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

Climbing is for Every Body

Last week, the New York Times featured First Ascent in a full-page Style section article discussing the rise of climbing in the US over the last 5 years. 

That was an exciting moment for us at First Ascent. All of the photos from the piece were taken at First Ascent Avondale, and I was quoted discussing our role in fostering community, connecting people, and helping bridge the culture gap between new and experienced climbers. Other FA climbers (Zack Woodruff and Megan Novotney) told stories about traveling to the Red River Gorge and climbing with their kids.

We were stoked to see First Ascent featured in this climbing “moment”, as Jimmy Chin describes it in the article. We opened our first location just over 4 years ago, and it’s rewarding to see the work we’ve put into our gyms be recognized on a national scale. But more importantly, we consider serving this growing community of climbers an enormous privilege – one we don’t take lightly.

That’s why I’m writing here in response to a part of the article that struck me and many climbers as fundamentally untrue of the sport of climbing and the climbing community as a whole:

“Keeping in mind the average American is significantly overweight, I would talk everyone I could out of rock climbing unless you are incredibly light, agile, fit and functional,” said Harley Pasternak, 45. “There is a very small minority of this country that should be rock climbing.”

I respect Harley Pasternak’s experience and expertise in fitness and nutrition, but we need to set the record straight. 

Climbing is for everybody. Every. Body.

I don’t just say this as an industry idealist. I say it because I’m part of an extremely diverse, inclusive community of climbers inhabiting our gyms every day. 

Come observe a First Ascent gym any night of the week, and you’ll find climbers of all ages, body types, sizes, ability levels, and backgrounds pursuing adventure, fitness, and community through climbing. What’s more, that community of climbers is incredibly welcoming and encouraging to new climbers, no matter their fitness level. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been climbing or how hard you can climb – we’re all pushing our own limits, so we’re all on the same team when it comes to sending

To say that climbing is only for the fit elite is a complete mischaracterization of the climbing community I know and love.

For some people, modifications are necessary to climb, but that’s no different than any other sport or activity. Our routesetting team works hard to set climbs for all ages, body sizes, and ability levels so everyone can enjoy a first ascent on their first visit, then challenge themselves with more difficult climbs as they progress. We partner with Adaptive Adventures to lead adaptive climbing meetups where climbers use special prostheses or rigging to climb despite physical or neurological disabilities. We recommend that folks with previous ankle or knee injuries, osteoporosis, and other conditions that leave them susceptible to limb injuries stick to roped climbing and avoid bouldering, since that style of climbing involves ground falls down to a pad instead of a harness and rope to protect falls. Sure, certain styles of climbing are reserved for advanced climbers (lead climbing, for instance), but with the correct modifications and equipment in place, the inherent challenge and joy of climbing is available to everyone.

Of course, climbing involves inherent risks – gravity works, as the saying goes – and we’re clear with everyone who walks through our doors about the risks associated with climbing. With proper equipment and training, however, there’s something about defying gravity in community that is life changing.

I’ve watched countless people become more alive and more themselves through climbing: taking back control of their health and fitness, battling their sedentary work lives, disconnecting from devices and reconnecting with people in the present moment, enjoying being active with their kids and families, overcoming a fear of heights or feelings of self doubt – and the list goes on. I know these stories well, partly because I’ve experienced a similar transformation myself. I discovered climbing as an out-of-shape college student who never quite fit into the sports or fitness worlds, and needless to say, it altered the course of my life in ways I never would have imagined that first day at the climbing gym. Climbing has the ability to change lives, and that opportunity is available to anyone and everyone – particularly those who might not fit into more traditional sports or fitness activities.

I’m glad to see the climbing community stand up and respond to the article. Countless climbers commented on the New York Times Instagram post to stand up for climbers of all body types and ability levels. Sasha Digiulian posted a call to action via Instagram yesterday, with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments. This is the community I know and love standing up for what we believe in.

We at First Ascent will continue to do our part to give everyone – every body – a chance to discover climbing in a positive, supportive, judgment-free environment. We are grateful to the climbing community we serve for helping us uphold a warm, welcoming vibe in our gyms. And we encourage everyone who is curious about climbing to prove the naysayers wrong and come give it a go. We’d be happy to show you the ropes.

Climb on, y’all!

Dan Bartz
Co-founder, First Ascent Climbing & Fitness

2019 Humboldt Rumble Recap

This past Saturday, November 16th, we held the second annual Humboldt Rumble Bouldering Competition at our Humboldt Park location. Climbers of all ages climbed comp-style problems custom set for the Rumble, and fun was had all around.

We had the Journey station on Pandora playing for the Youth comp because everyone sends when dad jams are playing. The Citizens Comp was completely FULL, and the sending energy in the space was off the hook. Then when 7:00 PM hit, we turned the lights down low, doled out BBQ from Feed and brews from Goose Island, and cranked up the tunes for Open Finals, with a $1,000 cash purse on the line for the top competitors. The crowd kept the hype high, the top climbers crushed, and the 2019 Humboldt Rumble wrapped with FA Humboldt Park claiming the title of CrossTown Bouldering League Champions for the second year running!

Thanks to our sponsors, Organic Climbing, Butora, Moosejaw, and Yeti for kicking some fantastic prizes for our competitors.

After all is said and done, we want to give a special shout-out to the setters. They set problems with a mix of comp-style and more accessible climbing that everybody could challenge themselves on, and it made the day what it was. Thank you, FA setting crew!

Click below to check out the full results and see how you did!

2019 Humboldt Rumble Comp Results

One final note: our Recreational Women’s 3rd place competitor, Kai Nemoto, posted an incredibly heartfelt story about competing in the Rumble. We’re embedding that post here. Please read, because it speaks to what we believe this community is all about. Take it away, Kai:

View this post on Instagram

Community bouldering competition!!🧗‍♀️ . Last year I had the lowest score in the competition of 300 points (at least I turned it in😂) but this year I was able to do a lot more and got 3rd place in women’s recreation category!! . I climb because it’s a fun strengthening exercise. I don’t like weights. Exercise is needed for better health so I had to pick something🤔 Finding what’s do-able (AKA fun) and convenient was the key for me. . I go to climbing gym “everyday” after school as long as I don’t have migraine or bad PMDD. My sick days are the no-exercise days which is half of the time so the schedule works out😆 . I loved that I got to see my improvement of the year!! . PS: watching finalists are inspiring. . #climbing #firstascent #humboldtrumble #stopsuicide #mentalhealth #mentalhealthadvocate #exerciseforhealth #mentalhealth #copinglife #copingskillpnddwarrior #achievementoftheyear #improvementoftheyear #highlightoftheday #suicideprevention @firstascentclimbing

A post shared by Kai: A Light In The Darkness (@alightinthedrk) on

2019 Holiday Gift Guide for Climbers

Somehow, it’s already November and the holiday season’s right around the corner. If you have any climbers in your life, you might be wondering what gifts to buy for them.

But if you need ideas for what to buy, don’t stress. This world of rock climbing gear can feel complicated and obscure even to climbers. From gear to media to memberships, we’ve put together a list of suggestions. Pick up any of these to make your climbing loved ones completely stoked when they open their gifts:

1. Climbing gear

Help your climber do what they love to do: climb! Climbing gear is always a safe bet. They could use new climbing shoes to replace the pair they’ve worn out bouldering over the past year. A belay device like the Petzl GriGri+ will help them stay safe on the wall. Or buy them a new rope. With a Sterling Velocity 9.8mm, they can work on that new route they’ve been eyeing in our Avondale location.

2. Reel Rock films

Every year, the climbing community buzzes with energy around the Reel Rock Film Tour. Many Chicago climbers went to this year’s first official film festival tour stop in the city! Reel Rock, a collection of short films, hits at the heart of the climbing community every year. It’s full of laughs, heartfelt connections, and amazing climbs. So why not buy a copy of previous tours and give it to your climbing friends? Digital copies are available on the Reel Rock website.

3. First Ascent apparel

You can often spot First Ascent climbers in the wild: they’re wearing FA gear. We’ve got a couple of new designs launching early in December: a new beanie and a new hoodie. They’re super soft and warm — perfect for the early-appearing cold weather we’re having. Come by the Avondale location to pick up this and other FA swag in the pro shop!

4. Gift cards

If you’re still not sure what to buy, we offer gift cards too. Your climber friends and loved ones can use them to pick out the best gifts for them. Everything from apparel to equipment like ropes and belay devices is fair game. This Black Friday through Cyber Monday, we’re offering 10% off of all our gift cards (online or in person) so you can get FA dollars in your climber’s hands at a discount. Don’t sleep on it!

5. Holiday Market and Gear Swap

This upcoming December 7th, stop by our First Ascent Holiday Market at our Avondale location. Local and outdoor retailers will showcase their wares with special holiday deals, so you can pare down your shopping list. What’s more, we’ll have local non-profits with gift ideas that give big and give back. We’ll also host a gear swap, where you can buy, sell, and trade your new or gently used gear to acquire gifts for yourself and others.

This is a great opportunity to get hands-on guidance for the climbers and adventurers in your life gifts. And you can get your photo with Santa on his portaledge. See you there!

One last thought: the holidays can be stressful. If you think you’ll struggle to buy gifts for everyone in your life, don’t worry. Despite all the marketing, this time of year is about the people. Your presence and friendship are enough, and those are free to give. Happy holidays!