Category Archive

We Climb, We Fall, We Climb Again

Unlike Chicago seasons, the “fall” season in bouldering stretches throughout the entire year and has zero to do with Pumpkin Spiced Lattes – though we all can agree that PSL’s are a divine treat between September and November. In fact, falling is an inevitable part of a sport that seeks to defy gravity. Knowing how to fall properly is paramount, whether you just started climbing or you’ve been climbing for decades.

Hello Gravity, My Old Friend…

During every orientation for first time visitors, a First Ascent staffer shares a few insights on how to fall and how not to fall when climbing in the bouldering area. The curse of gravity makes it so every failed attempt or controlled descent might involve spending a split-second moving quickly through space toward the ground. The only safe way to come down is to down-climb. Falling “safely” can mean the difference between walking away from a bouldering session completely intact or, God-forbid, a session-ending injury.


What I personally tell climbers (and what’s shown in the image above) is to land with bent knees/hips (no straight/locked legs) to minimize impact on the spine. If the momentum carries you down and back, let it, and crumple right onto your glutes. If you’re still moving, roll out with your chin tucked into your chest and bring your arms into your chest (never bring your arms back to “catch” the fall). I mention that it’s important to spot your landing zone, find the mat with the bottoms your feet, and relax into the crumple-n-roll to redistribute the energy into the mat. And if falling from the top of a boulder problem isn’t comfortable, its good to practice falls from lower heights and inch up higher and higher as falling skills and comfort levels progress.

Cat Mode: engaged!

The video below produced by Futurist – the makers of our climbing floors and mats/pads – reinforces those points as it instructs boulderers to be in “Cat Mode” more so than climbing-mode. It also touches on advanced falling positions and techniques – like falling sideways or forwards – to minimize injury. 

The NYT chimes in on falling

Even the mainstream media is getting in on the falling action. The New York Times recently published The Right Way to Fall online and in-print, giving the beta from “paratroopers, stunt professionals, physical therapists and martial arts instructors” on proper falling technique. While the NYT piece might not have been intended for climbers, it is very relevant for those who boulder. Falling is an essential and sometimes dangerous part of bouldering. As climbers, we should constantly be exploring ways to minimize risks inherent to the sport we love.

Please read the NYT’s piece, watch the video embedded above, and above all else, be safe and practice good falling techniques. 

By: Gabriel Skvor

Images in collage: Brendan Hehir

Hashtag BestNine2016

Like all years do, 2016 comes to a close. At the end of every year everyone loves a good “best-of” list, like the 10 best recipes from Lucky Peach or the 10 best surfing vids from Surfing Magazine or the top 10 albums of 2016 according to NPR’s Tiny Desk.

Instagram, however, is unique in that – in it’s squared format – it allows for users to post their top nine images with the hashtag #bestnine2016 to give others a quick recap of their year in photos. 

Here’s First Ascent Climbing’s contribution to this popular hashtag: 


FA’s #BestNine2016

We’ve had a busy year capturing moments, posting about the goings-on at the gyms and sharing posts from our lovely members. This blog gives a little context and background to the nine images in the collage above, in what we thought was our BestNine2016; links to original Insta-posts are underlined above their respective images below. (note: strictly still images were chosen, no videos)

#9 Santa on a portaledge


On what turned out to be one of our busiest days of the year, Santa took time from his busy schedule to “hang out” on the portaledge, and those who were brave enough climbed up to ole St. Nick to put in their order for presents. Even T-Rex got into the mix (more on him later). Outdoor retailers from all over the city were on hand and members got to participate in a gear swap. Great warm-up for the holidays!


#8 Bobbing for apples action shot


One of the hardest working climbers at First Ascent (Myung) shows of his apple bobbing skills. This was from the Uptown Hoedown community climbing comp. Fall was in full swing with staff dressed in ranching attire and competition was friendly and fierce. 

#7 Getting dynamic at the Uptown Throwdown


In our second community competition at the Uptown gym, Dan Bartz (FA founder) was in the right place at the right time to capture Adin get airborne. Conrad Anker (also more on him later) was on hand to witness the community that’s been growing ever since. Here’s the full recap.

#6 FAoutside Instagram comp winner


In the Fall, when “sending temps” were upon us, we wanted to see all of the FA community’s outdoor climbing pics. So we had a contest on Instagram using the hashtag #FAoutside for bouldering and sport climbing. FA Youth Climbing Team crusher, Estelle Park, submitted this winning image in the bouldering category, which won her some sweet bouldering swag. This is her topping out Plumbers Crack (V1/2) at Red Rock Canyon just outside Las Vegas, NV. 

#5 First Ascent goes international


Former FA member Ryan Thompson travels the world for work and pleasure. This iconic shot was taken during one of his excursions in Japan. Even when members move on, they continue to be FAmily!

#4 Michaela Kiersch sends Golden Ticket


Until FA’s resident pro-climber Michaela Kiersch came along, no woman had completed Golden Ticket, a 5.14c rated sport climbing route in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. Kiersch, with this and many other sends, continues to establish herself as one of the best climbers in the world. Photographer Andy Wickstrom was on hand to capture the send in still images and on video. Expect big things from this mighty lady in 2017 and beyond. 

#3 Living legend Conrad Anker climbs at Uptown


When talking about Conrad Anker’s accomplishments, it’s hard not to sound hyperbolic. This man has summited the tallest peaks in the world and done death defying climbs on the most technical mountain faces nature has conjured. While in Chicago, he stopped by the Uptown Throwdown climbing comp in March, spent time with FAmily members and threw down, crushing some boulders. 

#2 T-rex goes full dyno


First Ascent Avondale turned 1 and everyone came out to the party, including T-rex. He tried and tried and tried to nail some dynos in the dyno-comp. Here’s one of his valiant attempts to score points. The video of this has over 300,000 views.

#1 Hello, FA Humboldt Park


Projected to open in Spring 2017, this bouldering-only gym will be the latest addition to the First Ascent family of climbing and fitness gyms. We are beyond excited to end the year with a new project like this, which will bring even more joy to the vertically minded Chicago climbing community. 

Thanks for Instagramming with us in 2016 and #letsclimbingchicago!!!

By: Gabriel Skvor


Welcome to First Ascent Uptown

One warm winter morning in mid-December, I arrived at First Ascent Uptown ready for a day’s work. Instead of teaching a Learning the Ropes class for Avondale’s tall walls or checking customers in at the front desk, this day was going to be different. Uptown was still under construction – little did I know the amount of construction left to be done. The climbing walls were only just going up. Our fitness equipment was still in California. Our sound system was just speakers in boxes and wire on spools. Our foam mats were still three weeks away. And the flooring in the yoga room was only a quarter of the way done.


Joe Zentmyer, one of the First Ascent founders, and I met for an “alpine start” at 6 am, and we immediately began laying the bamboo floorboard that, in less than a month, would be supporting downward facing dogs, warrior poses and sun salutations.The sun wasn’t even up as we hammered and pried the first row into place. But the work became easier as we progressed. Eventually, we fell into a rhythm. Joe spread the glue while I slotted the floorboards into each other. Eight hours, ten gallons of glue, and a couple sore backs later, the yoga floor was approaching completion. A few days later it would be finished. In the next couple weeks, Walltopia would screw in the last wall, Futurist would install the flooring, I’d savagely break down the wooden crates that held the treadmills and I would even have the eleven speakers hung and wired and playing Rage Against the Machine.

All the while I was clocking in and clocking out, working a job – my job. And if you asked me then what I was doing I would have said, “I’m pulling speaker wire through the ceiling at Uptown.” But as I’ve finished those projects, and as I write this blog, I realize there was something more to that work. There is something more to all the work we do.



For a summer, a few years back, I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club as a Backcountry Caretaker. My campsite was Speck Pond: Maine’s highest body of water, and a five-mile hike from the nearest road. My first trip in, I was crushed under a seventy-pound pack (provisions for an eleven-day stint). Fog swirled through the valley as I descended into the campsite, and I was overcome by a vague sense of foreboding. That first night at Speck I was wet, cold and scared. The next day, a couple Appalachian Trail hikers passed through and, knowing more than me, they told me about the area. I listened and tried in vain to keep my down jacket dry. Later on in the stint, when the sun finally did shine, black flies swarmed. One even had the courtesy of flying into my ear and dying there. My job was as a caretaker, but how could I take care of a place that left me on the verge of hypothermia, bleeding out of my ear?

I decided that somehow, I needed to make Speck Pond my home, and I worked to make it so. I built a rock step on the small trail leading to the shore. I learned the names of the trees and birds. I tended the trails. And I composted the privy’s human waste (please ask me about this; I’d love to share).

Because of that work, I could tell hikers that that bird calling was a Junco. That the next resupply is in another twenty miles, but watch out for those bog bridges in the alpine; they’re completely submerged. Doing that work transformed my perception of Speck Pond from an ominous place into an outdoor playground. And most importantly, that work allowed me to welcome visitors to my home.

At Uptown, we’ve done the work. The routes are up. The yoga floor is finally finished. The fitness equipment has been un-boxed and put into place. And as I write this, Sam Cooke is crooning over the sound system. Now, all that’s left is to fill it with climbers, yogis and fitness enthusiasts like you.

Welcome to First Ascent: Uptown!