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

Climbing Comes To The Loop

Back in 2015, we opened First Ascent Avondale with a lot of hard work, some good fortune, and the collective energy of Chicago climbers. The video below tells the story well:

Now, less than 3 years later, we are thrilled to open our fourth location right in the iconic center of Chicago: the Loop. We love all the neighborhoods that are home to First Ascent locations, but this location feels particularly special to us. The FA Founders (Jon, Joe, Dave, and I) all call Chicago our home. It’s a milestone for us to open a climbing gym in the heart of Chicago, surrounded by skyscrapers, bustling crowds, theaters, company headquarters, city offices, and the architecture that makes Chicago so unique.

Building in the Loop is not only special for us Chicagoans, it’s also a leap forward in our mission to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing community. First Ascent Block 37 will serve climbers that work or live in the city’s center, and with access to the Red and Blue Line trains in the building, the location couldn’t be better for our downtown commuting members. We also hope FA Block 37 introduces more of Chicago to the sport we love. The Loop is filled with people who spend their days strapped to their desk. First Ascent will give them access to fun, convenient exercise and a great way to meet new people and connect with old friends.

First Ascent Block 37 opens in just a few short days, and we hope you can join us for the Grand Opening Party on March 3rd! In the meantime, I’d like to show you around the facility. Pardon our dust on this virtual tour – we’re still putting the finishing touches on the space. We put everything we’ve learned from our first three locations into this design, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve built with you!


When you enter First Ascent Block 37, you’ll be greeted by our friendly staff along with this custom-designed feature wall that mimics the contour of real rock.


Lake Shore Drive

The first boulder you’ll encounter features a generous amount of slab, vert, and slightly overhanging terrain. We’ll teach classes and set climbs for new climbers on this wall, but we’ll also have a number of harder technical slab problems mixed in.


Yoga & Fitness Studios

The facility features two yoga and fitness studios, where our top-notch team of instructors will lead yoga and group fitness classes to help you supplement your climbing and explore different styles of movement.



Neighborhood Boulder

We named this boulder the “Neighborhood Boulder” because it’s diverse, like the neighborhoods in Chicago, and there’s something for everyone on it. Visit the South Side, West Side, North Side, and Lakefront for everything from delicate slab to aggressive overhangs.

Inception Boulder

“Inception”? Allow me to explain. This boulder features blocs (a French word for boulder problem) on a block-shaped boulder in Block 37. So blocs on a block in Block. If you don’t get the name, that’s okay – you can re-watch the movie Inception, or forget all about the name and enjoy the gentle angle changes that make this block so unique.


World Cup Boulder

This boulder first appeared at the 2012 IFSC World Bouldering Championships, and Entre-Prises rebuilt it for us here. We will do our best to set world-class boulders here that live up to its namesake.


The Bean Boulder

We always wondered – could we build a climb-able version of the famous Cloud Gate sculpture (aka The Bean)? Entre-Prises took on the challenge, and we can’t be more psyched with the outcome. This boulder is a nod to the geometry of the famous Millennium Park sculpture, with colors that reflect the boulders around it as the Bean reflect its surroundings. Most importantly, it will make for some epic setting possibilities.


Training Area

Featuring a two-lane campus board, scatter board, Moonboard with Bluetooth app connectivity, and hangboard stations, you’ll have everything you need to develop climbing-specific strength, endurance, and power, all with downtown Chicago views to enjoy between sets.


Fitness Area

Any long-time climber knows that you need to add key lifts and oppositional training to your regimen to sustain your climbing and overall health. And for many people, having two memberships – one to the climbing gym and one to a fitness gym – is unsustainable. So we’re dedicating 1500 sf to state-of-the-art cardio equipment, free weights, and functional training equipment to help our members maintain full body wellness. 

Locker Rooms

You’ll find about 200 code-lock lockers around FA Block 37, including a number of larger lockers in each locker room. You’ll also find showers and other amenities to help you prep for work after a morning or lunchtime climbing session, including something new for First Ascent: towel service.


We will have 15 powered workstations overlooking Randolph St. so you can send some emails in between sends or “work from home” with other members of the FAmily.

We can’t wait for you to experience this climbing gym with us. Hop on the Blue or Red Line and meet us downtown for a session soon. Let’s climb, Chicago!

Dan Bartz is co-founder and Marketing Director for First Ascent Climbing & Fitness.

FA Member Spotlight: Mara & Brad

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we’re shining the spotlight on the recently engaged Mara Jacobucci and Brad Sackfield! Brad popped the question right here at FA Avondale a few feet away from where he first met Mara. What can we say – it was love at first ascent (their words, not ours)! Read below to learn more about this fantastic couple, and make sure to say “congratulations!” to these two Valen-climbs if you see them around the gym!

1. How did you get into climbing?

Mara: ​I got into climbing (and heard about FA) through my amazing sister, Miranda. 

She moved to Chicago from California for a brief period of time, and “coincidentally” planned her move the same month that FA was scheduled to open…it was not a coincidence. I decided to give it a try, since she clearly seemed to into it and excited by this new gym. She introduced me to the FAmily, including the amazing crushers of Women Crush Wednesdays. I’ve been hooked ever since! 

Brad: I got into climbing in high school, when I took an Outdoor Education course. We did some indoor climbing a couple times, then did an outdoor climbing trip. I seemed to be OK at it, so I kept going. 13 years later, I still seem to be OK at it, although it wanes a little each year. 

2. What do you love about climbing?

Brad: ​I like rocks. ​

Mara: Me too.

Brad: I think the best part about climbing is that you can climb with people of any skill level at the same time—you can have a hard route next to an easy route, and everyone can work together and hang out. You get to be chatty on your breaks, and I can’t stop talking.

Mara: It’s true. He can’t. My favorite part about climbing, besides getting to hang out with my favorite people (including this guy) is that I get to find all kinds of new ways to move and challenge my body. And solve problems!

Brad: Oh ya! That too. I love problem solving, and I love figuring out how to make something work for my style of climbing and my inflexible, broken body.

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

​Brad: Trad. *laughs* But really, I climb in all three disciplines—trad, sport, bouldering—but indoors, I prefer bouldering, because it’s more fun to be close to people and to get to chat. 

​Mara: He really likes to chat. 

​​Brad: ​Also, I prefer harder movements in shorter sequences. 

Mara:​ I​’m​​ currently ​focusing more on bouldering to work on power and strength, but I love sport climbing, too! It’s such a different mental game, so it’s fun to mix it up. 

4. What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

​Brad: Red Rock Canyon.  Or possibly the Adirondacks…I think it’s Red Rock Canyon, though. OK, I got it! For trad: the Adirondacks, for sport: Red Rock Canyon, for bouldering: ​the Halfway Log Dump.

​Mara:​ ​I’ve only been to a handful of outdoor climbing spots, but I really enjoyed bouldering in Little Rock City/Stone Fort.For sport climbing, I have to go with the Red River Gorge. For our honeymoon, we’re hoping to make it to Kalymnos, so I imagine that will be our new favorite spot.

Brad: Definitely.


5. What other outdoor activities do you enjoy?

Brad: I really enjoy kayaking, standup paddle boarding, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, all the skiings, skating (on ice, because I’m Canadian)…

Mara: I love beach activities, though living in Chicago makes that pretty difficult. I also enjoying running outside when the ground is not frozen!

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

​Brad: Medical School and Mara.

Mara: Work, taking classes for fun (currently, Anatomy), and Brad. 

7. What do you love about Chicago?

​Mara: I love the people…specifically of the climbing variety. It’s very unifying to have a community of people who want nothing more than to climb outside, but are stuck in the midwest, where the closest decent climbing is hours and hours away. It takes a special kind of person to endure that struggle, and I really like them. ​

​Brad: First Ascent and the food! 

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

​Mara: We love exploring new restaurants in Chicago. Also, all the phenomenal live music and performing arts options, like Kingston Mines, free summer concerts in Millennium Park, theater, dance, and opera shows, etc. 

​Brad: ​We recently saw Hamilton, and it was spectacular. 

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

​Mara: How about that we’re obsessed with Hamilton?

​Brad: But most people get that idea after a few minutes…

Mara:​ I have six toes.

​Brad: That’d be pretty hard to fit your feet into climbing shoes. How about that between the two of us, we share the trifecta of European travel languages?​

Mara: And North America, for that matter. We intend to use these languages to travel the world! 

​Brad:​ To conquer the world! 

​Really though, rocks don’t speak, so we won’t really need them…

9.5. Okay, we have to ask… Why did you choose First Ascent as the venue for your engagement?

Brad: It’s where we met, and it’s where we spend most of our time together. Our first date started ​here, but neither of us knew it was a date…

Mara: …until we fell in love (it was quite literally love at first ascent). The engagement timing and venue was 100% a complete surprise to me, but I couldn’t imagine a better place​. Like Brad said, FA is where we first met—Brad proposed about 10 feet from the exact spot—had our first dates, and have met our closest friend​s​ in Chicago. 

​Brad: …so needless to say, FA is very special to us.

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

​Mara: Why don’t you give the FA community your secret, infallible beta?

Brad: Climb harder…and don’t fall.

Mara: Also, thank you for being the amazing, welcoming, supportive people you are. 

Brad: Yes, what she said.​