This month we get to shine the spotlight on Justin Parks, and we can’t be more excited! Justin is an avid outdoorsman, adventurer, and hugger. His buoyant spirit is contagious, and his care for others is inspiring. If you haven’t met Justin yet, just walk up and introduce yourself. You will be glad you did. Justin is expanding his influence in the outdoor community by attending the upcoming Color The Crag festival and SHIFT conference, and we’re stoked to have such a strong representative from the Chicago climbing community present for these important efforts. Thanks for all you bring to the FAmily, Justin!

How did you get into climbing? While in high school I went on a service trip to South Africa. One of the leaders (Shane) of the trip was an avid rock climber and our South African guide (Steyn) was just starting to get into it.Justin Parks_CommunityToward the end of our time in ZA, we stayed on a game reserve in Qwa-Qwa; which was surrounded by mountains (in fact there is another Mount Everest in the range).

One day, while most of the students had wandered off, Shane came up to me and asked if I wanted to help him find a route. I had no clue what he was talking about but wholeheartedly agreed to join him in this adventure. We trekked up a hill with a very old, beaten up, outdated guidebook. We bushwhacked our way to the rock face, had an incident with a large spider, and eventually found little sliver bolts. The next day Steyn and Shane came back to climb and give me a quick opportunity to try. The rest is history!

What do you love about climbing? What do I love about climbing? Well just about everything. Climbing is a special form of meditation for me; When you first start climbing your body is flooded with adrenaline and endorphins and the neurons in your brain rapidly fire off, screaming at you, trying to convince you that your grand idea to defy gravity is actually a terrible idea but after a while you learn to silence all the extra noise in your head so that you can fully concentrate on the movement of your body, the position of your feet, and the weight on your fingers. It’s within this place that I find the place that I love, the place where the world melts away.

Although climbing is inherently an independent sport, it has fostered one of the strongest communities that I’ve ever seen. In climbing you don’t just make friends, you find family aka lifelong partners and fellow goofballs.

Bouldering or sport climbing? The question that is as old as time and by golly is it a hard question to answer, it honestly depends on my mood. There are months in which I only want to boulder, play around on sustained overhanging routes, work cruxes with friends, and jump from one route to another and back again.  

There are also times in which sport climbing is all that my brain craves. The routine of tying in, chalking up, and cruising up a route. Falling, getting back up, and taking another whip. There is a freedom in the flow of the climb; it’s a bit like dancing on rock.

What is your favorite place to climb outdoors? What other outdoor activities do you participate in? Most definitely the Red River Gorge, it’s a second home for many of us Midwestern climbers.You arrive at Miguel’s for a nice breakfast burrito (pizza and Ale 8 in the evenings). All of your climbing friends who live in a 10 hour radius are there. The area has Red has some of the most amazing overhanging sandstone routes and a crazy amount of crags. What more could you ask for?

I’m also an avid backpacker (lived in the Northern Idaho/Western Montana Wilderness [aka the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness] for half a year) and I’ve had a few attempts at snowboarding and falling down hills on skis.

Do you have any particular climbing projects or fitness goals for this year? I’m absolutely terrible at training, I’ve tried a few times before but it always ends up looking like this: Arrive at the gym with the intention to train, walk around the gym to say hello to all of my friends prior to training (so that I don’t get distracted while training), change into climbing gear, begin self-assigned training program, take a break after 20 minutes, get distracted by fun looking route on comp wall, only climb said  fun looking rout, lounge around for the remaining time and end with a nap on the bouldering mats.

A few friends and I have talked about attempting a few big wall routes in Yosemite but that is a whole new game for me altogether. I’ve also found myself wandering into the world of mountaineering, so maybe I’ll head back down to South America to get back in to the Andes soon.   

What keeps you busy when you’re not climbing? 

Reading feverishly about anything and everything that catches my fancy (Most recently this has been the world of perfume, brains [Neuroscience], black holes and the aphotic zone. I am also a big advocate for self-education; in the past few years I’ve learned how to drive and fix a motorcycle, lock pick [very valuable skill to know in case you or your friends get locked out often), and much more.

I’ve also spent the last year asking questions and starting conversations around diversity within the climbing community and in the outdoor industry. I would like to introduce rock climbing to different neighborhoods on the Southside of Chicago; Non-profit plans are on their way!

What do you love about Chicago? I’m a Chicago native, born and raised with Chicago air in my lungs and Lake Michigan water in my veins. I was born to love this city. I love the culture and pride that each neighborhood cultivates. From places like Pullman filled with rich history and beautiful architecture to places such as Edgewater with a large verity of cuisines and independent theater companies. This city is larger than you think, so get out there and explore it!

What is your favorite Chicago spot for food, music, art or culture? I can’t tell you otherwise I’d have to kill you.

Although here are a few hidden gems to start your exploratory journey:

      • History: Hotel Florence (Pullman)
      • Architecture: Beverly Unitarian Church aka Chicago’s only castle (Beverly)  
      • Art: Stoney Island Arts Bank (Woodlawn)
      • Food: Soul Vegan (Englewood)

What is something about you most people don’t know? I have 10 library cards! It’s possibly one of my favorite places in the world.

“The public library is the most dangerous place in town” – John Ciardi

“The only thing you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library” – Albert Einstein

Anything else you want to say to the FA Community? You all are some of the most amazing people that I know and I can’t thank you enough for all the joy, love, and encouragement you’ve given me. The FA community will forever be family!

Follow Justin’s adventures on Instagram: @forrest_in_the_forrest