We believe climbing is for everyone. We believe that adventure is essential to the human spirit. We believe that fitness shouldn’t be a grind – it should be exciting, fun, and a way to connect with others. And we believe that you are more capable than you ever imagined.
Our mission: to share our love for climbing with everyone, to connect people through movement, and to create welcoming, uplifting spaces that strengthen minds, bodies, and communities.
Why do we love climbing so much? For starters, climbing is exhilarating and fun. It’s an amazing full-body workout that doesn’t feel like a workout until the minute you’re done. Climbing brings people together. When movement creates connection, something magical happens. There’s energy in the air. You can feel it. Climbing feeds your adventurous spirit. It engages all of you – mind, body, and soul.
We love climbing and we love sharing it with others, so we build world-class climbing gyms with thrilling terrain and climbs set for all ability levels – from new climbers to seasoned experts. Even if you’ve never climbed before, you will be welcomed when you walk into a First Ascent gym. The climbing community is unlike any other, and First Ascent strives to be a gym like no other. You won’t see everyone wearing headphones and living in their own world. You’ll see connection, people cheering each other on, and strangers becoming friends.
We should also mention that climbing is only part of our story. Every First Ascent gym offers a fully-stocked fitness area and a yoga program with 20+ classes on the schedule each week taught by some of the best instructors around. We want to be your third place and your home for all things fitness.
Come check us out and give climbing a try. We’d love to welcome you in and help you get inspired to reach new heights. Let’s climb!
How FA Arlington Heights Came To Be
When we first toured the former CoCo Keys Water Park building back in January of 2017, we were floored. The space was a massive, tall, open format with tons of windows bringing in natural light. Could you possibly find a better existing space to build a climbing gym? We couldn’t imagine one.
Since then, a number of challenges have delayed the project, but we kept pushing. We knew this location would come together, and when it did, it would be something special.
Once the water slides and pirate ships were auctioned off and the pools and lazy river was leveled to make way for a new slab, the space has started to look like the climbing gym we had always dreamed it to be.
As we approach opening day in January 2022, we look forward to serving the Chicagoland climbing community and introducing a ton of new people to the sport we love with this incredible new facility. We hope you’ll join us to climb, train, connect, and grow.
The First Ascent Story
Here are some highlights from the journey that brought us to today:
Four Chicago climbers came together to harness the power of the climbing community for the First Ascent project: an effort to build Chicago’s first world-class, full-service climbing gym. We dreamt of building a space for climbers of all ability levels, where new climbers, seasoned veterans, and everyone in between could climb and inspire each other together. As momentum built, First Ascent was recognized as one of Chicago’s exciting new startups.
After years of dreaming and planning, ground is broken on First Ascent Avondale, a 26,000 square foot facility built from the ground up to house climbing walls up to 60 ft. tall along with a bouldering and fitness mezzanine and a dedicated yoga studio. We hosted our first ever REEL Rock Film Tour, with a special fly through preview of FA Avondale, and the event raised over $2,400 to support the Access Fund.
First Ascent Avondale opened its doors in August of 2015, followed shortly thereafter by First Ascent Uptown in December as part of an adaptive reuse of the historic Sheridan Trust Bank building on Chicago’s north side. Chris Sharma visited to help us celebrate 2 grand openings in 4 months. The dream had become a reality. We also hosted our second REEL Rock screening, raising $1,500 for our friends at Chicago Adventure Therapy.
The Chicago climbing community continued to grow like mad. We hosted our first three competitions, the Uptown Throwdown and the Spring Cling, drawing hundreds of climbers from all over the region, along with a USA Climbing Divisional Championship. We donated over 175 in in-kind climbing package donations to support fundraisers for local nonprofits and schools, and our annual REEL Rock screening raised $1,600 for the Access Fund.
First Ascent Humboldt Park opened in September 2017, bringing 10,000 square feet of bouldering terrain to one of our favorite neighborhoods. We supported the making of the film The Golden Ticket, chronicling Michaela Kiersch’s FFA (first female ascent) of the classic 5.14c route by that name in the Red River Gorge. Lynn Hill dropped in for a visit, and the FA Climbing Team won the Divisional Team Championship for roped climbing and the Regional Team Championship for bouldering for the second year running. We donated over 300 in-kind climbing package donations to support local fundraisers and hosted a Hurricane Relief Craft Fair fundraiser to support folks in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
First Ascent Block 37 opened in March 2018 in Chicago’s Loop, combining expansive city skyline views with 10,000 square feet of bouldering terrain, two dedicated yoga studios, and a fully stocked fitness area. We hosted the first ever CrossTown Bouldering League, with 250 competitors across 3 FA locations over 8 weeks who threw down for all the glory. We also hosted the first Savannah Buik Memorial Climbathon to celebrate the legacy of a beloved FA staff member by climbing 417, 918 feet and raising over $15,000 for Project Heal as a community. We also hosted the Paradox Mile, raising over $9,000 for Paradox Sports, and our Big Shoulder Boulders competition at the FA Block 37 Grand Opening raised over $2,200 for great local organizations like Girls In The Game and My Block My Hood My City. We also donated almost 400 climbing packages to support local fundraisers for schools and non-profit organizations.
Our mission to spread the love of climbing went beyond Chicago in 2019 with the opening of First Ascent Peoria, an adaptive reuse of a steel supply warehouse in Peoria’s Historic Warehouse District that brought the first ever full-service rock climbing gym to the Peoria community. We ditched single-use plastic water bottles FA wide and made other changes to be more environmentally friendly. We hosted another Spring Cling and the biggest, baddest Humboldt Rumble yet. We were featured in a New York Times article on the growing popularity of climbing in the US, but some quotes in the article left us no choice but to exclaim that Climbing is for Every Body. We hosted the second annual Savannah Buik Memorial Climbathon, climbing 512,470 ft as a community and raising over $4,900 for the American Alpine Club. We also launched an after-school climbing program with the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club in Uptown, supported Girls In The Game with a No Man’s Land Film Festival screening, and donated over 350 climbing packages to local fundraisers.
Though the year started strong, we closed our doors for 110 days to do our part during the COVID-19 pandemic. We were blown away by the support we received from our community, with a huge percentage of our members continuing to pay for their memberships during the closure (once again, thank you!). While we were closed, we launched First Ascent Anywhere – our virtual class series you can join from wherever you are – we hosted a 6×6 Home Challenge to keep people moving and connected while at home, we tried to keep you laughing with some fun videos, and we hosted a Neighbor Support resource drive to help those facing grocery store closures on Chicago’s South and West sides, sending 12 car loads of food and supplies and $3,500 to pop-up pantries. As we adapted to the pandemic and reopened our doors with new health and wellness standards in place to keep our community healthy and climbing strong, we also recognized the need to do more to support underrepresented communities in climbing, particularly those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. We announced our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Actions, and began the work. We know there’s a lot of work to be done, and we’re glad to be on the journey.
There’s so much more that could be said, so many stories from over the years, but hopefully that gives you a taste of what we’ve been up to.
Looking ahead, we at First Ascent are as psyched as ever to spread the love of climbing by serving the communities in the cities we call home and opening new locations that expand our reach. To keep up to date on the latest, follow us on Instagram and Facebook, subscribe to our newsletter, or better yet – come climb with us and get connected!
Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
As we work toward our mission of sharing our love of climbing with everyone, we acknowledge that the climbing community is not as diverse as the cities we serve, and that we can and should do more to make climbing more accessible and inclusive for underrepresented communities, particularly people who identify as BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). Click below to learn more about the steps we’re taking to create a more welcoming, supportive, and inclusive environment.
We know there’s a lot of work to be done and in many ways we’re just getting started. We invite you to help make First Ascent spaces welcoming, supportive spaces by following the FA Community Guidelines. We look forward to working hand in hand with the climbing community to share the love of climbing with all people.