Friday, December 11, 2015

First Ascent Climbing & Fitness Gym Hopes To Open By Year End; Facility Tours Next Week

Buzz has been building about First Ascent, which announced last February that a bouldering gym and fitness/yoga classes would be coming to the second floor of the Borders building at Broadway and Racine. This week we got to go inside and check it out, as the company finishes construction and hopes to open its doors to clients before year-end.

If you'd like a chance to take a look for yourself, there will be free "hard hat tours" of the facility given next week: Tuesday (12/15) and Thursday (12/17) at 7pm, and Saturday (12/19) at 11am. Register here if you're interested in seeing it all come together.

We climbed those stairs to the top floor of Borders many times.
The changing area and lockers will be on the first floor next to the staircase.
The entrance to First Ascent is through the same doors that were the main entrance to Borders (4718 N Broadway). Clients will enter into a first floor reception area and equipment shop. There will be lockers and a small changing area to the right of stairs that lead to the second floor, where the classrooms and climbing gym are located.

One of the most surprising things was how spacious the second floor is. Borders used a great deal of the available floor space for book storage and offices. Customers only had access to about half of the floor space, most of which will be open to First Ascent clientèle.

Construction is going on every day, with the goal of a late-December opening
It turns out that the transition from bookstore to bouldering gym wasn't as wacky as it seems, structurally speaking: Because of the weight of the books on the second floor, Borders rebuilt and reinforced the floor and elevators before it moved in in 2004, so that both could bear quite a bit a weight. Moving in and constructing a gym that consists of a lot of steel didn't require much reconfiguration to make it structurally sound.

Next week 16" thick foam flooring will be added
What's the difference between bouldering and climbing walls? Well, bouldering walls, while they go all the way to the ceiling, are shorter than climbing walls. Boulderers don't use safety harnesses, like wall climbers do. Joe Zentmyer of First Ascent, who gave us the tour, told us that bouldering tends to be more social, with people encouraging and helping others, and that aspect of it is what got him hooked. (Next week Joe and other crew members will be installing 16" foam flooring to protect the boulderers from injury.)

What does a newbie need to know? Show up wearing loose casual clothing. First Ascent will rent you proper footwear if you don't have it. There's a introductory class (Learn to Boulder) for $45 to give you the basics, and then you're ready to go. (There will also be classes offered for other skill level climbers.) Kids as young as five years old are welcome, but need to have adult supervision. Waivers must be signed by everyone using the gym, no matter what age.

An exercise classroom, finished just the day before our visit
First Ascent will also offer daily yoga classes, as well as exercise and fitness classes. They're thinking about adding Zumba once things get up and running. They're still figuring out the hours they'll be open and will probably adjust them due to demand once they get started.

The holes in the walls will provide holds for climbers,
and also LED lighting
A recurring monthly pass will run $75 and a one-time monthly pass will cost $125.  That gives you access to everything: the climbing, the yoga, the exercise classes. A day pass will run you $18 ($15 for students).

If you're curious to know more about First Ascent:
  • They are having a Grand Opening this weekend at their other gym, which opened in September in Avondale (3516 N. Spaulding). Everyone is welcome to show up and talk to the staff and find out more.
  • You can check them out on the web and on Facebook
  • And don't forget about the three free hard hat tours in the next few days!

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