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

On Matching Tank Tops & Community

Shelly Sital has been a First Ascent member and fixture in the FA community since the beginning. She sent us this blog just after our two-year anniversary, and all we could say was “Aw, shucks – thanks Shelly!” We’ve heard so many stories like this one since we opened, and it’s stories like these that keep us working hard and loving what we do. Thank YOU, Shelly, for being a part of it. We love our community!

If ever there was a climbing gym that has fostered a sense of community and forged strong friendships, it is definitely First Ascent. I have visited a good number of climbing gyms around the U.S. and Canada and, I think my climber friends would agree, we have something special at First Ascent. So, this month, in honor of First Ascent’s two-year anniversary I wanted to share some brief thoughts on the community that has been built at FA and express my gratitude that I get to be a part of it!

Last month, several of members of First Ascent converged in a small town called Chester, Illinois, to watch the solar eclipse. We all arrived at different times the day before, but when we stepped out of our tents on that beautiful Monday morning, we had a good laugh because all of the women in the group had chosen the same First Ascent shirt to wear that day! (See photo taken by fellow FA member and shirt designer, Valentine Chen) What’s that saying about great minds?! We are a community beyond the walls of First Ascent. This community fosters a full-on mind and body experience. Together we encourage one another to see more and do more. We push ourselves further and find joy in a variety of experiences. We may not have climbed on this recent excursion to watch eclipse totality, but climbing is what brought us together from different walks of life and parts of the city.

When I first joined First Ascent in August of 2015, I had no idea that I would be making friends that I would go to Red River Gorge with, learn how to ice climb with, take lead classes with, eat pho and fried chicken with, and go on so many other adventures with over the past two years. The sense of community that has been fostered at this gym – built by climbers for climbers – is amazing, and I cannot express enough gratitude to the owners and staff who have kept this mission alive over the past 2 years, and most importantly, to my climbing buddies who show up every day (except while they’re off in Korea or some other exotic destination, of course). You see, with a strong community, comes stronger climbers. We keep on each other to push ourselves to be the best we can be, and to be safe while doing it. We cheer each other on. We get competitive when FA hosts endurance challenges. We give each other tips on beta, hugs, and laughs. What better way to get a workout in without a moment of boredom?!

P.S. A disclaimer: I promise I was not paid by First Ascent to write this. I just love this place!

FA Member Spotlight: Laura Guengerich

This month, we’re shining the FA Member Spotlight on Laura Guengerich. She is the perfect example of how happy and versatile our FA Community is!  You can find Laura taking multiple yoga classes throughout the week, working her way through a long route, or whipping something yummy up in the kitchen! Laura found FA back in 2015 and instantly fell in love. Since then, she has totally immersed herself into the FA community and culture. Read on for more!

How did you get into climbing?
A guy I was dating introduced me to climbing the first year I moved to Chicago. That relationship is long over, but I never stopped climbing.My climbing patterns have changed depending on my address, job, and climbing partners. For a while there was a pattern that all my climbing partners moved from Chicago to cities where they could climb outdoors more regularly.

I moved from CAC gyms to First Ascent during FA’s member pre-sale in 2015. It’s by far the best climbing community-fit I’ve experienced during 12 years in Chicago land, I mean, they have yoga too! My aunt introduced me to yoga when I got mono during college and couldn’t exercise. I’ve been practicing yoga in one form or another ever since.

What do you love about climbing?
Climbing has made me strong, and yoga has made me balanced. They are the perfect yin/yang exercise combination for me.

I think that part of human development is finding the exercise and dietary habits that work best for your body. I failed at group sports season after season as a kid, and that is so devastating to a child. I’m so lucky I found climbing!

I want to be around people who love the outdoors like I do, and most climbers do!

Bouldering or sport climbing?
I try bouldering but prefer sport. I like spending time working on a longer route.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?
I average about one climbing trip per year and ideally would do more. My favorite rock is red sandstone, like at Red Rock in Nevada, or Watervall Boven in South Africa, where I went for my first outdoor trip and got hooked.There’s nothing like red rocks against blue sky!

I love hiking as much as climbing. When I was growing up, my parents took my brother and sister and me to different National Parks every summer. The U.S. National Parks are absolutely unique in this world in terms of size and geography. We have to keep them around for ourselves and future generations!

I kayak recreationally on the Lake, and I’m trying to be a more confident biker. I’m at my best outside.

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year?
I’d like to climb at FA with a more consistent schedule. It can be tough with work, partners’ schedules, and life. I carve a place in my schedule for yoga at least once a week. I can definitely tell when I skip, something is just not quite right. I’d like to feel the same about climbing, and never make excuses.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?
Food and travel. My boyfriend is a fantastic cook, and I’m not bad.I just got back from eating my way through Southern Italy with an awesome friend who has a healthy appetite like me.

What do you love about Chicago?
The Lake. Chicago would not be the same without it. I also love living in Chicago because it’s so connected to the rest of the world through a big airport, and that’s important for me.

What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture?
Hot G Dog. Eataly. Also, I work at a school in Albany Park, which is such a cool microcosm of the world. You can eat any kind of cuisine in Albany Park.

What is something about you most people don’t know?
I’m a speech-language therapist. I think most people assume I’m a teacher when I say I work for CPS. Maybe I look like a teacher? But I’m terrible at public speaking, and teachers do that all day long. Public school teachers are among the most under-appreciated public servants, and we should thank them every day. I just work behind the scenes.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?
Along with the rest of the Chicago climbing community, I’m so grateful to FA for giving us this huge, beautiful gym, with such fantastic routes, staff, and programs.

Check into a yoga class if you’ve never been. The teachers are so kind, so professional, and so willing to work with you and what your body can do.

Also I want to call attention to the amazing women across multiple generations who climb, and who climb at FA! One of the best things I ever did at CAC was join the “Climb Like a Girl” event about 5 years ago. The women I met there are fantastic, and also involved at FA!