Words and Video by David Lee
Music: Hyukoh – Burning Youth
Midweek I come in to the gym more excited than usual because often a new set of boulder problems is put up. The fresh holds without grease from caked up chalk and shoe rubber are simply enchanting, and seduce all of us climbers to hop on, feel the texture, pull, and send.
A new set means that any unsent, or proudly sent project from the previous set is now gone. This may be disappointing, but at the same time it provides the opportunity to see how all the hard work on the previous set translates into the new set. A move one struggled on a previous set might feel much easier. On the other hand, one might run into a specific movement or hold that exposes a previously unidentified weakness. And the pure psyche of meeting an unknown boulder problem keeps one going, and when everything aligns perfectly, this sometimes leads to breaking into a higher grade.
Therefore routesetting is perhaps the most crucial part of a climbing gym, and behind this, of course, is the routesetters. All of our routesetters are incredibly strong, but even more passionate about setting boulder problems and sport routes that everyone can climb and train stoked and safe. Based on one’s style of climbing, each setter comes up with the holds, movements, and lines that are fun to set, exciting to climb, and aesthetically pleasing. More importantly, the setters take into serious consideration the fairness and safety of the problems. Through the process of forerunning, setters attempt to find intended or alternative moves that can be excessively difficult or easy for climbers of different characteristics, most notably, height. The setters further attempt to identify unintended moves that can pose hazard to climbers. One time Devan, one of our Sender One routesetters, set a beautiful line consisting of big blue volcano-looking holds from start to finish. Based on other setters’ concerns that climbers may get their feet jammed in the giant volcanoes and injure the ankle, Devan, after much trial and error, managed to preserve the essence of the problem while significantly reducing potential danger. While routesetting is an expression of each setter’s style, creativity, and pride in climbing, the setters fundamentally strive to create a climbing terrain that the entire climbing community can enjoy.
All this process – stripping the holds from the previous set, planning and setting a new problem, forerunning and making adjustments, assigning grades and cleaning up – certainly takes a full day’s work. This does not include the time the setters climb or train to get even stronger such that they can come up with more creative, fun, and useful moves for all levels of climbing. So when you see the setters next time, why don’t you give them a good pat on the back, and let them know what you like or don’t like about problems and routes? They seem to appreciate the feedback to continue to set even more exciting climbs. Oh, to reveal a secret behind their insane power and skills in climbing, the setters much frequent a great local pizza place during their lunch breaks.