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!