Indoor Climbing

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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!

Recap: The Setter Showdown, December 2018

Four years ago, the Setter Showdown was started by Louie Anderson, a well-known routesetter and hold shaper, to bring routesetters from around the country to share ideas and techniques to better our craft. The event also had a competition aspect to it, the first competition I’ve ever seen in which the routesetters were judged for the final product they create. The judges had the difficult task of ranking route setters on their technical abilities, creativity and the function of the boulders. I attended the latest Showdown at Elevation Bouldering in Eugene, Oregon in early December. Here’s the rundown:

Round One

In Round one, each setter was assigned a zone. Every zone had two setters working within a general space, and we were tasked to set volumes for that zone, along with our own boulders. It’s important to note the volumes that we set in our zone would have to be used by every setter after us. We needed to make sure the volumes that we placed enhanced the zone rather than force every setter to do the same movement through the volumes. Once volumes were set, each of us went to set our individual boulders, I was tasked with setting an orange boulder with a set of Legacy Ascension slopers. At Elevation the color of the hold dictates what circuit or grade range a climb is in; for example, the orange circuit ranges from V4-V6. When I began setting my problem, I wanted to create something that invoked curiosity, with the main difficulty of the problem coming from the risk of the climb. This ended up being a sort of step-across foot shuffle move to a technical finish.

Round Two

In round two, each setter was given a zone and a series of holds. My assignment was to set in the purple circuit V1- V3 with Kingdom Flanges, which is a comfortable jug line on a slightly overhanging face. Going into this problem, I wanted to keep the movement technical while not overloading the climber. To achieve this, I set the climb very directionally, meaning the angles on the holds would be turned to drastic angles to be sure the climber could only use them in a specific way. My other goal was to use a very large hold that the climber would use in multiple ways; this was the first hold I put on the boulder as it would be the centerpiece of the climb. Once my feature hold went on the wall I set the intro to this hold focusing mostly on the hands. From there I set problems leading out of the feature hold. Now that I had the outline of the boulder problem, I took a step back and tried to visualize how a climber would move. This led me to make a few rotations and also gave me an idea as to where the footholds should go.

Round Three

The final round of setting included one additional variable that we didn’t have in the first two rounds. As well as having the terrain and holds chosen ahead of time, we would co-set the final boulder. Some setters dread this, but it presents new challenges for everyone and teaches teamwork, letting go of ego, and communication. My biggest challenge with co-setting comes from trying to get both setter’s visions on the wall without the climb being disjointed. This can happen if each person sets different sections instead of working together on the entire boulder. When co-setting in this fashion communication breaks down, and the boulder loses the unique blend of setter visions. For my round, I was excited to find out my partner, a relatively new setter from Boston, and I had different styles of climbing and setting. This meant we were probably going to have differing ideas. But that was the whole point: normally a sole setter has creative control, but when working with another that vision is shared. The climb we ended up creating was probably my favorite of the day. It combined her enjoyment of slow, technical, and flexible climbing with my risky complex style.

Forerunning

The following day brought a different format – no new boulders were set that day. Day two would be a day of forerunning, which in my opinion is the most important part of the setting process. Forerunning is the process in which a team of routesetters will work each climb, think about whether or not that climb serves its purpose, and make any necessary changes. We ask three questions: Is the climb fun? Is it functional? And is it fair? Each should be checked off before calling a climb complete. Some answers are subjective, like whether or not someone thinks a climb is fun. But some aren’t: for example, “is this climb safe?” If a climb isn’t safe, it should be changed or taken down.

In the forerunning round we were grouped in fives and worked through each problem we set the previous day, making changes as we went. We disagreed on certain changes, but without competing opinions, there’s no way for the climbs to improve. This round tested us on our communication skills and ability to think of creative solutions for making a boulder better.

After the forerunning round, all we could do was sit back and watch – a rewarding and trying experience for a routesetter. We watched everyone attempt the climbs, perhaps unable to figure out a sequence, or even finding a new one the setter didn’t foresee. This showed us what could have been better or different for the next time we set a problem.

Results

At the end of the day, winners were declared in different categories. This was a difficult process for me. Growing up playing multiple sports and being overly competitive about most things, routesetting was an escape for a lot of that. So here I was, back in competition; though this time the experience felt a little different, and wishing I could have come away a victor was on my mind initially. Still, I went through my climbs, talked with judges, other setters and some of the community and still feel extremely proud of the climbs I created.

The Setter Showdown was a great reminder that we can always improve and should never stop learning. When all was said and done, 60 new boulders were ready to climb, providing a new challenge for the climbing community. It’s why we routeset in the first place.

Take a look at the video documentation of the entire event:

Setter Showdown – Elevation Bouldering 2018 from Louie Anderson on Vimeo.

Ryan Smith is a full time setter at First Ascent.

Transitioning to an Assisted Braking Belay Device

Looking to make the switch to an assisted braking belay device for lead belaying, but not sure what device to choose or how to make the transition? 

The most important thing as you consider making the switch is technique – there’s no replacement for good technique and attentive belaying, and there’s always a slight learning curve when switching to a device that’s new to you. It takes a little bit of practice and sensitivity to feed slack quickly with good technique, so you’ll want to account for that for a session or two.

We dug up videos on the proper usage of the most popular assisted braking belay devices on the market, and we’ve included them below to help you decide which device is best for you. If you’re making a switch, look closely at the instructional video for the device you’re considering and ask yourself: will I feel comfortable with the technique required for this device?

 

Petzl GriGri

 

ATC Pilot

 

Edelrid Jul

 

Mammut Smart

 

Click UP

 

Wild Country Revo

 

Mad Rock Lifeguard

 

CAMP Matik

 

Trango Vergo

 

You can also check out the reviews below as you consider the device that might work best for you:

As far as our preferences go, the Petzl GriGri is the device we teach with at First Ascent. The GriGri is a great choice, and probably the most widely used assisted braking belay device around. If you’re used to belaying with an ATC, and still will outdoors, then the Edelrid Jul or the Black Diamond ATC Pilot offer the most similar slack feeding technique, but use assisted braking tech.

For those looking to get their new device through First Ascent, we’re building in the following initiatives through January 31st, 2019 to help you make the transition:

  • 30% off all belay devices we carry in the FA Pro Shop (GriGri, Jul, and ATC Pilot)
  • Free belay device rentals (GriGri, Jul, and ATC Pilot)
  • Clincis to introduce you to your options for assisted braking belay device options: click here to view the clinic schedule on Facebook.

Let us know which one you’re looking into – we’re here to help you get used to it. And if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out to us at info@firstascentclimbing.com

FA Staff Spotlight: Eric Schafer

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Eric Schafer. Eric is a long-time member of the Chicago climbing community. He is also our Fitness Coordinator at FA, so we’re excited to share his story! Eric is working on expanding our fitness programming, including Basecamp Group Training, Personal Training, and Redpoint Climbing Training. Make sure to say hi next time you see him at the gym.

How did you get into climbing?

I could trace the desire back to trips to various National Park trips out west when I was young, but I started technical rock climbing in 2008 at Lakeview Athletic Club. Initially, I was only interested in adding the skill to my toolbox as a means of pursuing peaks that require 5th class climbing like the Grand Teton. Of course, I was hooked almost immediately and began climbing regularly 3x a week.

It’s really fortunate that I happened to wander into LVAC, a wall with an amazing community and always well-managed, despite the limited resources available. Had I walked into a facility without the passion of the CAC climbing community, I certainly wouldn’t have been as drawn to it.

What do you love about climbing?

Pretty much everything. I’ll just list a few things here:

The community: The Chicago climbing community is incredibly welcoming and tolerant of overly enthusiastic newcomers with no experience. Within a year, I had gone on a dozen trips to the Red and a couple trips to climb ice with the friends I made at LVAC and LPAC.

It takes you to wonderful places: Climbing, and the associated technical skills, open up a whole world that is otherwise inaccessible. From high-mountain peaks to the canyons of Utah, almost everything is fair game if you know what you’re doing.

Signing the log on a summit and knowing that you are the only person who has been there in a week, a month or even a year is an amazing feeling.

There are infinite examples, but look at something like Matthes Crest, totally inaccessible without 5th class climbing and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 It enables you to physically push your limits: This has always been a passion of mine and, in many ways, drives my general fitness pursuits as well. Top-rope and sport allow you to push yourself to the physical and mental limits.

Slopers: The best type of holds.

Why are you excited to be part of the FA team?

First Ascent is the heart of the Chicago climbing community. It was founded by a number of my friends and climbing buddies from the dark days before Chicago had a dedicated climbing gym.

I’ve worked in a wide range of industries over the years. From consulting to mountain guiding, the one common theme is that the most important aspect of the job is the people you work with. At FA, I work daily with people I consider friends who share the same passions.

It’s something I don’t take for granted.

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Sport has always been my answer to this question, and probably always will be. I like being on a rope, pushing the limits of endurance and climbing beautiful lines. I’m inspired almost as much by the aesthetic and setting of a route as the movement within. I challenge someone to walk into the Midnight Surf or the Madness Cave and not feel inspired.

That said, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate bouldering, especially the social aspect of it. Unlike a sport route, where you’re largely alone on the wall, bouldering allows you to work together with a group of friends or people you just met to figure out a sequence. 

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

This is a really difficult question. Muir Valley is certainly up there. I’d probably say Ouray for ice climbing. Yosemite, both the valley and Tuolumne, is amazing. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and the Alaska Range is incredible.

Other outdoor activities I participate in are:

Mountaineering: Walking uphill has always been a passion. I guided on Rainier for a season and loved it.

Ice Climbing: Love it. It’s like rock climbing only you can put holds wherever you want and they’re always jugs.

Canyoneering: I don’t have much experience here, but of what I’ve done, it was super fun. I’m actually leaving for Zion in two days and hope to get a few descents in.

Skiing: Backcountry skiing is great because it takes the least enjoyable part of mountaineering, the descent, and makes it fun! Resort skiing is a blast as well.

Hiking: I suppose this can be enjoyable on its own, but this is best used as a means of accessing the things listed above.

Tennis: I haven’t played as much over the past few years with my main partner having moved to the suburbs, but I still enjoy it on occasion, despite being rusty. (I am a washed out high school athlete.)

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

Nothing specific. My goal is to continue to consistently climb three times a week to build finger tendon strength so I can climb more challenging grades without injury. I might target Super Best Friends or Cell Block Six for Fall 2019?

Fitness? Get Dan Bartz and Jon Shepard to do a conditioning workout with me! I almost had Jon one day, but he bailed right before the burpees started.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Most of my free non-climbing time is spent lifting, doing gymnastic work and conditioning on occasion. Outside the gym, cycling (to and from the gym), watching movies, playing piano, planning climbing trips and playing video games, if we’re being honest here.

What do you love about Chicago?

Chicago is a great city. I’ve always said we should just pick it up and move it closer to the mountains. I like that everything is close together and easily accessible via bicycle.

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

In college, the dark days before I started climbing, I practiced martial arts for five years and was fortunate enough to earn a first-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do.

I’m super out of practice, but I might still be able to throw a (very low) kick or dive roll.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

Thank you for always being so welcoming to new climbers. The community will grow over the years and it’s difficult to not roll our eyes when someone calls “free soloing” by the term “free climbing,” but let’s never get to a point where we think we’re too cool. After all, we’re still just climbing pieces of plastic, screwed to plywood, in a city nowhere near any outdoor climbing and everyone thinks we’re crazy.

 

FA Member Spotlight: Sarah Landon

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on artist and FA Member Sarah Landon! Sarah is currently showcasing her artwork in the first ever community art installation at FA Block 37! Make sure to stop by FA Block 37 to see her beautiful work (all pieces are for sale and prints are also available), follow Sarah on Instagram @arcanum.inheritance to see more of her artwork, and say hi next time you see her around FA!

How did you get into climbing?

Ever since a friend in grad school took me to an indoor rock climbing gym, I have been addicted!

What do you love about climbing?

Climbing is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. There is always an area of the sport that I can improve in.

Bouldering or sport climbing? Make sure to tell us why.

Bouldering. I climb harder when I boulder and I get more of an adrenaline rush!

Does climbing inspire your art? If so, how?

My art is inspired by my personal experiences and what is currently challenging me. Movement, flow and tranquility are the core inspirations of my art and, in many ways, my climbing style mirrors how I paint. I’m also more creative after a good climbing session!

What do you want to share about the pieces on display at FA Block 37?

The pieces I am showcasing at FA Block 37 are paintings that either portray power and force or peace and balance. This captures a lot of what climbing means to me and I believe it’s fitting for this setting.

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

Jackson Falls in southern Illinois is my favorite place to climb. When I’m not climbing, I enjoy ultimate frisbee, especially this time of year.

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

I am currently playing in an ultimate frisbee league and my goal is to have more sprinting power and endurance by the end of the season!

What do you love about Chicago?

I love the art community and culture in Chicago. It’s expressed in various ways depending on what neighborhood you are in.

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

I love Big Star in Wicker Park. They have the best tacos and I love the energy in that neighborhood.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to share one of my favorite creative outlets with this community. Thank you, First Ascent!

If you or someone you know would be interested in showcasing artwork at a First Ascent location, please email community@firstascentclimbing.com