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Staff Spotlight: Robin West

We’re shining this staff spotlight on Robin West, Desk Lead and Retail Coordinator at First Ascent Avondale. Robin’s calm, cool presence and one-of-a-kind laugh are contagious. Read more about her below and say hi to her next time you see her around the gym!

1. How did you get into climbing?

I started climbing at First Ascent. I had always wanted to try climbing, but didn’t know how or where to start. I learned about First Ascent around the time it opened, but kept putting it off. Then I was unemployed for a little while and needed an outlet because I was stressed out, so I stumbled into First Ascent and never left.

2. What do you love about climbing?

I love the community of it, but also what it does for me mentally. I feel so at peace when I find my flow on a problem or route. I get focused and everything else fades away.

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

I used to be all about sport climbing. I just didn’t enjoy bouldering and sport climbing was my first love. It’s completely flipped in the past year though. Last March I started an affair with bouldering and fell in love all over again. I left sport climbing and my harness behind. It was nothing personal.

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

I love going up to Devil’s Lake to boulder because I can just plan a quick day trip. It’s also the first place I went climbing outside so it’s nostalgic for me. Plus I always feel especially good when I can make it up those slick quartzite problems.

Rock climbing has taken over the outdoors for me so unless I’m lounging in the sun or water, I’m climbing.

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

I wanna get my health up to speed and be able to climb a grade or two higher in bouldering so I can possibly learn how to set and be of more use when we’re forerunning.

6. What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

School 🙁

But also my pup, girlfriend, and friends.

7. What do you love about Chicago?

The comedy club scene! Also that I can get around easily without a car. When I move out West I’ll probably need to get a car 🙁

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

I love The Second City for comedy. Pilsen is awesome when I want tacos. Honestly one of my favorite places to eat is Gorilla Sushi. It’s not fancy, but the sushi is good and you can’t beat $3 a roll. Also Xurro Factory in North Center! 3927 N Lincoln! They make churros fresh in shop. They also have ice cream, funnel cake, churro milkshakes, hot chocolate, and coffee. Everyone must know. Everyone must go.

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

I’m biracial.

10. Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

You’re doing great 👍🏽. Also talk to me about superheroes! I need more nerd friends.


Staff Spotlight: FA Peoria Leadership Team

In this month’s Staff Spotlight, we’ve got a trifecta. Meet Jonathan Scaccia, Amanda Villiger, and Brad Moser – leaders of the First Ascent Peoria staff team!These three are on the forefront of bringing world-class climbing to Peoria at First Ascent’s latest location, an adaptive reuse of a historic building in Peoria’s Warehouse District. They each bring unique experience and perspective to their roles – not to mention some hidden talents. Read more about them below, and say hi to them next time you see them around FA Peoria!


Jonathan Scaccia, Gym Manager

How did you get into climbing?

My very first exposure to climbing was on a trip to the sporting goods store Galyan’s (now Dick’s Sporting Goods) with my Mom. Which turned into multiple trips to the store, just to climb.

I didn’t fully jump into climbing until high school. During my junior year, we had an option to take an alternative gym class called Outdoor Ed. We had a climbing gym in a converted racket ball court, kayaked in the school pool, slacklined, skateboarded, and then we went on climbing trips to Devils Lake. After that first trip, I was hooked. (The climbing picture is of my first time outside, almost 10 years ago)

What do you love about climbing?

Climbing appealed to me early on because of the problem-solving aspect of the sport. The trial and error of a difficult route or problem, then finally getting the send after piecing it together is a satisfying moment. Besides the actually climbing, it’s the people that I’ve met through climbing that have contributed to my love of it. I’ve met some of the most awesome and talented people I know through climbing.

Bouldering or sport climbing?

Bouldering. Like I mentioned before, the problem solving of a boulder problem is a fun process. But it’s also the collective problem solving of a couple people sitting around working on the same problem that’s really fun. Bouncing ideas off some friends, getting some beta from someone you’ve never met before, chatting about climbing and life. It’s the best.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

Although it’s been a long time since I’ve been there and I’ve only been twice, I would say Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas. Back in college, a large group of our climbing club went to compete at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. I attended as a spectator, but still accompanied a couple of friends as they bounced from route to route, enjoying the spectacle of it all. The next day we had the opportunity to hop on some stuff, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had climbing.

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

I wanna get super ripped. Like John Cena ripped.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

When I’m not climbing I’m usually working on some music, playing games, or watching weird movies on Netflix. Outside I really like slacklining. I’m not great at it, but it’s always a good time.

What do you love about Peoria?

Everyone I’ve met here is super nice, outgoing, and psyched to climb.

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

I would have to say Zion. This coffee shop is fabulous. Great atmosphere and great coffee. And the cinnamon rolls are fantastic.

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

I play guitar in a couple bands. One is a folky pop indie rock band, BC Sherman and the Baltimore Four (Our debut EP Love is Real is available on all streaming platforms!). We actually have 5 other members. The other has the working name of Jon, John, John. Because it’s me, a Jonathan, a Johnny, and a John. We play an amalgam of our favorite genres. So I guess it’s emo-y, post-rockish, prog-y, math-y, finger tap-y, jazzy stuff. I don’t know. We pretty much just try to write music that we think sounds cool.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?

If you want to talk about professional wrestling, I’m your guy.


Amanda Villiger, Assistant Gym Manager

How did you get into climbing?

I started climbing during college at Bradley University about 9 years ago.

What do you love about climbing?

As much as climbing can be scary for me, it can be wonderful to overcome those fears and achieve something you didn’t think you could do.

Bouldering or sport climbing?

Sport climbing. I like the degree of security that the rope provides and, even though I’m terribly afraid of heights, you just can’t beat the view from the top.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?

Jackson Falls.

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

I aim to improve my strength and flexibility for both climbing and my yoga practice.

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

I am a certified yoga teacher, and I love to do that whenever I get the chance. I also enjoy kayaking, hiking, camping, and backpacking.

What do you love about Peoria?

There are so many things! Many of my closest friends live here, and there is a good variety of places to eat and explore both in town and nearby.

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

The Fieldhouse Bar and Grill in the Campustown shopping center. They have hands down the best wings!

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

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. Go Hufflepuff!


Brad Moser, Routesetting Supervisor

How did you get into climbing?   

I took a belay class with my family in high school, then started working for Upper Limits while I was in college.

What do you love about climbing?

I love the continual challenge that is inherent to climbing. The fact that there is always room to improve no matter where you are in your climbing is motivating.

Bouldering or sport climbing?

Why not both? But if I have to choose, I’d choose sport climbing because I like have a rope to protect my falls.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors?    

Jackson Falls. More on that in the next question.

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

Generator X (5.11c), Detox Mountain (5.12a), and Everybody Needs Friends (5.12a).

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing? What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

Bicycling, disc golf, following baseball and soccer, and playing Pathfinder/DnD.

What do you love about Peoria?

Peoria is working hard to rejuvenate its downtown, and I’m excited to be part of that growth through FA.

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

Zion Coffee, Thyme, Kellehers, and of course First Ascent.

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

Before dropping out of college to pursue a career in the climbing industry, I studied History Education.

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 Staff Spotlight: Pilar Amado

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Pilar Amado. Pilar is the fearless leader of our Women Crush Wednesday sessions at FA Avondale, where women boulderers of all ability levels unite to crush some boulders and share some laughs. She is also heavily involved with Sending in Color, and has been a long time member of the FA community, so we’re excited to share her story! Make sure to give her Instagram a follow at @pily.amado and say hi next time you see her at the gym. 

How did you get into climbing?

I first learned about climbing through my older brother who started when I was around 12 years old. It caught my attention, but at the time I was a dedicated dancer and thought climbing was a little too dangerous. When I turned 16, however, I convinced my father to bring me to the climbing gym in my hometown of Medellin, Colombia so I could give climbing a go. Since he was already familiar with the gym because of my brother, my dad was easily convinced and after my first visit, I was hooked! I’ve been climbing ever since, with some short and long breaks due to injuries and accessibility.

What do you love about climbing?

I love that it has changed over the years. Initially, I loved to take outdoor climbing trips and tackle the physical and mental challenges of the sport. At 16, I had the privilege to travel to different parts of Colombia I hadn’t seen before with older, more experienced climbers, which taught me a lot about the sport.

Lately, I have fallen in love with the climbing community itself. I have made some of the most meaningful relationships in my life and it has become a large part of my lifestyle.

I still love the physical and mental challenge, but at this point in my life,I’m trying to see climbing as a mental break instead of challenging myself too much. Right now, I don’t have a lot of free time to dedicate to it. However, I’m looking forward to training hard and getting stronger again SOON!

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

Right now, and the past four years, BOULDERING! When I first started climbing I was bouldering and sport climbing hand in hand. All of my outdoor trips consisted of sport climbing and bouldering was done only indoors for training, since there are not that many outdoor bouldering areas in Colombia. Currently, I only boulder. I love how social bouldering is and how easy it is to have short, productive bouldering sessions.In sport climbing, you’d need at least two hours, and since I haven’t done it in a long time, my head game is awful.

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

For bouldering, I’d say LRC in Chattanooga and Rocktown in Georgia. They offer a great variety of styles and the approach is fairly easy. I try to bike as much as I can too, but I don’t do it as much as I used to.

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

Not specifically. I want to start projecting V7s and V8s in the gym and I’d like to send my first outdoor V6. Overall, I want to start a more structured training program to get stronger!

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

Work and freelance projects take up most of my time. I also try to put some time towards growing Sending in Color, an initiative to keep diversity growing in the Chicago climbing scene.

What do you love about Chicago?

Summer time. The city comes to life during the summer months with all the different music festivals.

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

For food, it varies, but I’m always down for good tacoa or Colombian empanadas!

For Music, I love music festivals like Ruidofest and Pitchfork. I’ve also attended some awesome concerts at the Old Town School of Folk Music and Subterranean. I’m also always down for a free summer concert at the Pritzker Pavillion.

For Art, my favorite museum is the MCA. I’ve been a volunteer there for the past two years and have gotten access to some cool events. I also really like some of the shows at the Chicago Cultural Center, which are always free!

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

I think a lot of people don’t know that I was born and raised in Colombia and have only been living in Chicago for the past 8 years. I’m also officially a staff member at FA, besides leading the WCW sessions at Avondale and hosting the monthly Sending in Color POC hangouts.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? 

Don’t be afraid to say hi to me at the gym!I usually don’t say hi because it’s really hard for me to recognize people if I’m not wearing my glasses, so I usually don’t unless I’m 100% sure that person is someone I know. Otherwise, I’ll just end up waving at a bunch of random people.


Join Pilar at the next Avondale Women Crush Wednesday session and the next Sending In Color POC Hangout!

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.