FIRST ASCENT CLIMBING

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Trip Report: Moe’s Valley

Normally, Trip Reports cover our members’ trips to new areas. But sometimes, we get people like Adit Venkataraman, who was so kind as to write us a mini guide in addition! He wrote about Moe’s Valley, UT — a place we don’t hear about too often here in Chicago. You can find more photos from his trip on his Instagram, @aditje. Take it away, Adit!

Moe’s Valley is a sandstone bouldering area located about 15 minutes West of St. George, Utah. It makes for an excellent choice as a “pit-stop,” as it’s near Red Rock and close to the highway. I think it’s worthy of a little more than a pit-stop, though: some of the climbs are absolutely world-class and MUST be climbed! The rock type is desert sandstone with lots of interesting rock formations. The area is fairly concentrated with several car-sized boulders containing everything from roofs to slab. The hold types range from the tiniest sharpest crimps to the juggiest of huecos and all the good stuff in between. The grades range from classic V0 (Cornered) to V14 (The Beach). My opinion is that the best grade to find there is V6: you can find a ton of classics in the area. But there is phenomenal stuff at every grade and for every climber! The best time to go is late October to mid-March to maximize climbing in cooler temperatures — it can go up to triple digits in the summer.

Directions

To get there it is just a quick hop skip and a jump away from I15. As for some layman directions, one can take exit 5 (Dixie Dr) and continue to Tonaquint Dr, take a right on Curly Hollow Drive and drive past the middle school. At the end of the cul-de-sac bear right and continue on the well-graded dirt road up the hill and then take a right and go down the hill past the fence to park. The road tends to be quite rough here, but 4WD/AWD makes this a cakewalk — although it is possible to do it with a 2WD vehicle. It may be easier to just park near the top of the hill and walk the extra 10 minutes to avoid your car bottoming out. The first boulders you will see are the Sentinel Boulders (Sentinel area). Alternatively, the easier solution is to skip all of the above and use Google Maps to get directions to Moe’s Valley. 

Important

Please, please, please wait at least 24 hours to climb after a significant rain as the holds are quite friable.  You can go to the local outdoor store The Desert Rat to ask for local conditions or inspect the ground. The land is owned by SITLA so try not to camp at the parking lot at Moe’s. There is a camping spot at the Bear Claw Poppy Trailhead a few minutes away. Hotels and motels are relatively cheap in the area and would be the recommended option (this is what I did). One last point is to try to stick to the trails in the boulder field as much as possible: There is cryptobiotic soil in the desert that is quite fragile and is affected by human impact. 

This micro-guide is not meant to be comprehensive. Definitely do some additional research before coming, but most importantly have fun!

Trip Report

Oh man! The last two days of my weeklong bouldering trip. My skin, muscles and mind are beat after four days of continuous climbing in Joshua Tree and Red Rock. That said: my mental psyche is through the roof since I have heard that the movement of the boulders is world-class and the rock formations are some of the most unique and aesthetic in the whole country. With that said, I set my alarm for an early 11 am on Friday (easy, partner….it was a “rest” day for me) and set out to drive to St. George. It’s an hour and 45 minutes from Las Vegas. The majority of the drive is on Interstate 15, which is very convenient. The highlight was driving through the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona right before entering the town of St. George. Thanks to the construction and stopped traffic, I was able to peer to the right and watch several climbers working some hard sport climbs on the Mentor Cave/Planer Earth Wall

After that 10-second inspiration, I made my way over to St. George to The Desert Rat to get some beta, buy the St. George bouldering guidebook, and make my way over to Moe’s! My initial plan was to scope out the area and do a little climbing to get a feel for the area. Without further ado, I charged down (of course at the speed limit) the precarious dirt road to park! The first three boulders, the Sentinel Area, are right in front of the parking lot and the approach takes less than one minute. Like a kid in a candy store, I unloaded my pads and ran off to the first boulder: The namesake Sentinel Boulder. There are three high-quality lines on this boulder: Sentinel (V2), Huntsman Graffiti (V5) and Spray Lords (V6).  

As the sun was already about to set I immediately threw down both my pads in front of Sentinel (V2), warmed up hastily, and started up the giant car-sized boulder above me. The boulder is quite tall, although the landing is perfect and I felt safe with my two pads. There was another couple climbing in the area so I just quickly asked for a spot near the top on Sentinel (V2). The movement was fantastic, featuring really interesting juggy sidepulls and creative foot movement, thinning out in the middle with some decent edges and a nice juggy top: managed to snag a flash here! Seeing as there was little daylight left I frantically started yanking on my flashboard to warm up the fingers to try Huntsman Graffiti (V5): the crimp line in the middle of the boulder. This line features an interesting insignia of HUNTSMAN spray-painted at the bottom and the line itself features four excellent varnished crimps all relatively far apart. I was able to fire it off second go and run a couple of laps on it since the lock-offs and grips were just that excellent. I had little energy to try Spray Lords (V6) but the feature and movement, so I have been told, is definitely worth returning for.

The ultra-classic Huntsman Graffiti (V5)

 I then made my way over to the Pack Rat boulder featuring another great moderate: One-Eyed Willy/Taking it To the Ground (V3). It was quite dark and my headlamp had died, but I was too psyched! I was able to navigate and fumble my way up the left edges, turn the arête and compress my way to the chill top out: managing a flash! I then packed up, threw my pads back in my car and went to scarf some delicious food and get some much-needed shuteye!

I overslept my alarm on Saturday morning but this was probably a blessing in disguise. I was definitely glad to get the extra couple of hours of sleep. I was happy to link up with a friend who I met at the last Holy Boulders comp and climb with her for the day. We made our way over past the Sentinel area through the rocky wash towards the main boulder field where most of the climbs reside. I went to go try some of the “hidden gems,” aka the one-star classics and found myself getting spit off the rock. 

After some flailing, we went to go try climbs on the Device Ignitor boulder. This small roof features three fantastic climbs with unique grips and very flashy movement. The problems are Device Ignitor Left (V6), Middle (V5)…and, you guessed it, Right (V4). What is unique is that despite all being part of the same roof each is unique and contains holds unique and movement unique to itself. They are in the same family but worlds apart. Device Ignitor Right (V4) was the most fun featuring several heel hooks and some thuggy roof compression and was able to send it in a few attempts. The middle (V5) featured a variety of holds from jugs, a very comfortable pinch, and small edges. I was not able to send but did all the moves and got one move away from the send! The left (V6) features some creative bumping and a really cushy undercling grip. These I will both have to come back for.

One of the main boulders I wanted to try was a compression bloc called Israil (V6). It features a dual sloping overhung in the shape of a pork chop and is one of the standout classics of the area. Hearing great things about it I decided to psyche myself up by downing some coffee and working out beta. I found the initial moves strenuous as it features a long reach to the other arête after a couple bumps on the sloper arête. This move, despite my lanky frame, was quite hard as was the next move which involved bumping left to another juggier slopey rail. I was a little dejected and wrote it off telling myself “Oh I will just come back and do it next time, I have worked out all the moves and can send it next trip”. 

Another climber then walked up and asked to join. He was able to handily flash it using a very techy series of toe hooks and heel hooks while also trying really hard. Although my climbing shoes were off my feet and we were about to pack up I decided to try it a few more times. After absorbing some of the beta I was able to link all the moves, going dynamically to the first rail instead of static and found myself about to finish the climb! Now it was just the top out which featured a small but manageable bulge to just stand up. I started panicking and threw up my knee to reach over to the good holds. My fear overcame me and I came down. No! I was almost there! How could I screw up like that?!

Thankfully the other climber was very methodical (a local crusher from Salt Lake) and told me that the bottom moves were very casual for me based on my movement and that I should try it once more after a 10-minute rest. I heeded the advice and fired up again. The bottom was dialed and just needed to figure the top out! I was able to find a really obvious left-hand positive slot and right-hand edge and just needed a good foot and it was over. However, I was struggling and in the heat of the moment threw up my leg and started mantling. Since I was at my physical limit of being climbing several days in a row I decided to give it everything I had and pressed with all my might. Within a few seconds (seemed like hours) I was standing on top and had sent after 90 minutes of effort from working it! I was on Cloud 9! The direct (V8) seemed doable but decided to try it next trip, giving me all the more reason to come back.

Transitioning my heel up the send go on Israil (V6)

It was approaching mid-afternoon and there were some classics I still wanted to try.  The climber from Salt Lake was more than happy to join us and we tried two classic roof climbs called Pink Lady (V6) and Spectro (V6). They are adjacent to each other and very steep but again are worlds apart. Pink Lady features several slopey jugs and some incut huecos while Spectro just has three holds: one jug, and two edges. Both cover the same distance despite the former having 4x the holds of the latter. Pink lady had many foot moves featuring several heel hooks, toe hooks, and an exquisite heel-toe cam and a thoughtful top out. Spectro just has three longhand moves and another intricate top out. I got fairly close on both but could not salvage the send on either but our new friend from Salt Lake sent both in a matter of minutes.

Yeehaw! Getting head spins going through the hole on Jabberwock Arete (V6)

Feeling completely gassed the three of us decided to hike around and scope out new projects. We wanted to go “Through the Hole” on Jabberwock Arete (V6): a unique top out, which involves squirming through a tiny hole. We just used it for photo moments and had a few good laughs here. 

One of the main climbs I had heard great things about was Gription (V9): another exquisite sloper line just up the hill from Jabberwock. We decided to hike up and check it out. My mouth was agape seeing the line and seeing a couple of locals work it. The body tension, movement, and aesthetics of it was something that will 100% drive me back to Moe’s and gives me something to work and strive for. The sun was setting majestically over St. George so we decided to pack up and head out to go see Reel Rock 14 playing in the local theater. I bid farewell to my friend from the Holies and after Reel Rock said bye to my new friend from Salt Lake after a well-earned burrito meal! Next time I go to Moe’s I will definitely have someone new to climb with now.

Staff Spotlight: Colin Manning

This month, we’re featuring Colin Manning, General Manager of Membership & Fitness at First Ascent. He’s new-ish to climbing (and catching the bug), so we asked him some questions about fitness. Reach out to Colin at colin@firstascentclimbing.com!

How did you get into fitness?

I had been a life-long athlete, and after college and moving into the corporate world, I needed to find a better alternative to health and wellness outside of the normal globo-gym setting. I began getting certified in various aspects of the fitness industry and eventually became passionate enough to open my own gym.

What do you love about fitness?

Pushing my limits beyond what I thought I was capable of. Seeing the direct correlation between hard work and results.

What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Anything and everything outdoors…the more time I can spend outside the better. I have no limits and will try anything, so I’m slowly checking different things off of my list. Currently, I’m learning how to use a compound bow.

Do you have any particular fitness goals for this year?

Nothing specific to fitness, but I am looking to build a pole barn and home gym on my back property in the coming year.

What keeps you busy when you’re not at First Ascent?

My house and my property. My house was built in 1930, so I spend a lot of time working on remodeling the house. I also have several acres of land and 18 acres of water that I have been slowly developing. I’m looking to begin growing some of my own food next year.

What do you love about Chicago?

The sports and the people. After living all over the United States, nothing beats the passion of Chicago sports fans and the genuine attitude Chicagoans have.

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

Au Cheval absolutely lives up to its reputation, Cafe Robey Rooftop is a good place to grab a drink for a hell of a view of the city skyline, Violet Hour is still a staple for pre-dinner drinks, Publican is a quality go-to for both drinks and food, RPM Steak & RPM Italian (along with all LEYE venues) always deliver on great service, but I live out in the suburbs, so I tend to stick to my local spots.

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

I attended the University of Hawaii, Indiana University, and University of Nevada Las Vegas. I have 3 rescued Mastiffs. I drink entirely too much coffee every day. I am obsessed with Texas but will forever think In-n-Out is FAR superior to Whataburger.

Anything else you want to say to the FA community?

I absolutely love when people join me for a workout, so if anyone ever wants to jump in with me or schedule a day and time to work out together, e-mail me and we can work out together: colin@firstascentclimbing.com

How to Start Rock Climbing, Part Four: Buying Gear

This is Part Four of our “How to Start Climbing” series. If you haven’t yet, check out Part One: Get Started at a Climbing GymPart Two: Your First Visit, and Part Three: Finding Climbing Partners.

Now we get to what rock climbing is all about — blowing your rent money on sweet gear, which is the real cause of #vanlife.

Just kidding.

Climbing can quickly become an expensive pursuit, but only a few critical pieces of gear will get you through years of your new sport. But climbing gear can be confusing, especially since the equipment protects you from falls and has industry-specific specs. We’ve got some guidelines for your first kit below — follow these, ask your local gear shop or climbing gym for guidance, and you’ll be ready to go.

1. Shoes

Image result for tarantulace

Climbing shoes will be the simplest choice you make. Remember this: your climbing shoes should not hurt to wear. They should feel snug, but pain is bad, no matter what a salesperson tells you. Try on shoes with a neutral or moderately downturned shape, which will allow you to wear your new kicks for long periods of time and for all sorts of climbing styles. If you’re getting started, avoid super downturned shoes like the La Sportiva Solutions. Shoes like these are “tuned” for specific styles of aggressive climbing. which if you’re just starting, you’re unlikely to be working on yet. The La Sportiva Tarantulace makes a great first choice: you’ll probably see these all over the gym.

2. Harness

Several different types of harnesses exist for all different styles of climbing. For beginning gym climbers, a sport or gym climbing harness will work best: you don’t need all the gear loops and extra bits that go into a trad harness. Don’t go purely for the cheapest harness you can find: this is not a place to skimp on safety. Brands like Petzl and Black Diamond have been making this equipment for decades, and have the safety ratings to match.

Your harness should first of all be comfortable and well-fit. Make sure the waistband fits snugly and doesn’t shift much when you tighten it up. Usually, an employee can help you make a good decision; if you buy it at First Ascent, we’ll even let you weight the harness to see how it feels to hang in it.

3. Belay device

GRIGRI® +

This device attaches you to your rope and helps manage your falls during top rope and leading climbing. At First Ascent, we recommend assisted braking belay devices and only allow these types of devices in our gyms. Why? They offer all the freedom for sport climbing belays that old-school ATCs do, while providing safety features we think all climbers benefit from. The devices you see all around our Avondale location are the Petzl GriGri+, which we wholeheartedly recommend for new lead climbers.

4. Rope

For new climbers starting to dip their toes into lead climbing, a rope will make life much easier. But the ropes you see all around our Avondale location aren’t Home Depot specials. Climbing ropes are sophisticated tools that, when chosen well, make the difference between injury and a great time. Look for single, dynamic ropes between 9.5-10mm. These are your every day climbing ropes suitable for gym and sport climbing. We love the Sterling Velocity 9.8 so much that we keep them in stock at the gym, so come check one out!

5. Chalkbag and chalk

Climbing chalk isn’t your run-of-the-mill chalkboard stuff. It’s a specially-formulated substance that helps you maintain friction on the wall. Some popular brands include FrictionLabs and Black Diamond. It’s fairly cheap, and can be found in our gyms or any REI or similar outdoor store.

Your chalkbag is not a piece of safety gear, so you can have some fun with this. You’ll probably buy this once and use it for years, so we recommend finding chalkbags with a little loop for a chalk brush. The brush will help you remove excess chalk from holds on routes or problems you’re working on in the future. Designs run the gamut from plain and simple to all types of patterns and graphics. Have fun with this one!

The key to buying good gear is to get it from established climbing brands. They’ve done the work to make sure the equipment meets safety standards, and they’ve tested it to make sure it’s safe. You can always talk to a First Ascent team member as well — we’d love to offer guidance and advice. Climb on!

How to Stay Fit While Traveling

Let’s face it: Becoming a stronger climber when you’re traveling without a gym to train in is tough. But maintaining your level of fitness? You can definitely do that, and you’ll be glad you did when you get back to the gym or the crag.

You don’t need some expensive proprietary workout kit, or set of rubber bands (though if you’ve got ’em, they help!). All you need is a commitment to yourself, a few minutes a day to work on your health, and to cut yourself some slack. After all, fitness is a long-term personal journey. As long as you commit to your own health broadly, losing grade “gains” here and there is no big deal.

When we’re traveling away from First Ascent, we follow a few principles. We can’t prescribe a specific plan here — for that, we’ve got Redpoint Training and our crew of personal trainers. But these guidelines can help you care for your body so you can keep growing as a climber when you can get back to the gym:

1. Rest and hydrate

It sounds counterintuitive, but active rest might actually help your climbing performance. A week of walking around in a different city, a hike or two or a bike ride with family all counts as “active rest.” Strength and fitness actually build up during rest, not during the workout. Your muscles repair themselves after you break them down. So, when you’re on the road, put effort into staying active, on your feet for a period of time every day or so. You should also drink lots of water to fuel your muscles’ growth and keep yourself loose.

2. Stretch

Many people fall into the trap of overtraining. They climb and climb until they begin to experience chronic issues like tendonitis. Those who avoid it tend to have a couple of things in common: they focus on active rest and they stretch. Getting some time away from the gym is actually great for regular climbers. It’s a chance to work flexibility back into your muscles. Take ten minutes a day to gently stretch out your muscles — it’s really a chance to prevent injury. You might even come back in better shape to grow even more as a climber.

3. Cross-train

Another way to build your fitness “base” and prevent injury while on the road is to cross-train. A specialized sport like climbing taxes a specific set of muscles. Focusing only on those muscles, in the long run, can drive you to injury. Being away from the gym or crag is a great time to get yourself back into balance. If you’re in a place with forest trails, go for a hike or easy jog. Yoga, as always, makes for a great cross-training activity against the specialization of climbing. You can do some basic lifting in a hotel gym, or even dig up a bodyweight circuit routine on an app like Nike Training Club.

4. Improvise and prepare

To make sure your tendons and forearms stay in shape, you can pick up a set of portable training tools for use in hotel rooms and guest rooms. We like (and sell) the Metolius Rock Rings, which will fit in just about any piece of luggage you have and will allow you to do a hangboard routine wherever you set them up. And tools like these are great not only for your climbing muscles, but for core exercises and other muscle groups you might not usually train back at home.

5. Adjust

One final concept to keep in mind when training on the go: you probably won’t be able to perfectly mimic the training routine you have back home. Traveling is a time to broaden yourself with new experiences, and training on the road is just an extension of that. By working consistently over a period of a week or two to actively rest your body, feed your muscles, and build their resilience with cross-training and focused work, you may come back feeling less obviously “strong,” but overall in a much better place to keep pushing your skills to a higher level without injury. So don’t stress too much — listen to your body and what you think it needs.

Happy travels!

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

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