FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

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

Staff Spotlight: Christine Antonio

We’re shining the staff spotlight on Christine Antonio, First Ascent’s Learning to Boulder class instructor at Humboldt Park! Read more about her journey through the world of climbing.

1. How did you get into climbing?

Honestly, you could have found me climbing anything and everything as a child (trees, countertops, scaling the walls of the house – my very early debut into chimney climbing). I once got stuck at the top of a flag pole and had the fire dept called on me. When I was home from grad school for winter break, my friend took me to First Ascent Avondale. I decided then that I would join the gym when I moved back home after graduation later that year (September 2016)… Now here I am!

2. What do you love about climbing?

I love that it has helped me to love my body for how strong and resilient it is regardless of what it looks like. I love the supportive and goofy community I’ve found through climbing. I love the beautiful, obscure places it has brought me to. I love how alive I feel at the top of an outdoor lead or multi-pitch route. I love eating after climbing.

3. Bouldering or sport climbing?

I do both! Sport climbing will always be my first love and favorite – the serenity and fluidity needed for sport climbing has always resonated with me. But I also love the social aspect of bouldering and napping on crash pads. I do tend to use bouldering as a way to improve climbing style/technique that I can apply to the lead wall.

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

Bishop (Payahuunadü – Northern Paiute, Southern Mono/Monache, and Newe/Western Shoshone land) is an absolutely magical place. Climbing on beautiful rock with the snowcapped Sierra Nevada range in the background is an absolute dream. Locally, Shawnee National Park is a gem of southern IL.

5. What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Snowboarding, ice climbing, surfing (trying to learn), backpacking (went on my first big trip to Mt. Olympus, WA earlier this year). I’ll play a pickup game soccer or football here and there. I’m trying to get back into running, but it’s getting cold now and I dread the treadmill (I have many excuses).

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

Rehab current injuries, prevent further injuries, be smarter and more strategic about getting stronger! Grade-wise, indoor 5.12, outdoor 5.11+/5.12-, V6 outdoor. I’m hoping to find some lead projects in So IL or the Red in 2020!

I also hope to continue doing solid work with Sending In Color, Women Crush Wednesday, and Brown Girls Climb to improve diversity, accessibility, and WOC (women of color) representation in the climbing world.

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

My full-time job is a Medical Speech-Language Pathologist at an acute care hospital. So most of the time I’m performing swallow studies and watching people eat. Other things that keep me busy are non-climbing related travels (they rarely are these days), trying new recipes, singing very loudly in my car, and my crazy cat.

8. What do you love about Chicago?

It’s home! I also “love” that sub 50 F is still sending temps for us because we got thick skin – STRENGTH, NO WEAKNESS (but really there’s still never enough skin).

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

Food: Ahhh I love food… can’t choose one place! Some favorites are Chicago Kalbi (Korean and Japanese barbecue), Mesaku (sushi), Cocoro (Japanese), Han Bat (Korean ox bone soup), Alegrias (Nayarit style seafood), Bonci (Roman-style pizza), Lina’s Frozen Treats (located in Niles – Mexican and Filipino/Asian froyo, drinks, and desserts), Chi Cafe (if you know you know), and of course, my mom’s house for some bomb Filipino food.

Music/art/culture: One of my dear friends started Luya Poetry, a monthly poetry/open mic night geared towards the Filipino American and POC (people of color) community. Luya, in Tagalog, translates to ‘ginger’ and, like poetry and community, ginger is healing. The topics always resonate and are refreshing in a way that cannot be described with words.

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

I used to choreograph Filipino folk dances in college and competed in Battle of the Bamboo (annual competition at the University of Illinois Chicago) throughout my 4 years. In my senior year, I held the lead role in our performance as a mythical, colorful chicken called the “Sarimanok”. I think this all came full circle when I climbed my first outdoor 5.11 in Cebu, Philippines and I could hear the loud, incessant, collective crowing of the town’s cock-fighting chickens cheering me on…

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

As climbing becomes more popularized, inevitably, outdoor spaces are gaining more traffic. Please be respectful of the land where you climb/recreate, and to the people who were there before us, are still there, and continue to do work to protect these natural resources. Take some time to learn about the history, preferred practices, and be proactive about doing your part – whether that is packing it in/out, picking up trash, staying on trails, not climbing on rock susceptible to damage, not making cairns for fun, participating in stewardship or service projects, listening to stories and struggles of indigenous people, lobbying, or donating. “Leave no trace” is the bare minimum that we can be doing.

With the passion, tenacity, and execution I have witnessed in this community when facing our climbing projects, I know that we can do more here!

#MyFAstory Recap: Your First Ascent Stories

Back in September, we celebrated our fourth anniversary of opening our first location, First Ascent Avondale. In the four (already four!) years we’ve existed, we’ve welcomed thousands of new climbers through our doors, and watched them fall in love with the sport we love. We’ve watched countless members get stronger, healthier, and more connected to those around them. We can’t get enough of this community, so we asked you to share your FA stories on Instagram using #MyFAstory. Some of them we’ve heard before (we’re grateful to have a tight-knit group!), and others we heard for the first time.

So, we want to share some of the stories people told about their journey into climbing, and into the FA community. Check out the highlights below, and say hi if you see these crushers in the gym!

Climbing helps @kfuhrich to push her personal limits

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This week’s #MyFAStory feature comes from @kfuhrich: “I never considered myself athletic because I don’t excel at catching a flying ball. Climbing has encouraged me to physically push myself. I’ve sweated through, balanced atop and held on to things I never thought I could. Seeing a barrier and busting through it— or sometimes, barely inching over it— is empowering. What I imagined was merely a physical endeavor has turned out to have many mental and emotional benefits, too.” Friendly reminder for our members: if you post your #myFAstory by 9/30, you’ll receive 500 FA Bonus points! . . . #whyiclimb #❤️#letsclimbchicago #climbingcommunity #climbon #climbing #optoutside #climbingstory

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@chefbreadley has used climbing to help him face fear and adversity

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We’re closing out our birthday month with another #myfastory. Here’s @chefbreadley’s story: “My FA Story begins 3 years ago, when I was tired of the same old exercise routine and wanted something to challenge myself. Fast forward to now, and climbing has become not only a new way to stay active, but also a lifestyle and a community that’s helped foster my personal growth in other areas of life too. It’s taught me to be humble, face my fears, push through adversity and so much more. I love the adversity of it, and the feeling of accomplishment when everything lines up and I conquer a route or boulder problem.” We LOVE hearing stories like these. Thanks for sharing this Seth! FA members: if you haven’t posted your FA story yet, we’d still love to hear it. You have until midnight tonight to tag a post with #myFAstory to earn 500 FA Bonus points! . . . Photo: @sally.blood #whyiclimb #❤️#letsclimbchicago #climbingcommunity #climbon #climbing #climbingstory

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Climbing helped @betweenarock_ surprise himself with new skills

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This week’s #MyFAStory feature comes from @betweenarock_: “I took a learn the ropes class at Avondale as a surprise birthday present. I wasn’t so sure about top rope, but I was really intrigued by bouldering. So I took an intro to bouldering class at Uptown, and then I was hooked. I loved feeling so strong and being able to conquer the fear of heights. After about 6 months of climbing, I was able to do something I never thought I’d be about to do it my life: a pull-up! Not only has climbing been great for building strength and mental toughness, but the community is amazing! I love participating in as many First Ascent events as I can, and love all the new friends I’ve met!” Thanks for sharing your story with the whole community, Kim! The FAmily wouldn’t be the same without you. Reminder: We want to hear your FA story too, so tag your next post with #myFAstory and tell us more about how you got into climbing and the impact it’s had on your life. All FA members can earn 500 FA Bonus points this month for sharing. . . . #climbing #whyiclimb #❤️#letsclimbchicago #climbingcommunity #climbon #bouldering #Uptown #climbingstory

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Climbing’s helped @anne_catrone show strength — mind and body

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LOVE this #myFAstory from @anne_catrone: “The first time I went climbing, I couldn’t do a single pull up. I had zero upper body strength and I hated working out. Climbing changed all of that. I had so much fun and pushed myself so hard that the next day, I could barely hold a pen, my forearms hurt so much. There’s a lot I love about climbing. As an exercise, it’s versatile and challenging, building strength and confidence simultaneously. It’s one of the few sports that can be competitive individually or as a team, and as such fosters a community that’s genuinely interested in supporting others in their pursuit of success. It provides a place where failure is not just possible, but expected, since failure is the only way to test your limits and grow. Now that I’m pregnant, I find it even more important to continue climbing, and to keep climbing a part of mine and my husband’s lives, for as long as I can. I want to show other women that pregnancy doesn’t define you. Sure, certain things may have to change. Like me, you may have to clear it with your doctor, stick with beginner walls, and take more breaks. But it’s important to me to stay healthy and continue doing things I love. Besides, I want to introduce this kid to climbing early. I want my child to know their mom is unapologetically strong, and strong women should be celebrated. I want them to know their dad admits his weaknesses, and seeks guidance to improve upon them. That courage isn’t the absence of fear, but it’s doing something in spite of fear. That difficult things are worthwhile. That failure is how you learn. I want to remind myself that children fall, and some challenges they’ll have to face alone, and when they do, if we’ve done our job, they will have the courage and confidence to tackle them head on. That’s why I climb. That’s why I continue to climb.” Thanks for sharing this story, Anne – so inspiring!! We want to hear YOUR FA story! Tag a post #myFAstory to tell us how you got into climbing and the impact it’s had on your life! FA members can earn 500 FA Bonus points this month for sharing. #climbing #whyiclimb #❤️#letsclimbchicago #climbingcommunity

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Here’s to four more years and beyond with this amazing community!

My 6×6 Challenge Story: Dan Bartz, FA co-founder

First Ascent is launching its second 6×6 Challenge the week of October 14th, and I for one cannot be more excited for another 6×6. 

In many ways, I consider myself the least likely person to take on a fitness challenge. I discovered climbing back in college, and at the time, I was out of shape and uninterested in changing that. When I visited the local climbing gym, climbing clicked with me in a way that no sport I had tried previously ever did. I was hooked from my first visit, and it was my passion for climbing and my drive to improve that lead me to set a regular climbing routine, eat healthier, and — gasp — start running and lifting weights to build endurance and strength for sending.

Fast forward to last spring. I hadn’t been climbing regularly in a few months — my full days at First Ascent plus my two young kids at home (ages 6 and 2) were making it hard for me to get into a rhythm. I was also working through some chronic shoulder problems that were making bouldering, my favorite style of climbing, difficult for me to pursue the way I wanted to. I was tired of hibernating after a long winter. I felt like I needed to make a change. 

When I told my wife, Annika, that we were launching this thing called the 6×6 Challenge at First Ascent, she looked at me and said “We should do it!” That same part of me that resisted traditional fitness when I was younger balked. I kept thinking “No, that’s not for me — I’m a climber.” I wanted to spend the precious little time I had to exercise on the wall, not doing burpees. But I knew I needed something new, so we signed up.

Boy, am I glad I did.

What I found during the 6×6 Challenge was so much more than just a fitness routine. I found a community of people pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone every session. I found the coaching I needed to learn new movement patterns and perfect my form on kettlebell swings, deadlifts, and Turkish getups. I found the motivation and accountability I needed to stick to my routine. And, perhaps most surprisingly of all, I found that traditional fitness can be fun.

Don’t get me wrong — it was hard work. We started the 6×6 Challenge with a baseline assessment: the time it took to complete a 500m row, 40 air squats, 30 situps, 20 push ups, and 10 pull ups. Mine was one of the longest on record: a 10:23. My fellow Basecampers were all coming in around 7 or 8 minutes, but the time wasn’t even the biggest factor for me. I was completely destroyed after that first workout. I could barely walk down the stairs afterward. I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

The first few workouts felt similar, but after two weeks of regular Basecamp sessions I started to see progress and feel better and better after each workout. At the end of the 6 week challenge, we ran the baseline assessment again to measure our progress. This time, I came in at 5:57, cutting my original time nearly in half. What’s more, I felt great afterward. I felt like I could do the whole thing again right then and there. I felt empowered, like I had rediscovered a version of myself that I hadn’t seen in a while.

Basecamp crew post rainy kayak paddle. Photo courtesy of @amandanicc

We capped off the challenge with an urban adventure for all the finishers: a kayak trip with Urban Kayaks on the Chicago River. It ended up pouring rain that night, but the strong crew of Basecampers just laughed and enjoyed the Type II fun. We had already pushed so hard and overcome so much over the last 6 weeks. What’s a little bit of rain?

It’s for all these reasons that I am psyched to take on another 6×6 Challenge this fall. If you’re looking to make a change this fall and improve your base fitness level, I want to invite you to join me and the Basecamp crew for this fall’s 6×6 Challenge. You’re going to meet some great people. You’re going to feel challenged to be your best. You’re going to learn and get stronger. And best of all, you’re going to have fun — both Type II and Type I.

Staff Spotlight: Paula Bui

We’re shining the staff spotlight on Paula Bui, First Ascent’s Yoga Coordinator and AcroYoga extroadinaire. Read more about her journey into the world of yoga. Sign up for a yoga class at Avondale to meet her!

1. How did you get into yoga?

I was in high school when I took my first yoga class in Miami, FL and was looking for different ways to move my body. I had just started adopting a plant-based diet at the time and read somewhere most vegetarians practiced a mindful movement practice through yoga. Who knows how relevant that is now but I like to think we’re all trying to be more mindful of our consumption and impact on this planet.

2. What do you love about yoga?

I enjoy the feeling of being strong and flexible.

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

None yet! Honestly, I’m a little terrified of climbing outdoors. Hiking outside and being on my bike bring me joy!

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

Yes, to get my foot behind my head.
Maybe…
But actually no.
I’m excited to be able to continue working my one arm handstand practice and get better at lifting humans up over my head.

6. What keeps you busy when you’re not doing yoga?

Thai bodywork and being a freelance interpreter. They’re my other two side hustles. Oh, and also traveling whenever I get the opportunity.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

Everything. Literally everything, both the good and the bad. I love winter and the other seasons too. I love that this is a city of Struggle and a city of Hope. I love that we can drive in any direction (minus towards the lake) and be in a different city within a couple of hours.

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

The Chicago Cultural Center for all things music (free!) and culture. My favorite place for food is my kitchen.

Oh and you didn’t ask, but my favorite place to hang out is at a coffeeshop around the city.

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

I’m passionate about building community and organize an AcroYoga Festival every year in Chicago to do that and show some adults how to communicate, trust, and play again.

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

I’m grateful for you all. Seriously. I love that I can show up at a random time of day and connect with someone that’s come to my yoga class & chat or climb together.

Reel Rock 14 is coming to Chicago

For the first time ever, the Reel Rock tour is headed to Chicago for an official tour stop, and we’re proud to be taking part as a sponsor.

We may be biased, but as long-time fans of Reel Rock, we think it’s about time the official tour came to our town—after all, Chicago is a world-class outdoor city and the climbing community is just as strong and just as passionate as any other out there.

To learn more about the history behind the tour, and partly because we’re psyched to get to participate in the October 24th screening (bought your tickets yet?), we reached out to Reel Rock Tour Director Jaime Ray to learn a bit about Reel Rock’s history and why they’re coming to Chicago:

How did Reel Rock start? What was the climbing film world like before it?

Jaime: Peter Mortimer and Josh Lowell, the founders of Reel Rock, actually met each other in film school. They initially started their own production companies — Josh founded Big UP Productions and Peter started Sender Films. Up until Reel Rock, they produced a lot of individual films you might have heard of (Dosage, Rampage, etc.).

Fourteen years ago, they came together and started co-creating Reel Rock. In the beginning, they made films separately and toured them together, but over time, collaborated to make films together.

Early on, they made these very “climbing porn” style films, but together, over time, and as they got more experienced working together, the films starting evolving into real, cool stories about climbing. Reel Rock now is about telling stories about the people who climb.

This is the first year the Reel Rock tour is hosting its own screening in Chicago. Why Chicago and why now?

Really, we saw a need in the market to bring Reel Rock to Chicago. There are more climbing gyms, and more strong climbers coming out of Chicago, and clearly people who have an interest in seeing these films. So we saw the need.

How are the film subjects selected?

Really, Reel Rock tries to present what is going on in the climbing world right now. We’re filming what’s happening. We can’t necessarily orchestrate some rad event to its full extent, and sometimes people unfortunately don’t send. We’ll film someone working on something really cool, but sometimes they don’t actually do the thing. So there’s some restriction based on the reality that we want to show that journey. There isn’t really criteria, except that we’re telling a story.

Do you think the climbing world has started to recognize the Midwest in terms of its outdoor community?

The truth of matter is there are no big mountains in Chicago, not as much natural outdoor climbing as there is out west, but that’s led to places like Chicago developing gym communities to fulfill the desire to climb and explore.


We at First Ascent are stoked to see the climbing community in Chicago grow and flourish, and we’re excited to see the that community get recognized by the broader outdoor community.

Join us for the Official Reel Rock 14 tour stop at the Music Box Theatre at 7:00 PM on October 24, 2019. Buy your tickets here, and we’ll see you there!

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