Zen and the Art of Route Setting

The end of 2017 was littered with more events than you could poke a stick at, with National boulder titles, the National coaching workshop, the Australian team training in Queensland and setting workshop, and ending with the Chris Sharma Topped Out boulder event at Nomad.

I’m tired just thinking about it.

This is not really how I intended to start this post, hence the heading, but I suppose I’m setting myself up for an excuse as to why it’s taken me so long to post another blog after the WYCH one. Regardless, I’m sorry, I’ve been busylazy (my new word for procrastination linked with an overwhelming amount of work) but I’m back now and I’ve got T-shirts for everyone (special bonus points if you get the Reel Big Fish reference).

So, without digressing any further, the subject matter for this post is

‘Tonde Katyo’

Tonde made a trip down south, supported by our national body, Sport Climbing Australia, to impart his route setting wisdom to Industry professionals through a small handful of setting workshops, Boulder Nationals and a National team training camp. I was lucky enough to be a part of the setting workshop prior to the Australian team training event in Queensland, along with the coaches workshop at Boulder Nationals (a topic for another blog).

There has been a little bit of hype around Tonde over the past 24 months, at least in my circles, talking about how excellent the setting workshops run by Tonde are, and let me tell you that the hype is real. He just has a way of explaining things that dissipates the fog and brings some of the most complex, sometimes esoteric ideas, into simple, crystal clear resolution.

I’d listened to a podcast that interviewed Tonde, where he introduced his ideas around RIC grading and the fact that routesetting is design and not art, so many of the ideas were not completely groundbreaking and new, but the process, the thoughtful and persistent analysis of each piece of design we put forward was inspiring. Does it fulfil the brief? Is it suitable for the intended audience? How does it fit in with the whole? Does it have the appropriate elements of each of the R.I.C scalars? So much analysis of the movement, the emotion created from the interaction, it was like we created a whole new space in which to create and play.

I don’t know if I would say that my setting got better, but it definitely became more thoughtful. Tonde’s words “That’s a thing” kept playing in my head every time I stared at a wall with a drill in my hand. I wanted each boulder to express some idea or feel something when you pulled on. I can also say unequivocally that I took it too far too, with an overwhelming desire for the feeling of “confusion” or “befuddlement” stacking blockers on blockers and layering holds together like a puzzle. Those that climb at Bayside, or on some of my recent boulders can attest to this. I guess when you find something new that you want to explore, you have to take it to some logical conclusion. I’ve subsequently tried to reign in my enthusiasm and focused on what is necessary, rejoicing in the simple as well as the complex.

I suppose the most important thing that I took away from it all though, was that route setting is like any craft. Just as a woodworker is judged not only on the functionality of his piece, he is also measured by the aesthetics, the quality of the joinery, the skill in which he has picked and utilised the grain of the timber and of course the safety of his workspace (because it is really hard to make tables with no fingers……. I would imagine). So much can go into a great product and this focus is exactly what is being pushed for internationally. Quality over quantity.

Because I’d always rather climb a great boulder lots than climb a lot of boring boulders……..