On April 18, hundreds of climbers will gather at climbing gyms across the country to participate in the sixth annual First Descents Climbathon. The goal is to climb indoor routes continuously while raising money for the various programs offered by First Descents, a nonprofit founded by Brad Ludden that provides whitewater kayaking, surfing, climbing and other outdoor adventure opportunities for young adults with cancer.

Similar to a walk-a-thon, climbers of all ages and skill levels are invited to participate by registering and collecting donations from sponsors. Registration costs $30 which includes a day pass and First Descent t-shirt. Partnering gyms donate time, space, equipment and staff.

In addition to the fundraising component, participants are encouraged to set and meet personal goals. Last year, Development Officer Ramsay Pierce set a goal to lead her first sport route as part of the Climbathon.

“Part of what First Descents is so passionate about is getting people out of their comfort zones and reminding them that they’re strong and capable. It’s a great way to find courage ourselves and honor the courage of people in our lives,” she said. “We’ve lost many participants and we are honoring and remembering their courageous spirits just for going out on one of our programs.”

While the event is open to everyone, many of the participants are alumni of the First Descents programs. One of their biggest goals is to provide a sense of community and the ability to connect with people who have had similar shared experiences.

“It’s really important to us to keep that alive all over the country as people come into and leave our programs. They can’t keep having that same first experience over and over again, but it’s the start of something they can have for the rest of their lives,” said Pierce.

The first Climbathon was held in April 2010, shortly after First Descents had introduced climbing into its program offerings. Two gyms participated that first year, including the Boulder Rock Club. There were about 30 participants that collectively raised $7,500.

Since then, the event has grown tremendously. Last year’s event raised more than $30,000 and featured 400 participants climbing at 19 different gyms across the country.