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

Why I Recommend Rock Climbing to My Patients

Throughout my career as a Licensed Clinical Child and Adolescent Behavioral Psychologist (yes, I know that’s an obnoxiously long title), I have explained to parents the benefits of their children being physically active more times than I can keep track of.  There have been, over the past 15 years, three that stand out far above the rest, topping my list of recommended physical activities: Martial arts, gymnastics, and competitive swimming.

Three reasons these sports are great for kids

These activities have a lot in common: first and foremost they’re individual sports, where the child is able to learn the essential skill of perseverance. One has to work on learning a new skill, work at it for an extended period of time, then after several weeks or months gets to see if their hard work paid off at a belt testing, swim meet or gymnastics competition. Teaching this level of delayed gratification through perseverance is paramount to healthy and happy kids.

Secondly, these three sports are all extremely physically demanding. Quite honestly, these activities wear kids out by allowing them to release their excess of energy.  Subsequently we see that children are better able to settle down, to sleep well, or sit through long school days with better behavior control following participation in these three activities.

Lastly, these three activities provide essential learning in body control, performing deliberate body movements that must be precise in order to achieve their goal.

And now, rock climbing

Well I’m happy to say that since the opening of First Ascent Peoria, I’m adding a fourth to my list of recommended activities: Rock Climbing! Climbing meets the three aforementioned criteria: it’s an individual sport where one must persevere to accomplish a goal (master a route or climbing problem that they have been working on for several trips to the facility). Rock climbing is also extremely strenuous and will use up a child’s excess energy.  Thirdly, it requires very precise and deliberate body movements, teaching better body control.

However, there’s one extra benefit that rock climbing has over these other three sports: you can truly do this as a family!

I was so pleased to see that my wife and I were not the only ones present with our children this past weekend at First Ascent. We saw parents working with and encouraging their children to help them persevere. I saw children helping their parents by telling them the next move they should make with a hand or foothold. I saw families growing stronger by doing something together.

So, moms and dads: get out there and do something real with your children this weekend. Head to First Ascent, and watch as your child and family grow for the better!

Dr. Kyle W. Boerke is a Licensed Clinical Child and Adolescent Behavioral Psychologist and a member at First Ascent Peoria.

Member Spotlight: Jevon Penalosa

This month, we’re spotlighting FA member Jevon Penalosa and recent competitor in the CrossTown Bouldering League! Read on to learn more about his love for climbing, what he does outside of the gym and what kind of climbing goals he has. Don’t forget to say hi when you see him around FA!

1. How did you get into climbing?

My best friend and bouldering league teammate Justin got me into it.

He did the referral for first timers so I could try it out, right when he just joined First Ascent. I was hooked on my first day. He told he would pick me up and we would climb whenever he was free if I joined too. So I joined right after my second day of climbing. He would hit me up everyday and we would go to Avondale even though my body was dead and didn’t want to. Climbing daily just became my part of my life. Avondale is only a five minute drive from where we live, so it was easy. Block 37 is only a minute walk from my office, so I now climb at Block 37 Monday—Friday for lunch and after work. Weekends are usually Avondale, Humboldt, and sometimes Uptown.

2. What do you love about climbing?

Don’t really know how to explain it but it’s all of these things:

-It’s really fun.

-It’s the best feeling when you send a boulder problem especially when it’s really tough and been working on it for awhile.

-Progress and growth.

-Get to hang out with friends. I’ve met so many great people through First Ascent who’ve become close friends of mine.

-It’s my escape from work, stress, problems, and boredom.

-Great way to workout and stay in shape.

-The community is the best.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing?

What is sport climbing? All I know is bouldering, but I would love to sport climb too.

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

I’ve only climbed outdoors once and it was in New York in the Shawangunks. It was awesome—never really had the opportunity to climb outdoors since I’ve been climbing for only a year now. I don’t know where or how to climb outdoors and didn’t know anyone who did. But I know plenty of people now who are willing to take me.

I really don’t do any outdoor activity. But I’ve frequently started snowboarding a lot with my super duper climbing squad (Dawid, Christine, Roger and Andrew), close friends whom I met through the bouldering league. We’ve gone four times already this winter and I plan on snowboarding a few more times before summer.

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

I want to be a solid V7-V8 climber, climb outdoors, and do sport climbing.

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

If I’m not climbing, I’m either at work or with friends playing the Nintendo Switch.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

That you can experience/do so many great things here and have tons of great food spots without venturing too far.

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

There are too many great food spots for me to just choose one, but I love pizza, sushi and burgers. I listen to all types of music but my favorite ones are very melodic just like Aruarian Dance from Nujabes.

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

I’m super shy.

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

Thanks for the awesome experiences, opportunities and friends. You guys are the best. Let’s climb!

97 Miles: 2nd Annual Climbathon Recap

One of the things we love about running First Ascent is being able to contribute to and provide a welcoming space for this amazing climbing community. This year’s 2nd Annual Savannah Buik Memorial Climbathon was a huge reminder of this community’s strength, and a tangible example of the power we have to do good when we work together.

We started the Climbathon in 2018 to honor Savannah Buik, a First Ascent staff member, Chicago climber, and all around inspiring human being who passed away in a tragic climbing accident at Devil’s Lake State Park on March 28th, 2018. Savannah was extremely passionate about climbing and the climbing community, and her generosity and kind spirit touched the lives of many people in the FA community and beyond.

The Climbathon seeks to honor Savannah’s legacy by bringing people together to climb as many feet as we can as a community in support a cause that climbers in our community are passionate about. This year, we focused on the Chicago Chapter of the American Alpine Club. Savannah started the Chicago Chapter of the AAC back in 2016 to help connect Chicago climbers to the broader climbing community and facilitate new and experienced climbers getting out to climb on real rock.

The Climbathon means so much to us as a community. Dustin Sammarco, who climbed over 13,500 feet, told us he put in so much work to support the Climbathon because “it keeps Savannah’s memory alive, and continues the positive work that she would have done if she were still with us.”

Taking the Climbathon to Devil’s Lake

Not everyone climbed their distance in the gym. Robin West, Desk Lead at First Ascent, and Wanjiru Kinuthia spent time up in Devil’s Lake, a place Savvy loved to climb (as many of us do), where they top roped, and shared donuts.

“There was a moment coming down from a scramble where my hips literally got stuck in between two rocks, and it forced me to pause, and I got to observe these people who knew her and some who didn’t, eating donuts and laughing with each other, and I thought, this is what the Climbathon is about: appreciation for this thing that ties us all together while remembering a beautiful soul,” Wanjiru says.

“It was a heavy day, but also a beautiful one,” Robin says.

The Results

This year, from Sunday 3/24 to Saturday 3/30, more than 400 of us climbed 512,470 feet together. That’s 97 miles. We blew last year’s results out of the water: almost 100,000 more feet climbed by 50 more people.

And we did it for Savvy, and the community she loved. As a result, First Ascent donated $2,500 to the Chicago Chapter of the American Alpine Club to fund the creation of a mentorship program that pairs newer climbers with experienced climbers to help them build skills, make connections, and take the next step in their climbing development. On top of this, we signed up almost 50 new AAC members and generated an additional $2,400 in donations to the AAC.

Some of you put in heroic effort to climb as much as possible: the top climbers in the Climbathon accounted for 34% of all climbing mileage logged!

Top Climbathon Climbers
1Phil Howard 387481Tali Brenner25392
2Khoa To 356682Kinuthia Wanjiru 11258
3Josh Cioch214703Elena Meredith6710
4Dustin Sammarco 135384Yolanda Reinart4836
5Will Combs118365Arielle Syllvester3616

Let’s not forget all the belaying it takes to climb 97 miles. Dustin found he ended up equally tired out from belaying:

“During a rope session, my partner and I would speed climb four laps on each route before switching belays. It is just as much cardio work to climb, and just as hard to belay a fast climber. All part of the challenge and the fun,” Dustin says.

We already can’t wait for next year’s Climbathon. This community has been able to turn this little idea into something so beautiful and meaningful for Savannah’s memory – and we’ve been able to give back in big ways to the climbing community at the same time. We couldn’t be prouder of you all. See you for next year’s Climbathon!

Introducing the Chicago Fixed Gear Initiative

Since we first opened the doors of First Ascent Avondale in 2015, we’ve watched as the Chicago climbing community has grown immensely with the growth of access to indoor climbing in the city. But outdoor climbing has always been difficult to access for Chicago climbers, with the closest outdoor climbing areas over 3 hour’s drive away.

It’s time to change that. There is vast route potential right here in the great city of Chicago, and we’re ready to bring that potential to life.

Introducing the Chicago Fixed Gear Initiative. A partnership between First Ascent and the best route developers in the area, the CFGI is dedicated to bolting and maintaining the best climbing lines in Chicago.

In a city known for its architecture, we’ve long dreamed of local climbers nabbing the first ascents on hard Chicago sport routes all over the city. 

Just picture it: questing up those endless corners on the Leo Burnett building, perfect for stemming. Or gaining climbing access to the parapets on the Tribune Tower, a whole new way to enjoy neo-gothic architecture and peep some amazing skyline views. Or even traversing the BP Pedestrian Bridge in Maggie Daley Park, one of Chicago’s most sustained overhanging king lines.

Elevator too crowded in the Aon Center? The CFGI plans to bolt a classic sport multi-pitch route to protect those flawless dihedrals so you can get to your desk job and have fun while doing it. Always wanted to summit the Wrigley Building? Imagine the shocked faces on the diplomats as you clip the anchors on your proj just outside the Austrian Consulate’s window? Ich glaub mich knutscht ein Elch!

Now more than ever, the CFGI is a vital cause for Chicago climbers. A recent dispute led a surly, old-school trad climber brandishing a bright red “Make Climbing Traditional Again” hat to chop the bolts on the Trump Tower project, which starts at the terrace, claiming that only true ground-up buildering counts. Chicago climbers need the CFGI to help resolve these disputes and ensure that bolting is done responsibly and with community consensus on what should and should not be bolted.

With the start of the CFGI, we’re stoked to see Chicago become a world-class climber’s city, prepared and ready for first ascents of everything from the Willis Tower (5.12d R) to the Bean (5.3 A2 or 5.13c A3/4 depending on which side you start on). We’re even working on installing slackline anchors on the towers of DuSable bridge for those slackers looking to make their river crossings a little spicier.

With new routes ready to go up on historic buildings all over the city, we’re proud to formally support the CFGI. Routes bolting initiatives are beginning on all major high-rises this spring, with FAs open to all takers.

We’re supporting the CFGI in partnership with the 4-1 Initiative, a non-profit dedicated to supporting announcements on April 1st that seem a little too good to be true. Happy April Fools Day, everyone!

For real though, check out the RRG Fixed Gear Initiative and the Illinois Climbers Association if you want to support the real heroes keeping Chicago’s “local” sport climbing areas bolted and open for all to enjoy. 

Also, PS: one of these photos is real. Can you figure out which one? Photo credit goes to Boone Speed.