Gyms today are becoming more and more refined, with sleek white walls, LED light-up panels and fine timber finishes. We are really seeing indoor climbing venues pushing the limits and boundaries of what we first perceived as indoor rock climbing. So much so that this world of indoor climbing is beginning to step away from its roots in rocks and cliffs, with concrete walls designed to resemble the local crag, to displays of architectural wizardry and candy coloured polyurethane sculptures. We are trading a beautiful setting of wilderness, for beautiful route setting (and good coffee).
Regardless of how you feel about this indoor movement, and despite my lengthy introduction, I think we as climbers can all appreciate beautiful setting. But then, what IS beautiful setting. At this point I should warn you, I intentionally did not sift through hours and hours of blogs and podcasts to synthesise and compress the current industry opinion of what good setting looks like because, to be honest, I’m not sure I care what industry opinion is. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder right? We all know a so and so from our local gym who just raves about that
We all know a so and so from our local gym who just raves about that grovilly corner climb that was set by the most inexperienced route setter in the team, I mean people dedicate themselves to off-width climbing right!? And then there are the world cups that display the most exclusive and illustrious hold brands that seem to be so out of reach to most of us (at least here in Australia), with novel and exciting movements from some of the world’s most famed setters, using features and volumes that are probably more expensive then the car most of us drive. This space begins to feel very elitist very quickly.
So then, what is good route setting?
As aforementioned, it’s a tricky one, because well, we are all different shapes and sizes, we have different strengths and weaknesses and we all have an image of ourselves that drives what kind of ‘climber’ or ‘boulderer’ or ‘dry tooler’ we think we want to be. But then, if we look closer, as a setter, or a facility manager, there is a common theme here and that’s variety. Variety of difficulty, of terrain and of styles. Everything from the majestic roof proj. to the horrendous corner slab weirdness.
As a setter, sorry, as a GOOD setter, you should be able to set that variety and willing to take on feedback from the 4ft nothing girl that just wants an extra foot. The routes and the boulders in a facility are driven by the clientele who utilise it. Which means that a good setter responds and adjusts to the climbers who climb their routes. On top of this, it’s likely that as your client base gets stronger, physically and metaphorically, your setters need to continuously adapt and change to the evolving demands on the facility. So not only do they need to set for who you’ve got but depending on the lifespan of your routes, maybe who you WILL have in the future.
We could go deeper here and even suggest that your setting team then influence the development of your climbing community. What they set and how they set changes the way your climbers approach climbs. If your setting is basic and not particularly mentally challenging, your climbers will be strong but not all that smart. The same goes for the other way round. If the emphasis is on technical climbing, your climbers may lack raw power.
Well set out facilities are enjoyable to climb at because they make sense and provide this variety at all levels. It’s a hard thing to achieve (this is where a good head setter comes in), and with the ever changing industry, there is also a push to provide new and exciting experiences to keep your patrons coming back. But this doesn’t change those fundamental components that your setting team should deliver.
This subsequently means that your setting team need to be able to set to a plan. If the aim of the boulder is to provide something technical and delicate, it’s not particularly useful if your setters give you a dyno. I guess this is where the testing and tweaking component comes in. However, I digress, back to good setting.
So, really good setting encompasses a very wide range of actual climbs, difficulties and styles. What it really needs to do is serve a purpose. Good setting delivers a specific thing so that every climber is accounted for. It delivers a concise and specific product. It fulfils it’s brief. Your powerful deadpoint is a powerful deadpoint for everyone, and not static for Tod and dynamic for Jerry. Your accessible climbs are technically and physically simple and your difficult climbs are both simple and technical. I mean, some people like jumping to crimps, and some people like moving their feet 42 times in 3 hand movements.
So good setting is like good design (yes I know this has been suggested before). Some of the best designs just ‘feel’ right, like the ergonomics of a drill, or the backrest of a seat. Going further, the BEAUTIFUL design does this in new and interesting ways. Which means that good setters, really good setters, are great designers. Designers of movement AND visual presence. The best setters set the climbs that you need in ways that are both enjoyable (or unenjoyable if that is what is needed) and visually appealing. It’s like designing a new mobile phone every time you set. It needs to be nice to look at, but also intuitive to interact with and ergonomic to hold.
So beautiful setting is like, well, a beautiful piece of product design. It looks good, it feels good, it works good and it does what it’s supposed to do.