This post is actually not about drinking at all. So if you were clicking on this thinking this was going to be an exploration of how beer is such an effective partner to climbing through Germany, and how we should push to include this in our indoor facilities here at home….. it’s not……. so stop thinking about it.

some big volumes up at Urban Climb Collingwood

This is actually another think piece about indoor route setting quality. I have touched on this subject repetitively over the past 6 months and as more and more facilities open in my hometown and up and down the coast of Australia, the subject is becoming more and more important.

It will be interesting to see how the flood of facilities begin to shape the styles and setting focus, as more and more of the ‘users’ are not hardcore climbers. Will their tastes change?

Sarah Hay enjoying some giant Kilter holds in her new facility in NZ

We have already seen a huge movement away from bad holds on steep walls. 360 has started producing some of the largest holds on the planet and holds like these have significantly altered the challenge that both setters and ‘climbers’ face in the gym. Indoor climbing is beginning to be less about what you can hold onto and more about how well you can move.

360 HOLDS volume only climb, not a hold in sight

Don’t get me wrong, as difficulty progresses, the difficulty is increased (sometimes) by reducing handhold and foothold size, but sometimes the real challenge is how to use this gigantic hold in front of you. Where do you hold it? Where do you stand on it? What combination of foot movements, hand movements and hip movements allow you to progress? The complexity of what the climber faces is increasing dramatically. The focus shifts from spending years training physically to climb a boulder to spending hours contemplating how to climb a boulder.

Subsequently, the demands on the setting industry are changing immensely. The addition of system training walls into almost every modern facility is likely helping this along. With ‘hardcore’ athletes seeking physical gains moving into this steeper terrain, where they aren’t limited by their facilities setting demands and limitations. They can make any move as hard or as easy as they require without it impacting the other gym users.

This shift means that climbing is becoming more and more accessible to the everyday human. You no longer need to have suffered through ‘jug rash’ and pulley injuries to enjoy complex movements and the ‘boulder cave’.

This shift also means that our industry begins to face other challenges. Expensive holds and volumes becoming the norm. Route setting hours increasing. Larger holds mean lower density of climbs as they take up more space. This all impacts route setting frequency. Do your customers climb the same boulders more than once, once they figure it out? How long should a boulder stay up once it’s solved? Are customers hungry for the next challenge? Do you have the variety of movements across all of your grade ranges?

Phone a friend? 360 telephones look almost like modern art installations

Soon your head routesetter will need a masters in excel to manage all the variables and distributions appropriately.



As promised, I have put together a short write up from last years National training camp with Tonde in Queensland, when the majority of the Australian youth team, a few Open athletes and a handful of keen setters, descended upon Urban Climbs facility in Milton for a bouldering fiesta.

Granted this is very late, but the lessons learned are still important.

The first thing we tried to get athletes to understand is that this is a game. And the more you think about it, the more you understand how important this is. This idea began with Royal Robbins, outlining the rules of ascension in Yosemite and still holds true for today’s modern competition warfare, save one thing (or 5 in some cases), the “routesetter”.

Will, Tommy and Josh

The trick is this, in competition, and some cases commercial setting too, route setters are not only building physical challenges for your body, but also emotional challenges for your mind. The game has stepped up a notch, with what used to be a simple show of athleticism, is now a complex dance of minimising frustration, allowing space for creativity, performing coordinated stunts and minimising fatigue. Routesetters create a round in boulder competitions to not only provide you with complex climbing problems but a series of emotional traps. Designed to shake you down, frustrate and upset you and break you emotionally. So that by the time you finish, you’ve been sucked into trying the hardest problem 7 times in 5 minutes, you had no energy for the final ‘easy’ boulder and you’re not sure you will ever grow the skin back on your fingers, all because that first boulder had the most frustrating slippery right foot you’ve ever seen and you just can’t help looking back at it everytime you step up to the next boulder.

Sounds rough hey? Well, it is. But there is a certain power when you realise that that’s the game. Make it through without the frustration and you’re already winning (against the setters that is), AND you are putting yourself in the best position to perform your best.


Understanding the boulder round

Once we uncovered the tools of the trade to our athletes we provided them with a simple tool to help manage and regulate their time (and emotions) through each boulder of the round. The idea is that you break up the 5 minutes into 5 partitions (one per minute). 1st minute – inspecting the boulder, 2nd minute – 1st attempt, 3rd minute – 2nd attempt, 4th minute – 3rd attempt, 5th minute – attempt only if you are SURE you can top it. Simple enough, but hard to follow, especially when there are a handful of caveats. Dynos and slabs tend to break these rules. Then during your 5-minute rest, the idea is to forget whatever happened in the last 5 minutes and move on.

5-minute guidelines

The two days were really great, with a frustrating single shot round to wake everyone up, followed by a hard semi-final round for athletes to test themselves, learn the rules, try the time management strategy and hopefully do a little better.

Maddies many faces

Huge shoutout once again to Urban Climb, as well as the grand master Tonde.

So there you have it. Everything you need to become an international competitive bouldering star. Well, at least you know the new rules anyway. Next up will be some insights into the recent lead nationals and some of my new thoughts for lead, based on the R.I.C values Tonde shared with me earlier last year.

Let me start by saying that I am bias, very bias. I mean I am a ‘professional’ route setter, in that I get paid (most of the time) to put plastic climbing holds on indoor climbing walls for people to climb on.

Will, Tommy and Josh

For the most part it is a dream job, and I would like to think that I take my craft pretty seriously. I am always striving to get better, learn from feedback and focus on improving safety and processes. I find inspiration from social media, watching world cups and listening to interviews from top international setters. Adidas Rockstars, Hardmoves, Psychobloc, all of it pushing our sport further and further.

route setter looking at wall

I have done my fair share of volunteering, for pretty major competitions too, state titles, nationals even. I am pretty passionate about climbing in Australia, so for the most part I understand that the money just isn’t there yet to pay the setting team, and so many of us miss out. However, sometimes, the lack of funding for our setters is endemic of a mentality that doesn’t value the craft of setting, and this infuriates me. When it comes to competitions and commercial setting, the main product that is being provided and marketed is the setting. Without it, being appropriate, interesting and safe, the quality of the event or gym suffers. If a gym was a person, the setting would be the food it ate. Regular re-sets, would be like eating regularly, and good quality setting would be like a healthy balanced diet. Without good setting and regular re-sets, the gym becomes unhealthy or just fades away and dies.

The other thing about supporting your setters, is that by doing so you support your whole climbing community. It is very rare to find setters that aren’t at or close to the epicentre of any climbing community. Keeping good setters psyched and motivated filters through the local climbing community and motivates everyone to frequent the gym, especially with high rotation of routes or boulders, clients are motivated to finish projects before they get stripped.

Brushing team brushes a hold Ned climbing out of a roof

Finally, people notice quality. No matter the patron, climber, birthday goer or parent. People can see when a gym or climbing facility is well maintained. Holds are clean, gear is put away, movements are enjoyable, holds ergonomic and there is something for everyone. Good quality setting, especially in the easy to moderate grades also promotes good quality movement and a natural learning pathway for patrons.

So show your setters some love. Encourage them to be better, more creative and safer with what they do. And don’t forget that as is the nature of this world, you get what you pay for!


If you have ever attended one of my workshops, seen one of my junior classes, or run through a private session with me, you will have undoubtedly heard me talk about good footwork. Watching your foot onto the hold, using just your toes, thinking about inside and outside edge, accuracy, stepping with purpose…… all these things are the foundations of good footwork. Your shoes last longer, you foot slip less and generally you climb better.
Good footwork, really good footwork, goes far beyond these simple things and sometimes even contradicts them.

Ned climbing at Bayside
Ned puts new meaning to the term ‘high step’

Ben showing proper bat hang style in 'mantle town'
Ben showing proper bat hang style in ‘mantle town’

Let me start by really shaking the tree….. Well…. Maybe……
Technique classes are good and good climbing technique is good, but sometimes good technique is bad, when good technique doesn’t get you to the top. I mean, getting to the top is what it is really all about right? I mean sure, you can use every drop knee, heel hook, egyptian and rose in the climb, but if it doesn’t get you to the chains, then it didn’t do its job.

Good technique is all about saving energy. It allows you to move through what would otherwise be difficult and ‘gripping’ sections of a climb, so that you arrive at a point after that with enough energy to continue. So keeping that in mind, if it takes you more energy to get into that deep ‘drop knee’ than you save from the move itself, you are really doing yourself a disfavour by using it. This goes for optimal footwork too, well really it pretty much goes for everything.

Even pro climbers don't always stick to the 'rules' wearing socks in shoes
Even pro climbers don’t always stick to the ‘rules’ wearing socks in shoes

Some of the strongest and best climbers I have ever seen are all about front step and pull (naming no names here!…). Whilst I may climb something with relative ease, by using a heel hook, toe hook or drop knee, they find it entirely easier to cut and campus. Does this mean they are using ‘bad’ footwork? Maybe. But does it matter?

Campbell Campuses
Campbell cuts the rubbish and just campuses

Will campuses
Me, doing a heavy person imitation of Campbell

What I guess I am really trying to get at is the best footwork is the footwork that works, and more over that works for you. This doesn’t mean stop working your foot precision, drop knees and heel hooks, but rather, take one step further and try to recognise when an optimal opportunity arises to use it. Understand the reason WHY that foot placement works or better yet, doesn’t work, and use that to continually evaluate your decisions on the wall.

Sarah on slab
Sarah Davis, queen of the technical, shows us some stylish slab

Maybe next time you hit a technical crux that demands a drop knee into a knee bar, the better beta for you will be to cut and campus!