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

Celebrating Savannah

On March 28, 2018, Savannah Buik passed away in a trad climbing accident at Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin. Savannah was an original member of the First Ascent Staff, co-founder of the Chicago chapter of the American Alpine Club, and a treasured member of the Chicago climbing community. Read FA staff member Abby Mansell’s celebration of Savannah’s life and legacy below, and #climbsavvy. 

First Ascent’s core mission is to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing community, and that’s the lasting first impression that most of us have when we walk through the doors. Working the same boulder problem at Uptown, finding a belay partner on the board at Avondale, discovering your coworker is also a climber at Block 37, grooving to the tunes at Humboldt – I’d be shocked to hear any of you say you haven’t had a positive experience with the community at FA. Savannah was a precious member of this community, dedicated to making people feel welcome and infusing them with her stoke.

Whether you’ve known Savvy for years, took an Intro to Bouldering class with her, received a belay test from her, or were greeted by her at the desk, you’ve been touched. If you ever bouldered at the same time as her, heck, if you were ever in the gym at the same time as her, guaranteed your day was made a little brighter by the sound of her infectious laugh.Her effervescent personality bounced off those walls as she danced her way through life, singing and encouraging others to let their freak flags fly.

You see, Savannah was a very special person. Even at the young age of 22, she had accessed her own raw humanity, inspected it, accepted it, and then opened her heart for others to see who she truly was. Above all, she was an advocate for self-love.Declared fully-recovered from an eating disorder that plagued her for years, she had come a long way toward loving her self, her body, and everyone else. She had a way of using her vulnerability to allow you to take a look at your own in a safe space. It’s like she was saying “Hey, I’m really weird in this kinda specific way, haha, isn’t that great?What a life, huh?” By sharing the most vulnerable pieces of herself, she opened doors to let others find love for themselves and the parts of them that they might find weird, embarrassing, shameful, or unworthy.Living by her example, we can all become better people for ourselves. More authentic. More gentle with ourselves for our self-declared shortcomings.

Having just graduated, Sav was considering a move to Colorado, where her love for the outdoors could be more easily explored. She changed her mind, however, because the community and friends that she found in Chicago had become her tribe. She loved us all, and she helped us love each other more. All of us. Strangers, friends, curious first-time climbers, and long-time crag buddies, all sharing in the same passion.It’s a sense of belonging that I’ve never had before, and I’m so grateful to have found it. Savannah’s life, and now her death, has had a powerful impact on this group. As a community we have changed. Grieved. Grown. Hugged and sniffled and expressed our gratitude toward one another. It’s a tragic means to a beautiful end – a community of people who love and support each other. 

We can honor Sav by continuing her work and growing the branches of this wonderful community deeper, wider, and more connected. Ask someone if they want beta when they seem stuck on a problem. Say hello to the person on the train that you recognize from the gym. Invite your gym friends to hang out outside of the gym. Dance. Laugh.Find your passion and go for it full steam with your heart on your sleeve. Find strength in your imperfections and share them with others to make them stronger. Be humble.Remember that climbing is a dangerous sport and it needs to be treated with diligence and respect. Face your challenges but know your boundaries. Learn from others’ experiences and remain thirsty for knowledge. Climb hard and train smart. Donate to organizations that focus on making climbing areas safer and more accessible. Be patient. Forgive yourself and others. Be stoked to climb and live and love. And most importantly, stay Savvy.

By Abby Mansell. Photos @savvytothemax.



Want to know how you can help make a difference?

Participate in First Ascent’s Climbathon to help support Sav’s favorite organization, Project HEAL, the leading non-profit in the US delivering prevention, treatment financing, and recovery support for people suffering from eating disorders. Savannah was extremely passionated about the great work Project HEAL is doing and interned with the organization for a semester. 

You can also donate to the American Alpine Club. Savannah was the Chicago chapter chair of the organization and interned at the AAC’s Colorado headquarters for a summer.

Your Guide To Climbing Outside

The city is thawing, the birds are singing, and spring is on its way, which can only mean one thing – it’s time to get outside! Nothing quite compares to the feeling of real rock under your fingertips, but climbing outside presents its own set  of challenges. Whether you’ve been climbing for years or for just a few weeks, making the switch from plastic to rock can be tricky – outdoor climbing presents additional dangers and logistical challenges that don’t exist in the gym. 

As the outdoor season gets closer, check out these tips to make your gym-to-crag transition as seamless as possible.

1. Find your Crew 

Before getting on real rock, you need to connect with someone who has the technical knowledge and expertise to help you climb safely outside and who knows the local crag logistics and ethics (i.e. where to camp, where to park, where to go when nature calls, etc.).One of the best things about climbing is the community, so seek yours out! There are plenty of ways to meet fellow climbers and organize that big trip you’ve been dreaming of in a safe and responsible way.

Meet the FAmily!

There are always lots of events happening at the gym, from the Bouldering League to Community Sessions like Women Crush Wednesday to the Climbathon. Check out our calendar to find one that speaks to you, and make some new friends in the process.

Post on our Bulletin Boards

Looking for a belay partner to hit up the Red River Gorge with you? Our bulletin boards are the perfect space to find community. Leave a note with your name and contact information, and get ready to make some great climbing connections.

Join a Group

The Chicago climbing community is growing, and local groups are a great way to connect with other climbers and hone your skills.The Chicago Mountaineering Club is a membership organization open to climbers looking to improve their mountaineering skills and attend group trips both locally and in annual western outings. On Facebook, check out the Greater Chicago Rock Climbing Community group, where local climbers can post about tips, tricks, and upcoming trips open for joining!

Find a Guiding Service

Hiring a certified guide who knows the approaches, anchor systems, and local ethics at a climbing area is the most tried and true way to get started outside. For Chicago’s “local” crags, check out the list of guiding services for the Red River Gorge, Kentucky on the RRG Climbing Coalition website, the Devil’s Lake Climbing Guides for guiding in Wisconsin, or the Vertical Heartland Climbing School for some climbing right here in Illinois.

2. Prepare for the Transition

Do Your Research

Make sure to research the local ethics and logistics of the climbing area you’re traveling to. Most well established crags have official guidebooks, so pick one of those up – a portion of the proceeds from sales of many of these books typically go to maintaining the local climbing areas.

Some judicious Googling can also help you find resources, and there’s always Mountain Project, an open source online guidebook with a handy smartphone app.  Also, make sure you understand the key differences between climbing in the gym and climbing at the crag. Check out this great list of tips from Climbing Magazine to helped educate yourself on the issues.

Take a Class

If you’re looking to hone your technical skills and head into the outdoor season with confidence, First Ascent classes offer the guidance and expertise to leave you feeling prepared. There’s no better way to learn the ropes, meet new people, and prepare to reach your next goal.

Our Gym to Crag program will get you ready to take your gym skills to real rock, covering the technical essentials for single-pitch sport climbing. You’ll learn the basics and best practices of managing and setting up sport climbing gear and get a refresher course on crag etiquette so you can help keep your favorite routes in good condition. If you’re new to climbing outside or just looking for a good way to dust off your knowledge, taking a class can get you ready to rise to any challenge.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Nothing compares to putting in some quality gym time. Outdoor climbing can test your strength and endurance in new ways, pushing you to spend more time on even taller routes.With that in mind, spend some time working on your endurance at the gym. Climb slowly and deliberately, and create circuits for yourself to increase your stamina. If you’re looking to get some solid advice on how to train for your climbing projects, check out our Redpoint Assessment with one of our expert coaches.

3. Hit the Crag!

With your crew and your skills in tow, you’re ready to head outside and test yourself on new routes. Remember to have fun, be safe, know the local crag ethics, and keep your routes clean and free of litter, so they can be enjoyed by climbers for generations to come.



Written by Ali Cassity. Photos courtesy of Ed Yu.

FA Member Spotlight: Adnaan Soorma

We’re shining the spotlight on FA member Adnaan Soorma this month! Adnaan started climbing at First Ascent Uptown and hasn’t looked back since that fateful day in 2015. He has taken climbing outside to destinations across the country, and he is a constant positive presence at First Ascent. Read more about Adnaan below and say hi to him next time you see him!

How did you get into climbing?

A friend of mine took me bouldering at FA Uptown back in early 2015.I didn’t really know what I was doing at first. But after a couple bouldering sessions I was hooked. I went on to buy my first pair of shoes, take the Learn the Ropes class at FA Avondale, and the rest is history.

What do you love about climbing?

I really love the problem solving. It’s not just about being the strongest. There’s lots of technique that unlocks moves specific to your body. I also love the community, being outdoors, and connecting with nature.

Bouldering or sport climbing? 

Sport climbing. When you’re on that lead rope it’s like putting a series of boulder problems together. So it’s the best of both worlds for me. I also enjoy long distance running and other battles of endurance.

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

Red River Gorge. The features are amazing at The Red from technical slab to overhang jug hauls.There is no shortage of climbs down there.

I also enjoy skiing, running, and biking. I’m also trying to get more into backpacking.

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

I’ve got my eye on Twinkie. That is the route at The Red not the snack.I’d also like to send a 5.13 this year.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

If I’m not climbing I’m either at work writing code or sleeping.

What do you love about Chicago?

Summer. My perfect summer day in Chicago is biking to the bouldering gym for some yoga and climbing, getting some lunch, and then going to the beach.

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

I really like Vapiano for Italian food.Their pizza gives Miguel’s a run for their money.

Chicago also does a great job with their parks with the Grant Park Music Festival and Movies in the Park.

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

I’ve always been in the midwest. I moved to Chicago five years ago after finishing school in Akron, Ohio.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Don’t give up on your goals. If you’re running into a challenge, step back and assess the problem (maybe not literally or you’ll fall off the wall), you will find a way even if it’s not the way everyone else has done it. I really like this quote by Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”




FA Staff Spotlight: Lisa Ragins

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Lisa Ragins. Lisa is a mother of two (twins no less!), a runner, a serial tie-dyer, and a constant presence at First Ascent Avondale. She has the gift of hospitality in spades. In fact, we dare you to try to hang around First Ascent for more than a week without being offered one of her homemade baked goods. Read more about Lisa below, and be sure to say hi next time you see her.  Thanks Lisa for all you do to make First Ascent a warm, welcoming place!

How did you get into climbing?

When people find out that I have 19-year-old twins who have been climbing since they were 5, I am often asked if I got them into climbing. No, they got me into it!   Want more details than that? Ask me next time you see me

What do you love about climbing?  

Other than Dave Hudson? I like that climbers of different ages and abilities can all enjoy the sport together, indoors and outdoors! So many good mentors and mentoring! It is such an incredibly supportive, welcoming community of people having fun, solving problems, working on projects, sharing experiences, staying fit without ever feeling like you are working out.  Always an adventure! It was especially fun to raise two climbers and go on climbing adventures together. I highly recommend it!

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

I definitely love sport climbing over bouldering!  Less chance of injury if you are on a rope. Plus, longer routes/problems are more satisfying to send.  That being said, I actually really like bouldering at red rocks outside in Vegas. Fortunately, it is a great place for sport climbing too.

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

A great outdoor climbing area that I love is Red Rocks just outside Vegas!  Beautiful scenery, incredible sunsets, fun bouldering, great sport climbing, a chance to meet people from all over the world, great nightlife, and beautiful weather! However, no Miguel’s Pizza there… So, Red River Gorge is my driving-distance, camping, pizza, Ale 8 climbing destination, with Drive By, Motherlode, Gold Coast, Solar Collector, Chocolate Factory, Dark Side being my favorite crags!  Get The Best of the Red Climbing Guidebook!

Oops, I can’t forget how wonderful Chattanooga is for outdoor bouldering! Plus if it’s raining there are Highpoint Climbing and The Bouldering Authority to climb at, plus many good dinner options, a movie theater, and the longest pedestrian bridge over the river there – a must see. Make it part of a nice long run! Stay at the Doubletree for warm chocolate chip cookies or stay at the Crash Pad, an incredibly cool climbers hostel. And if I am there when you are there, I will make you eggs in a basket for breakfast!  After I get back from my morning long run of course. Don’t worry, I wake up early.

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

My climbing goal this year is to go on at least one more outdoor climbing trip with my kids and to send my first outdoor 5.11.   As for other fitness goals, I love running and I signed up for the Soldier Field 10-miler this May. Anyone else planning on running it?

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

When I am not climbing, I am either working at FA or baking, running, tie-dying, doing garden work, trying to figure out where in the world my kids are, or making homemade pizza dough. What I really want to do is plan a FAmily tie-dye day, making FA logo tie-dye shirts! 

What do you love about Chicago?  

I love the lakefront. I have a particular site where I hang my hammock.  Other than that I will run, bike, and rollerblade on the lakefront paths, enjoying the beaches, museums, riverwalk, and sunrises. By the way, give urban kayaking on the river a try! I had so much fun doing that last summer and plan to get a season membership at Urban Kayaks for unlimited kayaking this summer!

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

I am a big fan of The Art Institute of Chicago. I am a member there and their food is artistic and delicious as well!  Ask me and I will most likely take you with me!

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

I used to paint wall murals for a living. Now I just like to draw left handed (I am right handed) with a Sharpie.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?   

I really want to thank the First Ascent Founders Dan, Dave, Jon and Joe for dreaming up a place for the FAmily to meet! I have met so many interesting, wonderful people on this path, including my climbing partner Julie! I miss her a bunch as she has moved to Denver, so I am always looking for someone to climb with me.