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Finding a Date at the Climbing Gym

A trip to the climbing gym is the ultimate experiential date, so it’s no wonder that so many couples in the FA community either met here or spent a lot of time here early on in their relationships. Valentine’s Day is this week, so we were curious: how does one find a date at the gym? What’s the best way to meet people with a shared interest in the sport? We asked a pair of couples who either met at First Ascent or went on some of their first dates here for their advice, and we’re passing it along to you. Read on!

Mahreen Mirza and Bradford Dessy met at First Ascent Avondale a couple of years ago when Brad walked right up to Mahreen to say hello. “I was there with one of my friends who’d spotted Brad looking at me, so I kind of expected it,” Mahreen said. Now they climb two or three times a week together. “I’m a bit more into bouldering now, which is great since there’s so much bouldering at the gyms,” Mahreen said.

Katie Ott and Kevin Chan met a little over two and a half years ago while working at the same construction company (they still work together), but a bouldering session at Uptown was one of their first dates. Neither had climbed before, but since they liked experiential dates, a Groupon led them to First Ascent Uptown, which they signed up for on a lark. More than two years later, they’re still climbers: “I’m still surprised how much we still like it, more than we thought we would going into it,” Katie said. “It became super addicting.” Kevin was a bit stronger than Katie on some of their first boulder problems; that, of course, set off Katie’s competitive edge to get better. “I was like, ‘No! we’re coming back!’”

Check out their advice below:

1. Ask for a belay

Climbers are famously friendly. When Brad said hello to Mahreen, he asked her to belay him – not the other way around.

If you ask a stranger if they’d like a catch on a route they’re scoping out, they may not trust you, since they’d have to put their safety into a stranger’s hands. It’s way more natural – and feels safer for the person you’re asking – to ask someone you want to climb with if they could belay you on toprope. “I actually met Mahreen by just going up to her and just saying ‘hey, my friends are climbing, would you mind giving me a catch?’” Brad said. “I put my life on the line! And she said yes. That evidently worked at least once.”

“It was really sweet,” Mahreen said. “My advice would be just to go up to someone.”

2. Post your name on the whiteboard

What’s another great way to meet a climbing partner, besides asking for a belay if you need one?

Brad’s answer: “Put your name on the whiteboard!”

At Avondale, climbers looking for belay partners can post their name and info on the whiteboard for other people to find them. It’s a great way to meet other climbers, whether or not you end up wanting to date them. Finding a partner outside of climbing is just an occasional lucky bonus; at worst you’ll have a new friend.

“The climbing community is just so nice, and everyone’s super friendly. I’ve never been in a situation here where someone has made me feel uncomfortable or unhelpful, even if I had questions,” Mahreen said.

3. Plug into events

“There are so many awesome events; they’re so fun and they’re super communal,” Katie said. Whether it’s the CrossTown Bouldering League or Women Crush Wednesday sessions, plenty of regular opportunities exist to plug into the FA community – and it came in handy for Katie and Kevin early on.

“We’ve made some of the best friends out of climbing,” Katie says. “When I started, I wouldn’t talk to anyone at the gym, but now I’ll talk to anyone because people are so nice and welcoming.”

Next time you’re signing up for a yoga or fitness class, check out Community Sessions as well to find events like FA Hangouts every Monday at FA Avondale from 7-9 pm, where you can meet and toprope with new belay partners.

The core of this advice gets to the real heart of the climbing community: don’t be afraid to get involved. Climbing has always generated a tight-knit, friendly community of people interested in solving problems and finding adventures together. The FA community is open and roots for each other’s success. The worst thing that can happen if you join an event or belay a few new people is you gain a new friend, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

2018 Holiday Gift Guide for Climbers

The outdoor climbing season here in the Midwest has wrapped up for most people, and almost instantly the holidays have arrived. We asked ourselves what we’d want to receive or give as climbing-related gifts and came up with this list. If you’re the climber in question, share this with your loved ones with a little *wink wink*. If you’re gift-shopping for the climbers (or aspiring climbers) in your life, we have a few suggestions to get you started. Let us know if you receive any of these as a gift, or purchase them for your own friends and family:

Climbing Gear

Our top pick for give-able climbing gear is the Petzl GriGri 2.  As the belay device of choice at First Ascent, it’s very effective if used correctly, and it’s a popular device for a reason. While it takes some practice to learn to lead belay with it, it makes a great stocking stuffer. The GriGri is one size fits all, unlike climbing shoes and harnesses that require a good fit, and it’s the most straightforward and relevant gift for new climbers looking to climb outdoors soon (maybe in the spring…). Some alternatives here are a set of quickdraws or maybe a new rope – but for non-climbers buying gifts, those are more difficult to choose if you don’t know what exactly you’re buying.

Access Fund or American Alpine Club Memberships

It’s hard to know the ratio of rock climbers who have donated in some form to either one of theseorganizations during their climbing careers. But we’d bet it’s high, for good reason: the Access Fund is the primary US organization pushing for the protection of many of our beloved climbing areas, and the American Alpine Club is the main association for the rock climbing community. Gifting memberships to these organizations not only gets your climber great swag and discounts, it also helps protect and support the sport of climbing itself. How could a climber not love that?

Travel/Guide Gift Cards

Most climbers have this in common: they love to travel to new places. Who hasn’t dreamt of looking up at limestone crags in Siurana, or the oceans of granite slab in Yosemite after watching their climbing heroes put up new and exciting lines? The privilege of travel is a great gift to give in general, but doubly so for climbers, who often dream of remote routes and boulders they hope to climb someday. We’d love to get a gift card from Southwest Airlines to get us to new crags – or a Red River Gorgeous cabin rental gift certificate (call to inquire) to book a weekend at the Red.

 

Guiding Services or Guidebooks

One of the best ways to get immersed in a new climbing area, especially for newer climbers, is to hire a guide. Devil’s Lake Climbing Guidesa guiding service in Baraboo, Wisconsin, offers guiding services and courses at Devil’s Lake State Park. Check out their Adventure Gift Certificates for specific classes, like Anchors or Rope courses for two, as well as general gift certificates for custom amounts if you don’t know which course to buy. You could also buy guidebooks for a safer bet, like the Devil’s Lake Climbing Guidebook by Wolverine Publishing or the combined Minnesota & Wisconsin Bouldering Guidebook by Rock & Snow.

First Ascent Schwag & Gift Cards

Lastly, of course, is our in-house schwag . We offer gift cards to First Ascent for everything from Intro To Climbing classes to 10-Passes, or any amount you’re looking to give. Also, walk into any of our gyms: we offer First Ascent t-shirts, trucker hats, pom beanies (these are new, and turning out to be popular), coffee mugs, and even pint glasses to buy for friends and climbing partners to enjoy a post-send beer. We even just picked up Red River Gorge-themed vegan, hypoallergenic soy candles – perfect for relaxing after a training session (available only at First Ascent Avondale). Come by anytime and take a look!

We hope this list helps you with your holiday shopping. In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, remember: the greatest gifts we have are the people in our lives – friends, family, and loved ones. Keep them close this holiday season. Happy holidays to all!

 

 

#Sendsgiving Challenge 2018

Welcome to the #Sendsgiving Challenge, where we celebrate climbing, community, and giving back in the month of November!

The #Sendsgiving Challenge involves 10 actions you can take to deepen your connection to the climbing community. Document each challenge you complete on Instagram to share with the FA community and get a chance to win some great prizes!

To enter, post a photo of you completing each challenge on Instagram tagged with both:

#sendsgiving AND #letsclimbchicago

Here are the challenges:

  1. Complete the Paradox Mile (click for more info)
  2. Visit all 4 FA locations
  3. Donate a non-perishable food item to our food drive
  4. Climb with someone you just met
  5. Take a photo with an FA staff member you just met
  6. Commute with someone to an FA location
  7. Find someone that’s wearing a matching piece of FA gear (t-shirt, hoodie, hat, etc.)
  8. Make a dish and share it at FA Friendsgiving (click for more info)
  9. Take a photo with your favorite yoga or fitness instructor
  10. Take a video of you sending your project

Each post enters you in a raffle to win some FAbulous prizes:

Plus, anyone who completes all 10 challenges will receive 3,000 FA Bonus points and a sweet FA Trucker Hat.

All posts must be submitted by November 30th to count. The raffle will occur on December 1st at our Holiday Market event at FA Avondale. 

Questions? Email sendsgiving@firstascentclimbing.com. Looking forward to a month of sending and giving together!

 

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!

 

#SENDSGIVING Challenge 2017

Click here if you’re looking for the 

2018 #Sendsgiving Challenge

Some links have been inadvertently sending people to this page from 2017.

Climb off those extra calories and give back with First Ascent’s

#SENDSGIVING CHALLENGE!

Here’s how it works:

1. Visit all 3 FA locations (Avondale, Uptown, and Humboldt Park) between November 15-30. Make sure to take some photos during each visit.

2. Donate canned or non-perishable food items at any FA location OR donate or volunteer with your favorite local charity that’s working to feed people this holiday season. Make sure to take a photo of your donation or volunteer work too.

3. Post photos on Instagram from each FA visit and your donation or volunteer experience and tag them #sendsgiving and #letsclimbchicago. That’s 4 photos total to complete the challenge. 

Fine Print: No #latergrams allowed! You must visit all FA locations between November 15-30 to qualify. Your account must be public in order for us to see your tagged photos. 

Everyone who posts at least one #SENDSGIVING photo will be entered to win either a Petzl Mambo 40m Gym Rope or a pair of Butora Climbing Shoes!

The first 25 people who complete the #SENDSGIVING challenge by posting all 4 photos will receive a free t-shirt of their choice from the latest FAnimals collection, coming soon to an FA gym near you!