FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

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

Humboldt Park Q&A

Jon Shepard is a co-founder of First Ascent Climbing & Fitness and is currently transitioning from his role as an intellectual property attorney to full time work at First Ascent. We sat down with Jon to ask him a few questions about FA Humboldt Park, and here’s what he had to say.

What are you most excited for about First Ascent Humboldt Park?  

I’m most excited about the way the gym feels when you walk in.It’s vibrant!  Everything from from the colors of the walls and the holds, the aesthetic lines, the natural light, and the dramatic wall angles and variety of climbing terrain.The whole visual experience is stunning, and I hope it energizes the Chicago climbing community and inspires new climbers as well.

What makes the Humboldt Park facility different from the other FA facilities?  

It’s First Ascent’s best bouldering experience yet!  Don’t get me wrong, I love the natural light and the nooks and crannies to explore at Uptown.  And Avondale will probably always be my “home” gym.  But I think the design of Humboldt is our best to-date.  When I’m there I feel psyched to explore and climb!

Why build a climbing gym in Humboldt Park?  

Humboldt Park has great culture, diversity, and boasts some of Chicago’s finest outdoor spaces. To us, the neighborhood simply felt “right” for a climbing gym.  The locals appreciate their community (just watch the BBQ happening in the Park on a Summer day!).  Climbing gyms also foster strong community, and so we thought a climbing gym would fit naturally within the vibrant neighborhood, while offering a fresh space for residents to make friends, foster community,  and experience one of the best social and fitness activities out there (in my humble opinion!).

When will FA Humboldt Park open?

Our Grand Opening Party is officially set for September 30th! We’ll have a full day of fun for climbers of all ages and ability levels throughout the day. If you’d like to climb sooner than that, we will open for limited, members-only climbing sessions staring in mid-September, but you have to be a member to get pre-opening access. If you’re not a member yet, check out the Pre-Opening Membership we’re offering – you get a free month when you pay your $50 enrollment fee!

Why did the Humboldt Park location take longer to open than expected?  

Anytime we need to retro-fit an existing building into a climbing gym we are bound to run into obstacles, and this time was no different.We had to replace and reinforce portions of the concrete slab to support climbing walls, and we needed to replace old plumbing and building infrastructure to bring it up to code for a fitness facility. That works take time, but it means the facility is set up to run smoothly from Day 1.  

Anything else you want us to know?

We can’t wait to bring world-class climbing terrain, fantastic yoga and fitness classes, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, and fun community-building events to the Humboldt Park neighborhood. I hope to see you at FA Humboldt Park soon!

To stay up to date on all things FA Humboldt Park, make sure to like the FA Humboldt Park Facebook page and sign up for our email list.

FA Staff Spotlight: Brian Hennig

We’re psyched to shine this FA Staff Spotlight on Brian Hennig! Brian joined the First Ascent team on Day 1 and brings his A-game, his care for others, and a good joke with him every day he’s on duty. He will continue on at First Ascent as the Humboldt Park Gym Manager, making sure our newest location is ship shape for members and visitors alike. Learn more about Brian below!

1. How did you get into climbing?

I first got exposed to climbing my freshman year at Lemont high school. There was a decent sized wall with a few ropes that had to be from the 90’s. One of the mandatory gym units was learning how to top rope. We learned very basic belay technique and were able to send each other up a few “routes” (really just holds sprayed all over the wall). But after a few times of making it to the top it quickly became one of the sports I enjoyed most.

2. What do you love about climbing?

Climbing to me is just fun. At any level. Whether it’s a warm up route or project I’ve been working on for weeks, anytime I’m on the wall is a blast.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Started off as a sport climber, but over the past year have definitely turned to bouldering. You can come climb on your own, or be with a massive group trying to send the same problem.

4. What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Being outdoors in a Chicago summer is amazing. I am constantly biking or running along the lakefront path and hanging out at the beach.

5. Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?

No climbing goals this year, besides trying to cut feet less. Long term I want to complete a triathlon.

6. What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

When I’m not climbing I’m usually hanging out with friends or around FA. In the winters I try to make it to a fair amount of concerts or comedy shows.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

There is no shortage of things to do in Chicago. People are non stop and know how to have a good time.

8. What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture?

Do sports count as a Chicago culture? I’m a die hard Bulls fan.

9. What is something about you most people don’t know?

I am constantly listening to podcasts. All sorts of varieties, and always looking for new suggestions.

10. Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Humboldt Park is worth the wait! It has had its delays, but it is an incredible facility that everyone at First Ascent is going to want to be a part of. So excited to see the community grow with new people that join, as well as giving current climbers a bad ass gym.

Catch Brian at FA Humboldt Park, opening in September! Learn more about First Ascent Humboldt Park here.

From Competitor To Coach

Claire Gordon, FA Team Coach for the summer and long-time competition climber, ruminates on competition climbing both as a competitor and as a coach, and how no matter the result, the relationships you build are what you take away from each competition.

Competition climbing has always played a huge role in my life. I spent every night after school at the gym training. Once the weekend came, I spent the majority of the time traveling to and from competitions or focusing harder on training.

When I fell last November and injured my knee, I thought that was the end of competition climbing for me. I wasn’t sure if I would make a full healthy recovery or when I was going to be able to climb again. I knew I wouldn’t be able to perform as well as I previously had. I was so hard on myself.

Getting back into competition would lead to many disappointments. There were moves I couldn’t do because of my limited range of motion and attempting to go harder than what my body could do post-injury. When I wanted to get a particular move down, I would push myself to the absolute limit because I refused to believe I was unable to climb again. I didn’t want to give my body the time it needed to heal. I would push and push.

I could never imagine leaving a huge part of my life behind. Over the course of recovery and post-recovery, I still entered in a few couple small local competitions, which was more a fun thing for me to do instead of the pressure of a major competition. Local meets didn’t fix the itch I had to get back to competing full time.

Back in June, I returned to competition climbing, but this time I wasn’t the one climbing. I would be seeing it all unfold up above me as I coached the First Ascent Climbing Team kids at Vertical Endeavors in Minnesota for USAC Divisional Championships.

And let me tell you: the team crushed it!  I was still able to feel the excitement and all other emotions I had felt previously during climbing competitions, but this time as coach. In fact, I think I felt more  than I had before. Before, it was just me and my climb, but now I felt every kid’s feelings on my shoulders, experiencing every emotion they went through.

After feeling so much during Divisionals, I traveled to Atlanta in July with 13 kids for USAC National Championships. This was the biggest competition that most of these kids have ever attended.  High pressure and lots of nerves were present that day. Everyone had different goals:  some kids were just trying to make it to semis, some to finals, and some wanted to make it on the US Team and go on to compete on the world stage.

While a couple of our kids excelled, a lot of them were unable to reach their goals. Every single kid handled their disappointments differently; some cried, some were angry, and  others pretended they didn’t care. Although they all reacted differently, everyone was mature and kept a positive attitude for the rest of their teammates that advanced.

No matter the outcome, each kid, understood how lucky they were to have the opportunity to compete at such an incredible competition and to be apart of the First Ascent Team. They all put on a smile for sushi dinner, enjoyed swimming in the hotel pool, and finished out the rest of the weekend with a smile. I, in turn, was really proud of their positive attitudes and the team spirit they all showed one another.

As I began to talk to all the kids after the competition, I realized that the best part of competition wasn’t, in fact, the “competition” part. It was all the memories surrounding that day. The memories of the road trips back and forth, exploring a new city, and visiting tourist places like the Mall of America. Coming together as a whole team bonding and creating memories. You may remember a crappy climb in the short-term, but long term, you’ll always remember what was said on a road trip, or the fun had being a tourist for the day.

Looking back on my own climbing career, the drive for competition had nothing to do with climbing; it was about the experiences I picked up along the way. When I fell, I thought that I would never get to continue doing what I loved. Now I realize that what drew me to competition climbing wasn’t topping out in front of everyone, but the vibe and the whole experience. Coaching has allowed me to be part of competition climbing once again. I thank Planet Granite Portland and First Ascent Chicago for giving me these wonderful opportunities. I cannot wait to keep traveling all over the country with my kids and watching them progress!

Message to my kids:  Don’t ask me to pick favorites between my teams! I love all of you equally! Thank you, kids, for letting me into your lives, both climbing and personal. I hope I can help you all grow the way you have helped me!

– xoxo Claire Gordon, aka Trash Gordon / Flash Gordon (depends on the day)