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

How to Start Climbing, Part Three: Finding Climbing Partners

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

Ask any climber: one of the best parts of climbing is the people you meet along the way. Sure, you’ll need a partner if you’re going to top rope or lead climb, but having climbing partners is just as important if you’re bouldering – it’s your partner that will help you see what you can’t see and ultimately unlock the “beta” (the movement sequence required to get through a tough sequence) on a boulder problem you’re working on. And it’s our climbing partners that make climbing more fun, filling the down time between climbs with stories and laughs.

But if you’re just getting into this sport, how do you find people to climb with? Read on for some ideas on finding climbing partners:

Plug into your gym community

If it’s your first time at the gym and you don’t know anybody, try asking a staff member at your gym for help. They’ll know who’s new and who might be there alone and in need of a partner. Staff are usually be happy to help people get more connected at the gym.

At First Ascent, we try to give you an easy way to meet a bunch of new potential climbing partners by putting on New Member Meetups every month. These meetups are a perfect way to meet fellow FA climbers, both new and experienced, as well as some of the key staff members at that location.

At our roped climbing locations, we also use a whiteboard where climbers can put out a call for partners while they’re at the gym. You can write your name, what you’re climbing, and what you’re wearing so people can find you. Anybody also looking for a partner can check the board and go find a solo climbers in the ballpark of their ability and skill. We also offer harness tags that announce you’re looking for climbing partners (“Climb With Me!”) so belayers don’t even need to check the board. It’s an easy, low-pressure way to get introduced to new climbing friends, without having to approach climbing partners in cold-call fashion.

Go to climbing events

Another surefire way to find climbing friends and new belay partners is to attend community events. For example, last month we hosted FA Fest (our fourth anniversary party), where we held our “New Sends With New Friends” competition. Climbers who completed five routes or boulder problems with five people they’d never met before and got their names entered in a raffle to win prizes like Edelrid Crag Packs. No better way to incentivize you to climb socially! We also host the CrossTown Bouldering league, where you can sign up and get placed on a team to climb against the competition.

We’ve heard countless stories of people registering as an indy and getting placed on a team of climbers that ended up becoming their core group of friends – the crew they climb with, travel with, and even live with.

Find climbing partners on social media

Here in Chicago, the Greater Chicago Rock Climbing Community Facebook group is an excellent resource for finding climbing partners. In addition to all of the community building and sharing that happens there, it’s also a forum for finding a partner. They’ve even created a form for people to find climbing friends and belay partners. Just join up, follow the template pinned to the top of the Facebook group. Post that completed form to the group’s wall, and you’ll usually get at least a few responses from other climbers looking for partners within a few hours. Give it a try!

Create new climbers!

If you don’t already have climbing friends, why not create new climbers out of the friends you already have? You and your besties or even a sig o could have a whole new way of hanging out – no pun intended. All you’d need to do is text, call, bug them when you’re hanging out, at work, at your apartment, just to give it a try with you. At First Ascent, all members can bring in first time visitors for FREE, and they even earn some FA Bonus points for their effort. Side bonus: you’ll all be pretty close in skill level if you’re new as well, and you can all progress and go on adventures together.

Finding climbing friends and belay partners is one of the tougher things to do for many new climbers, but we promise it’s worth it — you’ll enjoy your climbing more, and you’ll have access to so much more if you make those connections, from outdoor sport climbing trips to a buddy to head to a restaurant with after you session. Of course, we always recommend checking a new belay partners’ skills as a safe belayer and climber (knots, double-backed harness, proper belay technique, etc.) when you’re just getting started. Once you’re past those checks, get out there and climb on!

Emily Harrington Interview: Global Climbing Day 2019

In this pursuit [of climbing], we found a community — strengthened by different stories, experiences and perspectives. This community has shown us that the only way forward is together. We believe in a world that is united by difference, bound by empathy and strengthened by understanding.

— The North Face

Inclusivity isn’t just a catchphrase. It’s part of the essence of climbing — it makes up the community and drives the sport forward. Bringing other voices into this pursuit makes us all better, so this Saturday, August 24, in partnership with the North Face, we’re recognizing our diverse and amazing community for Global Climbing Day 2019

  • At all of FA locations, first time visitors can climb for FREE from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Return visitors can enjoy free rental gear with purchase of a Day Pass.
  • At First Ascent Block 37, Sending In Color will be hosting a POC meetup from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
  • At First Ascent Avondale, we’ll have a special guest: The North Face climber Emily Harrington will be joining us from 2 pm to 10 pm! Here’s the schedule:
    • 3:00-4:00 pm: Meet & Greet
    • 4:30-5:30 pm: Women’s climbing session with the Women’s Climbing Collective
    • 6:00-7:00 pm: Storytelling and Slideshow
    • 8:00-10:00 pm: Screening of her film Golden Gate with a food truck, beer from Off Color Brewing, and a DJ to spin some tunes after the film

We are so excited for Emily’s visit, we reached out to see if she’d be willing to answer some questions beforehand and she graciously obliged. Here’s a snippet of what you’ll hear about when you come meet her on Saturday:

1. Why did you choose Golden Gate to screen on Global Climbing Day?

I’m really proud of Golden Gate and the film/story that was created out of it. I think it tells a great story of imperfection & failure as well as determination. In addition, I am currently trying to climb Golden Gate in a day so it seems relevant and timely 🙂

2. What’s driven you to accomplish all the hard climbs you have?

I think as humans we are driven to be challenged. To discover things about ourselves through our struggles and failures. Everyone has their own way of expressing themselves and learning about themselves in this way. Mine happens to be through climbing. That may change in the future but for the last 20 something years, I’ve found it to be the most inspiring, engaging, and interesting way to find out about myself. 

3. Why do you think climbing has become so popular over the past few years?

It’s definitely a combination of everything: big films, the Olympics, and just the interconnectedness of the world. I think a huge part has been because of climbing gyms. Climbing is no longer an activity reserved for a certain demographic, age group, ethnicity, gender, etc. It is as diverse and vibrant as the cities that house dozens of climbing gyms. It’s becoming more approachable, accessible, and cultural. And that’s a really cool thing. 

4. What are some of the skills as a climber that you think have been most helpful to adapt to all the different styles you’ve participated in?

Mainly humility. The awareness that climbing is incredibly versatile and requires vast skills and experience in order to master all the disciplines. I just do my best and try and remember that being a beginner again is often the most productive and growth-inducing phase.

5. If you could talk to yourself when you were a new climber, what advice would you give yourself?

I’d probably tell myself to have more fun. Sometimes I think I take it far too seriously. Even still. It’s important to remember that it’s just a form of expression and experience.

That’s it for now. Join us this Saturday, August 24th at First Ascent Avondale to meet Emily and learn more about her climbing pursuits! And if you can’t make it to Avondale, grab a friend and go to your FA home gym for free climbing from 2-5 pm to help us spread the love of climbing.


View this post on Instagram

Global Climbing Day is officially one week away! We’re stoked to partner with @TheNorthFace and climbing gyms all over the world to foster inclusivity in the climbing community. A quote from The North Face that rings true in our community: “In this pursuit [of climbing], we found a community – strengthened by different stories, experiences and perspectives. This community has shown us that the only way forward is together. We believe in a world that is united by difference, bound by empathy and strengthened by understanding.” There will be FREE climbing for first time visitors at all FA locations from 2:00-5:00 pm and free rental gear for all return visitors. At FA Avondale, @EmilyaHarrington will be joining us from 2-10 pm for meet and greets, a women’s climbing session, storytelling and slideshow, and a screening of her film Golden Gate with a food truck, beer from @offcolorbrewing, and a DJ to spin some tunes after the film. At FA Block37, @SendingInColor will be hosting a POC meetup from 2-5 pm! Check your location’s Facebook page for more details. Avondale: Block 37: Uptown: Humboldt Park: Peoria: Grab a friend or family member and join us to spread the love of climbing and connect with this awesome community! . . . @thenorthface_chi @thenorthfaceclimb #WallsAreMeantForClimbing #climbingcommunity #climbinggym #globalclimbingday #letsclimbchicago #northface #climbon

A post shared by First Ascent Climbing (@firstascentclimbing) on

Photos courtesy of Keith Ladzinksi and The North Face.