Staff Highlight

Category Archive

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.

Celebrating Savannah

On March 28, 2018, Savannah Buik passed away in a trad climbing accident at Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin. Savannah was an original member of the First Ascent Staff, co-founder of the Chicago chapter of the American Alpine Club, and a treasured member of the Chicago climbing community. Read FA staff member Abby Mansell’s celebration of Savannah’s life and legacy below, and #climbsavvy. 

First Ascent’s core mission is to serve and grow Chicago’s vibrant climbing community, and that’s the lasting first impression that most of us have when we walk through the doors. Working the same boulder problem at Uptown, finding a belay partner on the board at Avondale, discovering your coworker is also a climber at Block 37, grooving to the tunes at Humboldt – I’d be shocked to hear any of you say you haven’t had a positive experience with the community at FA. Savannah was a precious member of this community, dedicated to making people feel welcome and infusing them with her stoke.

Whether you’ve known Savvy for years, took an Intro to Bouldering class with her, received a belay test from her, or were greeted by her at the desk, you’ve been touched. If you ever bouldered at the same time as her, heck, if you were ever in the gym at the same time as her, guaranteed your day was made a little brighter by the sound of her infectious laugh.Her effervescent personality bounced off those walls as she danced her way through life, singing and encouraging others to let their freak flags fly.

You see, Savannah was a very special person. Even at the young age of 22, she had accessed her own raw humanity, inspected it, accepted it, and then opened her heart for others to see who she truly was. Above all, she was an advocate for self-love.Declared fully-recovered from an eating disorder that plagued her for years, she had come a long way toward loving her self, her body, and everyone else. She had a way of using her vulnerability to allow you to take a look at your own in a safe space. It’s like she was saying “Hey, I’m really weird in this kinda specific way, haha, isn’t that great?What a life, huh?” By sharing the most vulnerable pieces of herself, she opened doors to let others find love for themselves and the parts of them that they might find weird, embarrassing, shameful, or unworthy.Living by her example, we can all become better people for ourselves. More authentic. More gentle with ourselves for our self-declared shortcomings.

Having just graduated, Sav was considering a move to Colorado, where her love for the outdoors could be more easily explored. She changed her mind, however, because the community and friends that she found in Chicago had become her tribe. She loved us all, and she helped us love each other more. All of us. Strangers, friends, curious first-time climbers, and long-time crag buddies, all sharing in the same passion.It’s a sense of belonging that I’ve never had before, and I’m so grateful to have found it. Savannah’s life, and now her death, has had a powerful impact on this group. As a community we have changed. Grieved. Grown. Hugged and sniffled and expressed our gratitude toward one another. It’s a tragic means to a beautiful end – a community of people who love and support each other. 

We can honor Sav by continuing her work and growing the branches of this wonderful community deeper, wider, and more connected. Ask someone if they want beta when they seem stuck on a problem. Say hello to the person on the train that you recognize from the gym. Invite your gym friends to hang out outside of the gym. Dance. Laugh.Find your passion and go for it full steam with your heart on your sleeve. Find strength in your imperfections and share them with others to make them stronger. Be humble.Remember that climbing is a dangerous sport and it needs to be treated with diligence and respect. Face your challenges but know your boundaries. Learn from others’ experiences and remain thirsty for knowledge. Climb hard and train smart. Donate to organizations that focus on making climbing areas safer and more accessible. Be patient. Forgive yourself and others. Be stoked to climb and live and love. And most importantly, stay Savvy.

By Abby Mansell. Photos @savvytothemax.

 

 

Want to know how you can help make a difference?

Participate in First Ascent’s Climbathon to help support Sav’s favorite organization, Project HEAL, the leading non-profit in the US delivering prevention, treatment financing, and recovery support for people suffering from eating disorders. Savannah was extremely passionated about the great work Project HEAL is doing and interned with the organization for a semester. 

You can also donate to the American Alpine Club. Savannah was the Chicago chapter chair of the organization and interned at the AAC’s Colorado headquarters for a summer.

FA Staff Spotlight: Lisa Ragins

This month, we’re shining the spotlight on FA staff member Lisa Ragins. Lisa is a mother of two (twins no less!), a runner, a serial tie-dyer, and a constant presence at First Ascent Avondale. She has the gift of hospitality in spades. In fact, we dare you to try to hang around First Ascent for more than a week without being offered one of her homemade baked goods. Read more about Lisa below, and be sure to say hi next time you see her.  Thanks Lisa for all you do to make First Ascent a warm, welcoming place!

How did you get into climbing?

When people find out that I have 19-year-old twins who have been climbing since they were 5, I am often asked if I got them into climbing. No, they got me into it!   Want more details than that? Ask me next time you see me

What do you love about climbing?  

Other than Dave Hudson? I like that climbers of different ages and abilities can all enjoy the sport together, indoors and outdoors! So many good mentors and mentoring! It is such an incredibly supportive, welcoming community of people having fun, solving problems, working on projects, sharing experiences, staying fit without ever feeling like you are working out.  Always an adventure! It was especially fun to raise two climbers and go on climbing adventures together. I highly recommend it!

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

I definitely love sport climbing over bouldering!  Less chance of injury if you are on a rope. Plus, longer routes/problems are more satisfying to send.  That being said, I actually really like bouldering at red rocks outside in Vegas. Fortunately, it is a great place for sport climbing too.

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

A great outdoor climbing area that I love is Red Rocks just outside Vegas!  Beautiful scenery, incredible sunsets, fun bouldering, great sport climbing, a chance to meet people from all over the world, great nightlife, and beautiful weather! However, no Miguel’s Pizza there… So, Red River Gorge is my driving-distance, camping, pizza, Ale 8 climbing destination, with Drive By, Motherlode, Gold Coast, Solar Collector, Chocolate Factory, Dark Side being my favorite crags!  Get The Best of the Red Climbing Guidebook!

Oops, I can’t forget how wonderful Chattanooga is for outdoor bouldering! Plus if it’s raining there are Highpoint Climbing and The Bouldering Authority to climb at, plus many good dinner options, a movie theater, and the longest pedestrian bridge over the river there – a must see. Make it part of a nice long run! Stay at the Doubletree for warm chocolate chip cookies or stay at the Crash Pad, an incredibly cool climbers hostel. And if I am there when you are there, I will make you eggs in a basket for breakfast!  After I get back from my morning long run of course. Don’t worry, I wake up early.

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

My climbing goal this year is to go on at least one more outdoor climbing trip with my kids and to send my first outdoor 5.11.   As for other fitness goals, I love running and I signed up for the Soldier Field 10-miler this May. Anyone else planning on running it?

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing?

When I am not climbing, I am either working at FA or baking, running, tie-dying, doing garden work, trying to figure out where in the world my kids are, or making homemade pizza dough. What I really want to do is plan a FAmily tie-dye day, making FA logo tie-dye shirts! 

What do you love about Chicago?  

I love the lakefront. I have a particular site where I hang my hammock.  Other than that I will run, bike, and rollerblade on the lakefront paths, enjoying the beaches, museums, riverwalk, and sunrises. By the way, give urban kayaking on the river a try! I had so much fun doing that last summer and plan to get a season membership at Urban Kayaks for unlimited kayaking this summer!

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

I am a big fan of The Art Institute of Chicago. I am a member there and their food is artistic and delicious as well!  Ask me and I will most likely take you with me!

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

I used to paint wall murals for a living. Now I just like to draw left handed (I am right handed) with a Sharpie.

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community?   

I really want to thank the First Ascent Founders Dan, Dave, Jon and Joe for dreaming up a place for the FAmily to meet! I have met so many interesting, wonderful people on this path, including my climbing partner Julie! I miss her a bunch as she has moved to Denver, so I am always looking for someone to climb with me.