides rise while other recede and we are constantly course-correcting, running in and out of the waves.

Vincent ClimbingAs a parent of a competitive climber, finding the balance between support and pressure has been one of my trickier juggling acts. Especially as I lug my childhood baggage of being an invisible 6th of seven kids to the crag and gym with my only. Will planning an outdoor trip to Red Rocks be seen as pressure? Will showing up at comps, volunteering, being involved be stage mothery…or is it welcomed?

Am I leading, or following? Does spending money on shoes, comps, a garage woody, and climbing trips create unsaid expectations?

I’ve always tried to take my cues from Vin and prop up versus push his passion. He threw down the gauntlet at seven after his first regionals where he missed the bid to divisionals. When he secured a pass-down invite, he declared, “I want to quit baseball and everything else, I want to train with Hidden Peak, I don’t want to do anything but climb.”

And with each victory and defeat he’s doubled down – sometimes asking to hit a local climbing gym on the 5-hour drive home from a weekend of competition. But I still worry that the planner in me gets ahead of myself, and more importantly him, sometimes.

Vincent preppingAfter that trip, being inspired by Toti and the simple way of life in Catalonia, I don’t wonder if my actions push. I simply ask. Vincent is mature enough now to sort and articulate what he wants without real fear of what mom and dad think. With each big, and sometimes small, decision I check in with a tactic borrowed from the doctor’s office pain chart, “How are you feeling about this on a scale of 1 to 10.” I’m not overtly asking if the proposition feels supportive or pushy, I’m sussing out his visceral level of psych to guide the decision and what’s next.

We’ve been around this competitive climbing circuit for a while now. Every climber is different, every parent’s approach unique. I was asked this past weekend if a young climber should “move up” to training three times a week. I inquired about what else she’s involved in and her dad listed a slew of commitments. I told him to really be good at any one thing, she’d likely have to commit. But what I should have told him was to get her involved in exploring her feelings by drawing a small, medium, or big smiley face next to the activities she does so he could see what makes her happy. It’s an exercise in listening that’s great for parents, but for all of us to take stock in what puts a smile on our face and props us up instead drags us down. And maybe the balance between support and pressure is running in and out of the waves, hand in hand. Balance is the middle ground of leading by listening and exploring the journey together.

By: Jerry Steele

If you have a story and would like to contribute to the FAmily blog, email us a pitch at Published posts earn FA members 2,000 FA Bonus points!

Vegas to Utah: Trip Report

In another installment of “The FAmily travels to climb somewhere awesome” Mila Ugryn and friends get out to Nevada and Utah to pull on some real rock. Sometimes the journey and the things you see along the way are just as magical as the destination. If you have a climbing trip and would like to contribute to the FAmily blog, email us a pitch to:


What happens in Vegas, goes to Utah:

Nowadays, whether I’m scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, most of my friends from First Ascent are having a great time climbing outdoors. From our home in the flat Midwest, the Chicago climbing community really makes an honest effort to climb outside; even if it’s a four-hour drive to Devils Lake, or the eight hours to “The Red” in Kentucky. 


Last weekend, I traveled with friends Zoran and Sasha to Las Vegas and the Utah for a trip we’ve all been anticipating for a long time. Flying into Las Vegas this time, meant climbing not gambling for us. Armed with trad gear, ropes, and sunscreen, we went almost immediately to explore routes to climb on nearby Bridge Mountain (7,003 feet) at Red Rocks. To us it is one of the most impressive, and most elusive summits in the entire Red Rock area.

With a 4am wakeup, we drove the short distance from Vegas and got to the end of a dirt road that would challenge even the most high clearance vehicles. This was the start of the most difficult and beautiful hike in Vegas. The hike gradually grows in difficulty, and only balanced rocks point to continuation of the hike. As we stood on the opposite side of the mountain from where we planned to climb, it became clear we didn’t know a safe approach to go around the mountain. So, we did what most climbers would do, had a sandwich, hid our gear and roped-up to start ascending though cracks and chimneys, which were rated about 5.4 all the way to the summit. Later, Zoran’s smartwatch showed we’d taken 35,000 steps or 17 miles total during out 12 hour trek and climb that day. I didn’t admit to it at first, but it was the most difficult and longest hike I’ve ever been on.



Something like Miguel’s out West? 

The next morning we headed to Utah and were hungry for some sports climbing. We visited a special place called Veyo Pool, near St. George, Utah. This private area will soon be renamed as Caldera Canyon, according to its new owners. With natural pool facility, a refreshing river running through, and a variety of nicely bolted routes, this place has the potential to become like Miguel’s Pizza in Red River Gorge, Kentucky. The owners of Veyo Pool/Caldera Canyon have grand plans in mind for the climbing community.


With some sport climbing under our belt from the previous day, we decided to find some red rock to climb. We headed to Snow Canyon in St. George Utah, a special place recommended even by the people on the plane. “Rarely a snowflake to be found,” according to; this canyon was named after its pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, and has consistent sunshine throughout the whole year. If words like “amazing” and “fantastic” weren’t overused as much as it is these days, Snow Canyon is a true representation of these adjectives with a few to add, like magnificent and majestic. One can find lava, sandstone, red rocks in a fluid relationship with each other throughout the park.

Community at every turn!


After doing some climbing in the shade, and realizing footwork and technique is key, we noticed some climbers on the way out of the Canyon. What are the chances that you meet someone from First Ascent in Utah? Apparently very high, since one of the few climbers we were watching, recognized us from First Ascent. Just a week or so ago, we were talking to Dain about a nice yellow auto belay route to the left of the overhanging section of the comp wall, and here we were – in Utah – chatting about the “Living on the Edge” route they were about to get on. Saying our goodbyes, and wishing each other safe flight back, we ended this weekend with tender feeling that climbing community is large, welcoming and wonderful. And the magnitude of mountains never seizes to humble and inspire.

By: Mila Ugryn