FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

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

FA Member Spotlight: Jen & Ari – Coconut & Cantaloupe

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on our very own #WCWs – Jen and Ari! Also known as Coconut and Cantaloupe, these two scientists are always up for a challenge in the gym or in the lab. Check out their instagram @coconutandcantaloupe to see how these awesome climbers stay inspired!

How did you get into climbing?

Jen (Coconut): While vacationing in Vietnam at the end of 2015, my husband signed us up for a boat tour that also involved kayaking around Ha Long Bay and rock climbing. Neither one of us had ever climbed before, and I was quite anxious to try it.It didn’t feel very intuitive the first time, and the limestone tore my hands to shreds, but at about 40 feet up, I remember sitting in my harness and looking around the bay at all of the limestone towers and islands and thinking, “Well, this is cool. Being this high up is kind of nice. I wonder if there’s anything I can climb in Chicago”. Pretty much since then, my main belaytionship has been with Ari, who I met in my PhD program at Northwestern, but we’ve had a lot of fun climbing with our husbands too and getting other friends into the sport!

Ari (Cantaloupe): My now-husband actually introduced me to climbing when we first started dating. I stopped climbing after I got into graduate school for my PhD in biology at Northwestern University; it just wasn’t on my mind.  Years later, Jen asked me if I wanted to go climbing with her. We started climbing together, got more serious about our climbing, made this Instagram account and now we are just climbing together all the time. When I climb without her I feel like my arm is missing!

What do you love about climbing?

Jen: Climbing is the only time when my mind is quiet and singularly focused. Being a grad student is incredibly stressful and can be all consuming, but committing to climbing certain days of the week and having a climbing partner forces me to reset. It’s a kind of meditation for me. Also, the community is amazing! Where would I be without the support and encouragement of the Women Crush Wednesday crew?

Ari: Climbing really makes me feel at home in my body. It makes me feel proud of my body. I’m not here to climb easy; I’m here to work hard. I’m here to be frustrated at times. I’m here to fall and to fail. I’m here to push my body so I can improve. I’m here to work hard so I get strong. Climbing makes me feel strong and proud, but it also shows me my weaknesses and pushes me to correct them. Climbing motivates my self improvement all around.

Bouldering or sport climbing?

Jen: I enjoy both, but sport a little more than bouldering only because the fear of falling off the wall is still too real.

Ari: Both.

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

Jen: I’ve only climbed in Vietnam and Wisconsin, so between the two, I’d choose Vietnam. I’d love to explore Red River Gorge and Hueco in the near future. I also enjoy biking, camping, and hiking.

Ari: Red River Gorge. I also love hiking, camping, snorkeling, and swimming.

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

Jen: This might sound trivial, but I am working on being able to do pull-ups. They’re so hard! Other than that, I want to get more confident at lead climbing and consistently be able to climb V4s.

Ari: Start lead climbing in the gym. Get outside. Work out more frequently when I start writing my thesis soon.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Jen: I’m a grad student at Northwestern, so my full-time job is research. I’m getting my PhD in a lab that specializes in developing nanomaterials for diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

Ari: My PhD, which feels like it is taking an eternity! I also love to travel, and I have the cutest cat Curie! Yes, I did name her after Dr. Marie Curie. I’m that person. Jen’s dogs are named after James Watson and Francis Crick so I am in good company!

What do you love about Chicago?

Jen: Chicago is my hometown, and the skyline is 100% my favorite thing about it. Whenever I drive or fly back into the city or look at the skyline from the water, its association with home and family is so strong that I always feel comforted by the sight of it. Also, is there anything better than summer in Chicago?

Ari: What don’t I love about Chicago? Chicago is the first city I have lived in where I have ever felt at home.

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

Jen: I live close to Chinatown, so I’m always happy to go out for food there. I especially like Dolo for dim sum. The Art Institute is my favorite museum. I also really like going to the symphony and the opera. Thank you, student discounts!

Ari: Sakura Karaoke in Chinatown, Maxwell Street Market Tacos/buying whatever random stuff they are selling, and the Chicago Art Institute

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

Jen: I think I was the first female tuba player in my high school’s band. I switched to tuba from flute because there were no women in that section.Also, I can interdigitate my toes.

Ari: My brother and I share the same birthday exactly 5 years apart! I also don’t understand macaroni and cheese.

 

 

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Jen: If you see us in the gym, please say hi! We love meeting and climbing with new people, and we’re always happy to be your cheerleaders while you project!

Ari: Someone take us climbing outside – I’ll bake you cookies. And Jen makes one hell of a brownie!

 

Climbing Training Q&A with the Redpoint Coaches

Are you ready to start training for the fall climbing season? Believe it or not, a full climbing training plan that peaks in October (prime Red River Gorge season) starts in July.  As training season approaches, we sat down with FA’s resident training fiends at Redpoint Training, Jayme Novotney and Branden Lacour, to ask a few questions about training for climbing and the Redpoint program. Enjoy!

If you’re interested to start your own training journey, the Redpoint Coaches are hosting Intro to Climbing Training workshops at each FA location (Avondale, Uptown, Humboldt Park, and Block 37) this month, and Redpoint Assessments are only $49 now through June 30th. 

 

How long have you been training?

Jayme: 10 years

Branden: About 4.5 years. I started training for climbing as soon as I started climbing, which isn’t typical. That’s just how I work in athletics. I’ve always been competitive with myself and want to get the best out of myself.

How long have you been coaching with Redpoint?

Jayme: 1.5 years

Branden: The same, we started Redpoint together.

What do you enjoy about being a Redpoint coach?

Jayme:  Seeing my clients create goals, work toward those goals, and ultimately achieve them.

Branden: I get really psyched when my clients get those “Aha!” moments.I really do love sharing all of the training knowledge I’ve gathered and seeing it get put to good use by others.

At what point in a climber’s progression should they consider adding climbing training to improve their climbing ability?

Jayme: Adding climbing training or any type of organized plan will be beneficial to anyone, whether your are just starting out or have been climbing for a number of years. Organizing and structuring your climbing will help you gain strength, build endurance, and achieve your goals.”

Branden: I go back and forth on this one.In the beginning it’s important to just climb a lot to learn how to properly climb, and learn how your body moves on the rock. However, I do think that training for those people should include mostly technique work, with maybe a little bit of supplemental climbing training. Your body will naturally get stronger when you mix a bit of bouldering and roped climbing in during the early days. 

When it comes to serious training, I’d say 1 to 1.5 years depending on your body (ie past injuries, tendon durability, etc.) and your personal tolerance for training.

When in the year should a climber start a climbing training plan?

Jayme: The best time to start a training plan is 10-16 weeks prior to a goal route or trip. I recommend someone choose a location or a specific route, build a climbing plan that will build strength needed to achieve that goal, and stay focused on that goal throughout the training.

Branden: What Jayme said is the general goal here. It just depends on what your goals are. Training for a bouldering project involves shorter training cycles because you can shorten the endurance phase. You can really start at any time though – don’t let that hold you back. Just have a plan on how you will switch into a main training plan once you get to the proper point. You can always ease your way in this season and then start a full 16 week training plan next season.

 

Why do climbers need a climbing training plan?

Jayme: A training plan becomes most beneficial to a climber when life gets hectic, the stoke for climbing wanes, or injuries have been common. Following a plan is a reliable way to keep on track, tell a friend you can’t go have that extra beer, and keep you from attempting that last move one more time when it’s like to cause an injury. You will have a plan in place that you can fall back on without worry or wondering what you should do next.

Branden: Training plans are good for people hitting plateaus, for anyone looking for consistent growth, and for people with limited time but who want to continue getting better. Training forces specific adaptations in climbing specific muscles. This increases gains a bit quicker than just going to the gym and climbing whatever catches your interest. Both methods work, but specificity is the rule of growth in increasing the adaptation response, and that’s where specific training practices come in handy!

 

What are the important elements of a climbing training plan?

Jayme: I think the most important part of any training plan is a goal. Long term goals and short term goals are both beneficial to a climbing plan. The next important element is the commitment you’re willing to give in order to achieve those goals. The last element is knowledge and experience with building a training plan.

Branden: Having goals that you are excited about and that are tangible, like a trip out of state to a climbing area, a specific route, or a hard boulder – something that gets you stoked. Often times having a number grade you want to hit is not enough to really motivate you.

Once you have a goal, you need to have a plan that you will actually follow, so the plan has to be something you can commit to. The plan should be targeted based on your areas for growth as a climber – the climbing-specific strength that needs to be developed, the energy systems that need to be optimized, and the technique that makes you an efficient climber. The actual training comes last, and when you get started, it’s important to remember: you will get more gains if you train consistently for 3 days a week at a lower level the you will training once a week at the epic beastmode level. Set yourself up for success – consistency is key!

Can training for climbing be fun?

Jayme: YES! There are definitely different types of fun. There is the immediate fun of seeing improvement and sending that boulder problem that has been just out of reach for years; there’s also the type of fun that is delayed.The type when you’re willing to make sacrifices early on in order to see the fruits of your labor down the road. Personally, I have grown to love the work that goes into a training season in order to feel like I’m floating up my goal route.

Branden: Yes it can. Although like Jayme said, sometimes you have to suck it up if you really want your goal. That being said, climbing is supposed to be fun, so I like to mix it up a bit and make sure I’m mentally staying psyched by breaking some hard training up with some fun bouldering/ roped sessions.

 

What is unique about the Redpoint program?

Jayme: The unique thing about the Redpoint program is that the program can adapt to you. If you want to be extremely dedicated and follow a strict plan, that can be designed for you. If you want to climb for fun, but also continue to see improvement, that can also happen. Wherever your climbing is, whatever your goals are, we can give you some structure and teach you the workouts to see improvement and achieve your goals.

Branden: Redpoint is extremely personalized, and you have a wealth of training information between the two of us coaches. The coaching you get is really at a crazy price right now as well. In popular climbing areas, programs like this usually cost double the regular amount we charge.

 

Why should an FA climber get an Assessment?

Jayme: By getting an assessment, we’ll be able to see your strengths and your weaknesses. We will reinforce the strengths and improve the weaknesses. By doing this, your overall climbing ability will increase. You will also learn how to climb in safer body positions that decrease stress on the body, thereby increasing the time you are able to spend on the wall. I am not a professional climber, but I see myself climbing well into my senior years. Keeping my body in shape and decreasing stress on my body will keep me climbing for as long as I’m around. My hope is to keep others climbing injury free for as long as they want to.

Branden: The value is through the roof. You learn a lot just by hanging out with us, save time from having to do all your own research, and get an experienced perspective into your climbing/training. And you walk away with a personalized, actionable training plan!

Anything else you want the FA community to know?

Jayme: I’m able to achieve my goals in coaching by clients achieving their goals in climbing. I hope to help you reach your goals as well.

Branden: For some, training isn’t needed, for others, it isn’t wanted, but for the vast majority of us mortals, a little focus and effort goes a long way. You’d be surprised the gains you can make in your climbing through purposeful training. It isn’t always easy, but when you are climbing at your best, that kind of joy really makes all of the effort worth it. I recently sent my first 5.13 this season, and boy, that kind of accomplishment really keeps the psych high.

Some photos courtesy of Brandon Lacour’s Instagram feed. Follow him @themidwestclimber.

Dragon’s Cave and the Hot Sea by Julia Kuo

In this special guest post, FA member Julia Kuo shares how she got into climbing through illustrations and words. You can see more of Julia’s work at juliakuo.com. We love stories like these! If you’re interested to share your story, email us at blog@firstascentclimbing.com

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.