Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

2023 Recap and Looking Forward to 2024…

Well it’s that time of year again where our family likes to get super nerdy with stats and graphs! From a family adventure perspective, we had an AMAZING year. We spent 44 days climbing outside, and our climbing area breakdown looked like this:

Starting the roof crux on Manifest Destiny

NEW RIVER GORGE (and surrounding areas) – 12 days

From a climbing performance perspective, our biggest challenge as a family was the logistics of balancing 3 different climber “agendas,” plus a kiddo that is mostly along for the ride but still wants to tie in on something easy every now and then. Though none of us quite accomplished ALL that was on our list, we each hit some major milestones throughout the year. The CragDad had been hovering in the 90’s range of lifetime 5.12 sends for the past few years, and this year he was finally able to get the last 7 ticks he needed for his initiation into the “Century Club.” Equally awesome was Canaan breaking the 5.12 barrier this past fall! He finished the year out with a total of sixteen 5.11s and three 5.12a’s (J Rat’s Back at the Red, and Morning Dew and Dead Painter’s Society, both at the New.)

As for me I tried to keep my goals as broad as possible in order to be able to mesh well with everyone else’s agendas. It kinda sounds corny, but honestly my main goal was really just to enjoy the fun side of family climbing again, after getting so bogged down with the Pudd’s Pretty Dress saga of 2020-2022. If you are unfamiliar with this saga, part of it can be read here. I got so burnt out on it in fall 2022 that I stopped writing about it, BUT the end of the story was told in a Power Company podcast episode found here. Full disclosure: It’s called the “Failure Episode” for a reason! (As a sidebar….getting the chance to be on the Power Company Podcast was probably one of the coolest climbing-related things I got todo in 2023! It definitely brought my experience full circle and helped me move on from my frustration.)

Cruxin’ out on Likme

Anyway, my goals could be summed up as follows…

MANIFEST DESTINY – This was the only specific route I had on my list for the year. It was the last undone line for me out of the seven 5.12s on the Hawksbill 12 Wall down in Linville Gorge. On paper it’s graded the easiest. But in reality, it was by far the hardest one for me. In fact, after I sent it in June, I realized that Manifest Destiny took more tries than any other route I’ve sent.

QUICK SEND FUN – In my quest to “make climbing great again” I wanted to remember how to send again, so outside of Manifest, I wanted to focus on the hardest grades I could send quickly – ie, 4-5 tries or less. This was super compatible with both CragDad and Canaan’s goals, and it was great fun working a lot of the same routes together each year! I also had a lowkey style goal to hop on more steeper, anti-style routes for me, which worked out great on Manifest Destiny as well as 2 week long trips to the Red. I ended my year with 9 new 5.12 sends, bringing my lifetime total up to 134. Perhaps I’ll make a “Century and a Half” run at some point in the coming years, but probably not for 2024! Here’s my 5.12 tick list for the year, in chronological order. (Fun fact: This is DEFINITELY the first time the majority of my 5.12 sends have come from the Red!)

Anti-stylin’ out the Planetarium roof at Hidden Valley

Likme 12a (7 go’s total, but the first 4 were a long time ago)
Crimp My Ride (2nd go)
Melungeon 12a (3 go’s)
Manifest Destiny 12b (28 go’s off and on since 2015, though serious attempts didn’t start til 2021)
Mass Hysteria 12a (5 tries)
Suppress the Rage 12a (4 tries)
Keepin’ It Real 12a (2 tries)
Summer Solstice 12b (2nd go DESPERATION MODE SEND!)
Dead Painter’s Society 12a (2nd go)

PROJECT SHOPPING? – This goal had a question mark with it b/c I wanted to be really careful to not get caught up in the projecting process again. By the time I sent Manifest, the rest of the family had gotten sucked into some of the other routes on the wall, so I decided to try the only other route left on the wall – Triple Bypass 13a. While most of the climbing is similar to the rest of the wall, there are two distinct bouldery moves that are definitely a step up in the power department. So with the rest of the family stoked on hiking down there again, this one is definitely going on my list for 2024 projects!

As far as other project shopping endeavors, I had reasonable-for-first-efforts success on a 13b down at Endless Wall called ‘Bout Time. The movement was fun but the crux is NAILS hard, so undetermined whether that one should go on the short list or not! A goal that still remains unchecked is trying out a few routes I’ve been talking about for years…namely Quinsana Plus. It just never seems to fit with all the other stuff we’re trying to do…that and I am quite intimidated by it so that’s probably more of an excuse than a legitimate reason. 🙂

WHAT ELSE FOR 2024? – As we roll into a new year, I’m coming up on the 2nd anniversary of officially starting my side hustle coaching business. As I’ve added more and more athletes to my training roster I’ve realized that I am way more stoked on designing THEIR programming than I am on designing MY programming! Decision fatigue is REAL, and b/c coaches need coaches too, I’m really excited to work with Lauren over at Good Spray for a 12 week block in a few weeks! This spring will hopefully feature another week at the Red as well as a bunch of weekends spent at our usual haunts. In the meantime over the winter you will probably find me doing just as much lifting as I am climbing these days, taking advantage of the off-season to build up some strength gains!

Let’s keep the stoke going! What are some achievements from 2023 that you are proud of? And what are you most looking forward to in 2024?!


Rocktober at Breaks Interstate Park + Red River Gorge

Big C crushing J Rat’s Back 12a

It’s been quite a long time, but welcome back to this little corner of the interwebs! For quite a while now I’ve been wanting to get back into blogging on the regular again, and a trip report about our most recent family adventure seemed like a perfect place to dive in! When I polled some of you on Instagram about specific topics you were most interested in reading about, an overwhelming majority of you all voted for “a little bit of everything!” So I’ll try my best to hit all the highlights from our trip without going down any epic long rabbit trails! (And for those of you that specifically requested Crag Profiles similar to these from Hidden Valley and the New River Gorge, don’t worry, those are in the works for later posts!)

First off, why the combo of Breaks + Red? Our original plan had actually been Horseshoe Canyon Ranch…which then morphed into Chattanooga…and THEN the Red. This was chosen in the name of redemption since our May trip featured terrible conditions that were barely even climbable most of the time! The Breaks was tacked on to the front end when we all had some climbs left “in the hopper” from a trip over Labor Day weekend the month prior. Logistically, the add-on made a lot of sense as well. It’s 2 hours closer, which made the Friday night drive easier. It is also NEVER crowded at the climbing areas, which would make weekend cragging a lot less hectic (as opposed to spending Days 1 and 2 at the Red during Rocktoberfest!)

Our preferred strategy for trips is to climb 2 days on, followed by 1 day off. That schedule allows us to climb fairly hard most days of the trip, and also lets us have some relaxed days to explore non-climbing offerings (which is especially helpful for Zoe, who doesn’t climb as much as the rest of us.) Last May we did a cave kayaking tour with Gorge Underground, and this time around we went UTV-ing with Out the Top Adventures. It doesn’t always work out that perfectly, but this time around we nailed it!

Keepin it Real 12a


This could probably be a whole series of posts in and of itself, but the CLIFF notes version (see what I did there?) is that we doubled down on endurance work about 6 weeks out from our trip. Our weekly training consisted of one day with LOTS of laps on our Treadwall, one day of LOTS of volume pitches on the new 55 ft walls at our gym, and one try hard bouldering day to keep strength/power topped off. (We also sprinkled in a handful of outdoor days on ropes, as well as some lifting sessions.)

We felt both fit AND strong
. For comparison, when we went to the Red in 2020, the gyms were closed leading up to the trip, and we ONLY had the treadwall…I’d never been more “fit” in my life, but the cost was losing a LOT of strength and power. It was great for the Red, but not so great for the New and other places I love to climb. Another data point was when we went to the Red this past May. Awful conditions were definitely a factor, but all that aside, I still think we swung a little too much the other way – hoarding power for fear that we’d lose it, so we ended up not feeling as fit as we’d hoped. This time around we hit a good balance for a week long trip to the Red that will (hopefully) still leave us with enough power for some hard projects at the New the rest of the fall!
Our tactics were dialed in. Though we don’t typically spend much if any time on ropes indoors leading up to a season (time/logistics w/kids/etc), bad weather + work schedules forced us inside most weekends. That led to some epic family enduro sessions on Sunday afternoons. These sessions afforded us a chance to not only work on redpoint skills like pacing and beta execution, but the influx of a new set every week let us practice pump management skills such as active resting on climbs that we DIDN’T ALREADY HAVE MEMORIZED. That last part is important, b/c that provided something that our treadwall training (or other traditional interval means like 4x4s) could NOT.

UTV Rest Day!

I mean, you can’t have TOO much fitness at the Red, right? Had I known earlier in the summer we were planning on the Red, I likely would have kept a little more lower-intensity time-under-tension in our programs. Also though, I knew most of the objectives we had chosen for the trip were more technical in nature, rather than the mega-steep pump fests the Red is known for. As NRG climbers at heart, we can’t help but find the New wherever we go haha! That said, had we put ourselves against some of the enduro test pieces in the region, I think we might have come up a little short?


If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say that logistics are often the crux, especially for climbers with kids, and ESPECIALLY ESPECIALLY for climber families that all get outside together! Luckily for us, each of our goals for this trip were fairly simple to combine together.

Z atop Simon Says 5.7

ZOE: On any given weekend day, she may or may not climb, but for these longer trips, she is more likely to want to tie in., This means we need something sub 5.10 nearby. We were able to make that happen on 3 out of our 6 climbing days (along with an epic rope swing on one of the other days!) Her tick list included toprope laps on the following:
Simon Says 5.7 A very thoughtful TALL face with an amazing view at the top! (Pinnacle Overlook, Breaks)
Jacob’s Ladder 5.9 (Sunnyside, Muir Valley, RRG) We all warmed up on Machete 10b, then set directionals on the shorter anchors of this one for her.
Chocolate River 5.9 (Chocolate Factory, RRG) Zoe’s 2nd route on the Gloop Slab (our previous trip in May we all took a lap up Augustus Gloops 5.9+). It was pretty reachy and she had to get hauled through some of it, but she enjoyed it a lot and has told many people about it since 😉

CANAAN: This kid’s main goal was to climb on at least one 5.10 and/or 5.11 each day, as well as start to toprope some harder stuff when available just to see how it feels. Notable sends for him included:
Weed-eater 11b (Sunnyside, Muir Valley, RRG) 2nd go, he stayed at the laydown rest so long we’d thought he’d fallen asleep.
Conscription 11c (Curbside, RRG) Also 2nd go, also with big laydown rest!
Dual Track 11b (Velo Crag, RRG) Flash! This was a rough warm-up for the day, but it was the only thing that was dry after the 30 min downpour that hit the minute we arrived at the crag! C was the only one out of the family to get the big move at the chains correct on his first try!
J Rats Back 12a (Chocolate Factory, RRG) FIRST 5.12 SEND!!!! And he did it second go!

CragDad on Ponies in the Desert 12a

Crag Dad + Cragmama: Our goals were basically the same so I’m lumping us together! Steve has been slowly but surely chipping away at a significant lifetime climbing milestone – 100 unique 5.12 sends. His main goal for this trip was to tick as many as possible on this trip, so that he would be in a good position to finish out that goal by the end of the year. He needed 5 at the start of the trip, and was able to add 3 new ones to his list. After spending the past several seasons with hard projecting agendas, I was psyched to support him on his goal while knocking back as many low 12s as possible. ,
Mass Hysteria 12a (Lower Lodges, Breaks) We both tried this one for the first time over Labor Day and couldn’t quite make it happen. This one is a banger. Even with amazing conditions compared to the sweat fest of Labor Day, we each still took 3 burns on the day to make it happen!
Suppress the Rage 12a (Sunnyside, Muir Valley, RRG) Another redemption send for both Steve and I after previously trying with terrible conditions! (Can you tell that weather on the east coast is a crux in and of itself?!?) I really enjoyed this route – crimpy, compressiony boulder problem down low, with a cool deadpoint move up high!
J Rats Back 12a (Chocolate Factory, RRG) Steve has had this one sitting in the hopper since 2017, when I sent, but he only had one chance on it b/c he’d been working something else. Back then who woulda thought the next time he got on it, he’d be sending alongside his then 7yo son?!!?
Keepin’ It Real 12a (Chocolate Factory, RRG) I’d already done J Rat as well as it’s neighbor to the right Mike Teavee, so I decided to try this line that I’d never seen anyone on before. It is decidedly not as good as the previously mentioned ones (sharp in places, very sandy in others), but the movement was actually quite cool. I’d say it’s definitely worth doing if you like hard crimpy cruxes!
Summer Solstice 12b (Velo Crag, RRG) This one was a bonus for me on the last day, and ended up being the highlight of my whole trip! A techy testpiece that would be more at home at Endless Wall than the Red, this one is 90 feet of precision, tension, and lockoffs. I loved all the movement except for the reachy first 2 bolts, which were non-moves for Steve, but for me featured awkward moves from feet so low I’m generating momentum from my tippy toes. The rest of it though…..absolutely amazing! I had to dig super deep at the top of this one, and I’m really proud of this 2nd go send to end our trip!

If you are reading this right as it is published (and you live in the Southeast), we’ve probably got just under a month left in the fall season. As for our crew, CragDad is hoping to hit lucky 100 before the end of the year, as well as do battle with an old nemesis from a few years ago, The Ruchert Motion 13a (more on our history with that route here). I’m gonna do a little bit of project shopping as I follow CragDad around, while Big C has a serious case of 5.12 fever (he actually just nabbed number 2 this past weekend at the New with a 2nd go send of Morning Dew!) Tell me in the comments how YOUR fall has been, and what you are hoping to accomplish in the last few weeks of fall!


NRG Boot Camp: A Story about the “Why”

(AKA…The Comment That Risked Our Marriage But Improved My Climbing)

Last week I officially opened registration for an NRG-specific training workshop I’ll be doing later this month. I wanted to use this space to tell you guys not only about what to expect from the workshop, but also to tell you why I’m so passionate about geeking out about NRG specific training!

My hubby and I have been climbing at the New since 2007. My 12yo son spent his first night under the stars there in 2010 when he was only 2 months old, and before my now 8yo daughter had turned one, she had hitched a ride down the Endless Wall ladders in our backpack carrier. We have created so many family memories at this place that it feels like a second home to all of us!

“The move” on Flash Point (Momentum + Power!)

And as far as our climbing journey goes, the New has been our greatest teacher. But by “great teacher” I don’t mean in a fun-loving, whimsical Mary Poppins sort of way. I mean more like an Albus Dumbledore, “you’ll learn the most when you are placed in situations where you have to figure it out for yourself” sort of vibe. In fact, our very first trip to the New was the weekend of the ’07 New River Rendezvous, and I remember being worried that we wouldn’t even be able to make it thru the 3 day event. We had never climbed back to back days before b/c we were still in that novelty phase of getting SO SORE after a day outside!

But eventually we got over that, and the New quickly went into our rotation of weekend warrior crags – along with various NC crags, Obed, the Red, and Hidden Valley once it reopened. As the years went by, we progressed thru the grades and started seeking out harder routes. Eventually though, I started noticing a disturbing trend. While my “crew” all climbed more or less the same grades at most places, I was finding myself getting shut down more and more at the New, while everyone else was still enjoying the same success rate. Since ALL of my climbing partners were tall dudes, I initially assumed that all the harder routes at the New were just “height dependent” and there was nothing I could do about it. Playing to my case were the numerous instances where I would struggle on a section that was literally a non-move for everyone else. (“How did you do this move?!?” “Uh, I just grabbed that hold.”)

Now, most everyone who’s spent any length of time at the New is probably aware that there might be a grain of truth to PART of that statement. Though the term “height-dependent” might be a little strong, the New IS known for it’s “reachiness.” The rock is bullet hard and there are often sections where the wall just doesn’t have a lot of features, even at the moderate grades. But that’s where the truth part ends, and the choice to accept or reject a limiting belief begins! Because the idea that nothing could be done to improve my plight was completely FALSE, though unfortunately I bought into it for longer than I’d like to admit!

This is where the comment that risked our marriage but improved my climbing comes into the story. It all started with Flash Point, a tall 11d on perfect stone right smack dab in the middle of Endless Wall. There are 3 distinct cruxes, each one requiring a slightly different skill set, but all with one thing in common – the moves are looooooong. On my first attempt that day, I confidently set off thru the opening moves, and quickly found myself staring down the first crux – a big deadpoint to a decent ledge. I then proceeded to flail about for at least 30 minutes. Up, down, finagle a weird body position, up again, down again, take a fall. Dangle, look, listen to all the guys saying, “Just go for it!” Up again, down again, AD NAUSEAM.

Eventually I just came back down, too frustrated to even get back on it again. Later that night, as my hubby and I were debriefing back at camp, he looked at me and dropped the bomb.

Tipped out on the high crux on Flash Point (Lockoff + Tension!)

Him (casually): “I was kinda surprised you gave up on it so easily…”
Me: (side eye)
Him (a little more hesitant): “…it kinda looked like you weren’t really even trying.”
Me: (more side eye)
Him: (perhaps wishing he had kept his mouth shut)

My first reaction was that of indignance. I thrashed around on that ONE MOVE for 30 minutes! How could he possibly accuse me of not trying?!? But then I went back and watched some video footage. IT LOOKED LIKE I WASN’T TRYING HARD AT ALL! What was the problem?

Later that week it hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that while yes, I WAS giving 100% effort, I was giving 100% effort to the WRONG type of movement! When moves got big, I had one go to – high foot, hips in, and lock off for all I’m worth. A very valuable strategy, (and DEFINITELY SKILLS THAT WE WILL DISCUSS IN THE WORKSHOP!!), but the problem was that when that beta didn’t work for me, I had nothing else in my toolbox to try, so my only option was to flail around til I was exhausted and then give up, defeated.

And now for the teachable moment (picture Harry Potter suddenly realizing that HE is the final horcrux). Maybe the problem all along wasn’t the New and it’s “reachiness.” Maybe the problem was…me and the fact that I was a one trick pony. (Cue Taylor Swift, “Anti-Hero”)

From that point on, I went on a quest to become smarter about my try hard. I learned how to climb with momentum. I learned how to use body tension to my advantage. I lifted heavy. I intentionally chose projects that exploited my weaknesses. And the next time I came back to the New? I sent Flash Point in fine style. And as an added bonus, I quickly realized that by working on all these weaknesses the NRG had called me out on, I actually had improved my climbing EVERYWHERE!

I’m not gonna lie…the Flash Point story happened 10 years ago. And though I have seen steady improvement, even eventually working my way up to 5.13 at the New, I still run into long moves I can’t do on the regular. But the difference now is that I’ve got a whole arsenal of movements I can tap into, depending on what kind of try hard is needed. And if I still get shut down?!? No one calls me out on not trying hard anymore!!!

So how is this story connected to the NRG Boot Camp? It was the catalyst for 10+ years of training specifically for weekend warrior projects at the New with my whole family in tow. And while I’ve seen a fair amount of success (42 NRG sends from 12a -13a), I’ve also made a lot more mistakes along the way than just the one in this story. My goal with this workshop is to share all that I’ve learned in the hopes that others can find success (and maybe learn from some of my mistakes rather than having to make them all themselves!)

Now that you’ve heard my “why”, let me tell you the details of the “what” and “how.” This workshop will be a 60 min deep dive that first breaks down NRG climbing into specific skills and concepts, then provides tangible ways to improve upon those skills. I will be sharing the movement drills, strength and mobility exercises (both on and off the wall), and projecting tactics that I regularly program for both myself as well as other athletes that climb at the New. By the end of the 60 min, you’ll have a whole host of practical ideas to add to your sessions in the coming weeks as you prepare for spring season. And if you have a question specific to YOU and the NRG, there will be a Q + A afterwards. The entire workshop (including Q + A) will be recorded and sent out to all registrants afterwards, so if you can’t make it live, you can still participate. That said, there will be a special incentive in the form of a giveaway for those that attend live, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, here’s the link for signing up (after which I’ll email out the link for the workshop!), and feel free to hit me up with any questions you’ve got!


2021 Reflections and 2022 Goals

Raise your hand if you like to geek out over climbing stats this time of year?!? I know I do. It’s fun to look back and see what I accomplished versus what I didn’t quite get to, and then use that information to make new goals for the next year. 2021 was a year of ups and downs for me. I sent a lot of routes that were meaningful to me, and also took almost all of the fall season to fail on something that also very meaningful to me. I was blessed to be able to get 48 days out on the rock at 10 different climbing areas in the Southeast. New to me sends broke down like this…

Traverse Crux on Shaman 13a

13a: 2
12d: 2
12b/c: 1
12b: 1
12a: 6

I did a pretty thorough recap of the spring of this year on a previous blog post found here. So rather than go through all of that again, this most will focus mostly on summer and fall with regards to my 2021 goals.

  1. FINISH THE 12 WALL AT MIDDLE HAWKSBILL Uncheck, but I made good progress. After crossing off Appalachian Spring over Mother’s Day, I went back for The Courageous Grace Greenlee 12d in the early days of summer (beta videos here and here,) and was able to dispatch it fairly quickly, as the crux was very hard but short-lived. This fall I was able to get in a really good day of work on the last 5.12 of the wall, Manifest Destiny 12b. I still haven’t touched the 13a. This goal has been on the list for several years now, and while it’s not crossed off yet, it felt good to take several big steps towards it this year!
  2. STEALTH N MAGIC 12d – CHECK! (Spring, beta vid here)
  3. LOGOTHERAPY 13a – CHECK! (Spring, beta vid here)
  4. PUDD’s PRETTY DRESS 12d – Uncheck. Ugh, I swear it’s almost physically painful to write “uncheck” for this one. I put my heart and soul into this one once again, and once again, came up just short. Towards the end of the very last day on it, I tried a different way to use the redpoint crux hold that changed the entire sequence and made it substantially easier. It took me another burn to get the feet sorted out with the better beta, then my last go of the season I fell with my fingertips just touching the next hold. Ironically, I had the finish so dialed I was hardly even pumped. The following weekend Endless Wall was closed b/c of a forest fire. The next two weekends featured cold rain. Womp womp. That said, this rock climb continues to teach me things (even after almost 30 tries!), and I’m not going to give up on it. I do feel like I need a mental break from it though, so I will probably put it on the list for next fall, rather than this coming spring.
Canaan crushing it at Aquarock in July


NEW AREAS: This doesn’t happen very often anymore, especially on years we stay close to home without a big trip out west. But I got to explore 3 new areas this year! The first was a tiny little crag hidden in the woods beneath Upper Creek Falls in western NC. We liked it b/c it offered hard climbing in the shade, and the kids liked it b/c of the swimming hole and natural water slide (honestly, we ALL liked that part!) The second was Breaks Interstate Park along the VA/KY border. Guys, this place is pretty amazing! We spent 5 days out there this fall, and are hoping for many more next year! (Oh yeah, and the guidebook is a must have. You can get it here.) The last new to me area I’m almost ashamed to say I hadn’t been to before now – Looking Glass, NC! I managed to escape for a multi-pitch day sans the rest of the fam to climb while the illustrious Bryan Miller (FixedLineMedia) took some images.

FIRST TRAD 12 – Speaking of trad climbing, I also hit another milestone this year – my first 5.12 done entirely on gear. (Boldfingers out at Rumbling Bald, see the spring post for more)

AQUAROCK – While comps are not typically my thing, my son and I entered the Aquarock DWS comp together, and we had a blast! I was so stinkin’ proud of him!!! (And he was my biggest cheerleader when I ended up on the 3rd place podium!)

Trying hard on The Courageous Grace Greenlee 12d

2022 Objectives

As for next year, I’ve broken my 2022 objectives down into seasons:

WINTER: Get strong in the weight room and on the hangboard. And if I can find someone willing to hoof it out to the far side of Rumbling Bald, send Spiders and Snakes 12a.

SPRING: Send some 2nd tier quick redpoints in prep for Ten Sleep in May. I’d also love to try Quinsana Plus 13a either in the spring or the fall to see if it would be a good longer term project for me. In Ten Sleep I will attempt to find the balance between onsight climbing and finding a 5.13 that will go during few weeks I have out there.

SUMMER: Take down the last unchecked 5.12 on the wall, Manifest Destiny 12b. Then try Triple Bypass 13a to see if it’s worth dragging the family back down for that one.

FALL: Pudd’s. Just Pudd’s. Here’s hoping it won’t take me all season. 😉

How bout everyone else? How many boxes were you able to check off for 2021? What new goals are you looking forward to acheiving in 2022?


First Ascent Board Game


Raise your hand if you like board games. Anyone? I know our famly loves a good game night. So we were thrilled to get the opportunity to check out a new climbing-themed board game a few weeks ago. The game is called “First Ascent,” designed by Philadelphia-based climbers Kate Otte and Garrett Gibbons.

First Ascent can be played with 2-5 players, and takes 45-90 minutes to play. It is recommended for ages 14+. From the official game description: “The goal in this strategic and competitive game is to gain the most points by climbing the best route up the mountain and becoming the most skilled climber!” Our family got to play several times over the course of a few weeks. Here’s what we thought about the game and our experiences with it…

It me!

AGE: The recommended age range for First Ascent is 14+. Upon opening the box, it was obvious that we were used to much simpler game nights with our 11 and 7yo! There’s just so much to manage – skills, and gear, and objectives, oh my! I was a little worried about whether my kids could handle it. But the game creators made a fantastic video that went thru every little detail of the game, which really helped us get a feel for how everything was supposed to flow. There are two different ways to play – the full version, and Guide Mode, with the latter being a lot simpler and easier to learn. Since our kids are definitely on the younger end of the spectrum for First Ascent, Guide Mode was perfect for the whole family to be involved. My 11yo picked it up right away, and my 7yo got by with just a little help. Even in guide mode the game was still really fun – it didn’t feel “dumbed down” at all, just less complicated b/c there are far fewer things to keep track of all at once (much like when you have an actual guide to help you navigate a new place!)

CHARACTERS: At the start of the game, each player chooses one of ten characters, each with unique attributes that factor into the strategy of game play. The coolest part is that each character is not just a stereotypical persona, but based on a real climber! A few (like the Free Soloist), are pretty obvious, but most are a refreshing representation of diversity in climbing. For obvious reasons, my favorite is the CragMama, although admittedly I might be a little biased. Other popular characters in our family were the Young Prodigy, Cool-headed Crimper, and the Dirtbag.

The set up.

GAME DESIGN: The artwork in First Ascent is amazing! It is very evident how much thought was put into every detail on every card (ie, Cragmama’s home crag is the New River Gorge, and the bridge spans the backdrop of her character card.) The mountain on the board itself is composed of hex tiles (referred to in the game as “pitches.”) The pitches are actual names of real rock climbs, and our family had a lot of fun picking out which ones we had done/knew about. The hex tiles are put out at random at the start of every game, and points are earned when pitches are successfully “climbed.” Points can also be earned by completing other objectives that are drawn out of a separate deck each game. You know how some games get repetitive and boring after a while? The randomness of this board set up combined with all the unique attributes of the individual characters and the differing objective cards means that every game feels like a completely different experience and strategy.

Summersville ladders representing!

In addition to climbing, skill, and gear cards, there are several very creatively designed game pieces, from lengths of rope to colored cubes that represent water and psych. Sometimes individual turns can take a long time, but my 7yo stayed at the table b/c all of the pieces kept her interest while she was waiting!

BOTTOM LINE: While clearly designed with the climbing crowd in mind, I’m pretty sure anyone who enjoys strategic board games will enjoy “First Ascent.” It’s similar to games like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride, in that the game itself is just plain fun to play, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re into the “theme” or not.) It’s a perfect way to pass the hours away on a rainy day when you’re stuck inside and can’t climb, or to introduce some climbing fun to the rest of your family.

HOW CAN YOU GET IT? I was hoping you’d ask! The kickstarter for First Ascent launches TODAY!!! If you’d like to be a part of it, go here to see the different levels of support you can be a part of to get this project off the ground!