One of the beautiful things about this life is that nothing is ever perfect. Somehow, all these chaotic elements get thrown together and create beautiful sunsets, amazing rock features and hands capable of squeezing, pulling and crimping their way to the summit. Not wanting to step too far into the realms of spirituality and such, these things amaze me. It is this ‘imperfection’ I think that continually drives us to find more, push harder and better ourselves in the areas of our lives that we are most passionate about. Or at least it should.

Dan Gorden on male problem 2
One of the beautiful moments of setting at night

Part of my role as the head setter for the Australian Nationals this year will be to review and reflect on how the setting team performed and how well the ‘problems’ we set fulfilled their intended purpose. If you managed to read my earlier post, ‘#mysetter’ you would have read how impressed I was with the teams performance, especially with all the pressures and confines of the event. Setting for 16 categories in 2 days and 2 nights, with 10 categories having finals and 2 categories having semi finals. That’s 28 sets of boulders put up and taken down for a 3 day comp…………. 

Still, as I stated in my opening paragraph, nothing is perfect, and one of the things that drives me is the pursuit of constant improvement towards that perfection. So that vein, the junior problems were a little hard, but we did not account for how fatigued the athletes would be after 3 days of competing, plus the junior finals were the first boulders we set AND the 8 boulders set had to suffice for 6 categories, spanning from 14 year old girls to 19 year old men……. excusable.

However, the open female boulders, were too hard, too burly, too…. well, male centric. The qualifications were too hard, the semi’s were too hard and the finals were too hard. I failed to rectify the problem in both the second 2 rounds. Tired minds, tired bodies, either way, it didn’t work.

Female Final 1
The Purple volumes were just too tough for the women

It has been something that I have been reflecting on since the event. Ideally, a prefect comp is where all problems get at least one top and competitors are split based primarily on tops and attempts to tops. The first women’s final had no tops. Not one, and the women were as fresh as they could have been. Talking this over with World Cup climber James Kassay, he was pretty blunt….. “so, I need to teach you how to set for women apparently”. I completely agreed. But as we talked we came to a realisation. Where are all the women setters?

I don’t claim to know everyone, but the only person I can think of that has set at high level events is Carlie LeBreton. Further than that, how many female head route setters are there internationally? When was the last female head route setter at a world cup? Has there ever been one? I am happy to be educated here, so please, feel free to inform me. But there is no denying that there is a huge gap in women setters, at the very least in Australia, if not through the international climbing community. We have seen the rise of female climbing globally, again in the words of James “The women on the world cup circuit are really f*#@ing strong. We were working the same problems together”.  So why no female setters?

Ocea, a rising female star in Australian Climbing

Whilst I love self improvement and as I said before, the pursuit of self betterment is one of the things that drives me, pushes me to set in a new way, think in new ways and climb in new ways. But when it comes to setting for women, whilst I would be super excited for James to mentor me…….. I think I want a woman to do it.

Setting for Nationals 2015 was a tall order.

Whilst I had the pleasure of being involved with many facets of the Australian Boulder champs, my official title was that of head route setter, and I can tell you, never have I faced the challenges that I faced this time around!

I feel as though at this point I should precede this post with a few statements. Firstly, I don’t want anyone to think or feel that I am upset or secretly angry about anything that happened. I am merely writing down my experience. I know where climbing is at in Australia and also understand first hand the constraints of climbing events. Also, I am not belittling anyone else’s contribution. There were many, who I felt did much more than me to make this all happen, but I am not them, and so I know not there experience, so all I can express is my own vision.


The marque went up on the Wednesday, the week before the competition, to give us time to build the wall, prep everything and make sure that the walls and all our gear would stay protected from the elements. It was then that I started my tenure there. Sleeping in the marque every night, to ensure everything was protected from curious passers by. I had already been there a week before any setting had begun and had also helped construct a frame and build a wall. I was already tired…….

Team assemble
Josh and Tommy were the first to arrive…. poor guys…

To add to that, I had multiple commitments in Melbourne that I had to juggle, in addition to managing the setting team and making sure that everything was perfect from my end, for the 3 day event. We had 2 days!

The team this year had 2 setters from Tasmania (Josh and Tommy from Rockit), 2 setters from Victoria (Sam from Hardrock and Dick from The Rock in Geelong) and 2 setters from Queensland (Dan and Pat from Urban). I can’t explain how impressed I was with the team. They were never afraid to get involved in the other elements that we had to deal with in preparation, including mat tetris and mounting panels, not to mention all the  amazing setting they did!

Sometimes setting for competitions and even commercial setting can be extraordinarily frustrating. It feels like setters are taken for-granted, thought of as some reluctant necessity.  However, I can’t stress enough that no matter the venue, the holds or the facility, if the setting isn’t on par, you get poor results and a lacklustre event. Over everything, it’s the climbs that we are selling, it’s the climbs that make the event, it’s the climbs that bring people back. This competition was a tall order. Not everything went smoothly, not everything was perfect, but man we got awfully close….

Pretty damn good for a pack of volunteers, with the shortest amount of prep time for a national comp I have ever had, with little to no sleep and almost a full first day with no pads!……….

Josh and Tommy select holds
Josh and Tommy selecting holds

Setters working on the wall
Setters and builders

Pat even did a stint on the camera
Pat even did a stint on the camera

The team managed to prepare qualifications, semis and finals for Open A male and Female, plus finals for Juniors, Youth A and Youth B, Male and Female in just 2 days, in addition to helping finish the wall, bring the pads in and prep the marquee. In amongst that we set problems for the Youth C and D categories, plus the masters and Open B’s! (big props to James Kassay and Al Pryce for coming back after the gala event to help with this!) Never have I seen so much achieved by so few in such short a time! To add to this, there were certain constraints put on us in regards to space we had to set, as well as holds and volumes we had access to. The finals needed to be seen from a single side of both mushrooms, which limited our space to set, plus the timetable was packed full of set, after re-set, so we had little time adjust over the 3 days.

IMG_3214 2 IMG_3211 2
IMG_3210 2 IMG_3209 2
IMG_3208 2

Late night testing by head-torch as the we lost power some nights!

The setters timetable:

We had a 2 day bump in, set Open Qualifications and Youth C and D climbs. After Youth C and D climbed, the wall got stripped and Open Qualifications re-set. Then Friday night, everything came down and semi-finals were put back up and tweaked. After semi finals (Saturday) we stripped and put Open finals up. Then after that (Saturday night) all Junior, Youth A and B qualifications went up, plus masters and Open B. Followed by Sunday, the whole front side got stripped again and Junior, Youth A and Youth B finals are re-set!………

It was such a pleasure to work with that crew, each one bringing something different to the table and each person putting in an in-human effort to make the event happen! #mysetter

You guys rock! Josh Fawssett, Tommy Krauss, Pat Banda, Sam Junker, Dick Lodge, Dan Gordon. With special mention to Al Pryce and James Kassay.

If you want to get strong, you need to live in Europe.

It’s this phrase that is almost recited like a mantra.

You read it in climbing magazines, hear it from climbers, coaches, parents. It’s almost as if some sacred pilgrimage of climbing is necessary to earn the approval of the rock gods.

I don’t believe it, and more so, I refuse to believe it.

I mean sure, climbing with the best and climbing in the best gyms is a good way to go about it. And I agree that if you lived in Europe AND devoted your time to training and climbing, you would become a better and stronger climber, but there is no elixir from some mountain stream found only in the foothills of southern France that will do it for you.

Al goes flying in Munich
Al goes flying in Munich

People move to Europe and come back stronger and wiser climbers, more because they have made a decision to leave all distraction behind and focus solely on a single purpose, than because they are in Europe. They leave all friends, family and homely feelings behind and plunge themselves into a world built around climbing and training.

Improvement comes from hard work, good planning and a continuous effort over and extended period of time. Physiologically, getting stronger is a simple matter of stimulating the correct muscles in the correct way to cause your body to make adjustments to it’s internal structure to cope with the increase in load.

However, whilst fitness is simple, I will go so far as to say, the Europeans have us in the realm of movement. The gyms in Europe offer a lot to inspire you!

Ollie ready to climb

Ros plays with volumes Jarred looking for an answer
Ros mantles in Boulderwelt Al goes flying in Munich

Boulderwelt Ost

Climbing after all is problem solving. It is a 3D puzzle, in that you must figure out how to use your hands and feet to manoeuvre yourself from point A to point B. Puzzles become easier if you have done them before, so the key is to already have done the puzzle (or something similar) before you are confronted with it. So when the holds demand a crossover with a reverse flag, your muscle memory takes over and all you need to worry about are the slight differences in hold orientation, shape and sizes.

So just like I talked about in my post ‘Boulderwelt and the future of climbing’ these holds and this setting is what Australia really need and it is great that we are beginning to see it! It is now time for our coaches to grasp this opportunity and look at how we approach movement so that maybe we can change the mantra to be ‘if you want to get strong, you have to move South!’

What does the future of climbing look like?

For anyone that doesn’t know, I have been training the Australian Youth team in Munich for the past week. Whilst I was there, I had the pleasure of visiting a number of climbing gyms. Whilst I was there, I saw the future…… It looks like European bouldering gyms. Walltopia, Boulderwelt, Stuntwerk. Climbing expresses itself as part art form, part 3D puzzle. Climbing through volumes becomes more a question of body position and co-ordination than just brute strength.

Run and jumps are a major
player in the new wave of climbing, where you are required to
co-ordinate multiple movements in a single moment..

Run and Jump 2 run and jump 3 run and jump 4 Run and Jump 5
Run and Jump 6 Run and Jump 7 Run and Jump 8 Run and Jump 9

This new wave of indoor climbing style seems to have evolved from the IFSC world cup competitions, where competitors are so strong that if a hold has any edge on it, most of them can crank out a 1 arm chin up, so setters had to be a bit more inventive to split the crowd.

On my trip to Europe with the Australian Youth team, I managed to visit one gym in Munich called Boulderwelt Ost (East Boulderwelt). The facility was spectacular, with 2 world cup style walls, with world cup style boulder problems. Add to this the most impressive collection of climbing holds you have ever seen and you are beginning to get the idea…

ros crushing

These kind of super gyms have not really made an appearance in Australia yet. At least not of this size, with this kind of hold selection. But what is more important is the style of setting. These co-ordinated moves, thoughtful sequences and tension exploding compressions, just don’t get set. 9 degrees has apparently made quite the impact, as well as Northside boulders, but for years this has just not happened.

And we need it!

Our world cup climbers need it. I mean, we all know how to get strong. There is enough info on the web that we can all train like Sean McColl or  Jan Hojer, but what we are missing is the art of the movement, and for this, we need the setters and the holds….. More and more competitors are faced with giant fibreglass masses, without a crimp in sight, and to scale this type of problem, you need to execute each move perfectly…..

I have so much inspiration and so many ideas for when I return…. the next time you venture into the gym, you just might see giant fibre glass bubbles, without a crimp in sight……



So I thought I would revisit the gecko king holds before moving on to others as I have received a lot of feedback in regards to my positive review a few months ago….. and well….. maybe you were right.

I have been setting at a new gym in Melbourne that received a large shipment of climbing holds for their bouldering wall, all of which were all Gecko King.

I have done a few re-sets with the hold brand now and have some small issues with shallow shapes and small uncomfortable pockets, however everything has a use and to be honest, still, I personally don’t mind a lot of the shapes. There are very few large holds, but that could potentially be the hold sets that were ordered………


Much of the negative feedback I got was due to holds breaking. I thought, sure, polyester holds crack sometimes, especially on uneven surfaces. It has happened to me before…. (thank god for safety glasses)…. but then I saw this………………..IMG_1554 (1)

That, my friends, is a cracked footer. Cracked mind you after ONE re-set. This hold is barely months old and was set on a completely flat timber wall and it is not the only one! I found several! So many that I thought maybe I was winding them up too tight. So I eased off and made sure to put screws in…. and then the screw went all the way through and snapped off the tip of a hold!………….. Gecko King, you fail the test of time.

New rating – 5/10 what once was good, but now is broken……. That’s one point every 3 broken holds!

Dan and Rom at Urban Climb
Dan and Rom Wednesday Morning

There have been some really great write ups about the recent National Lead titles at Urban Climb. It has been really wonderful to reminisce on my week away with Romain and the crew from Urban as we prepared for the competition, ate and slept little and fretted over who will fall off where…….. But that is the life of a competition route setter…….. But the route setters never get write ups, we hide, in the darkness, behind the wall. So, for a brief moment, come with me on an adventure into the dark art of setting!

Romain looks at me cheerfully as we ride the train to Urban

It is 4am and Romain pulls up in his old Volvo. We are meeting in Brunswick to catch a cab and then a plane together to help set at the National lead titles in Queensland. Both of us seem to be night owls, so early mornings are typically hard.

We land, after sleeping intermittently on the 2 hour plane flight, and make our way by train to Urban Climb.  As you can see, we were feeling pretty fresh and ready to set……..

Wednesday and Thursday were pretty standard days, with 8am (or 10am if you are French) starts, and 4 – 5pm finishes. Setting and testing the climbs usually has to die down in order to keep the routes and their beta secret before the competition.

As the end of Thursday drew nearer, there was a little hushed panic as we noted that the Open A finals remained incomplete, with a shipment of holds and volumes, specific for these finals, having not turned up yet! The most important of which were the two stalactites that were to be the main centrepiece of the finals! Joining the two walls and making for the epic finish!…… Fingers were crossed.

Friday started early and was pretty focused on testing all the climbs and making sure that they served their intended purpose. Most of us, after numerous days on rope setting and moving holds, wee understandably fatigued. Sam Bowmen in particular had probably climbed over 20 pitches of 25+ in the last 2 days and was beginning to loose his voice!

the setting and event gang
Lunch at the Burrito Place, Looking pale

By 4pm, the holds had arrived! We were out eating burritos, so we finished lunch (turning out to be our only meal for the day, except the delicious yoghurt sachets that were at Urban Climb) and ran back to the gym!…… Well we actually ran back before lunch to help unload the truck with President Rob LeBreton himself!

So here we were, it was 5pm and we had until tomorrow morning at 7 am to set, test, tweak and then hide the Open A finals, and I tell you what, we used every minute.

Dan in the high lift
Dan, our fearless leader

It was 6am by the time we finished. Dan and Rom stayed at the gym to have a nap and I trundled back to the white mansion of Issac, Blair and co. to have a shower and return. By the time I got back, Rom and Dan were asleep upstairs, but the first competitors had arrived! …….. I napped for 45 minutes……..

I walked / rolled down the stairs to all the excited faces, beaming up at the walls, wondering which one was for them!….. The rest of the day you know….. People climbed, people fell, and not to make light of any of it! It was tremendous! I loved every second of it! But you were there…… So……..

Doors closed at some time in the afternoon / evening. I don’t remember clearly by this point, after a bajillion coffees and even a Red Bull or 3. I would also like to make a note that Sam had added to his climbing total at least another 15 pitches of 25+ and as many Red Bulls!

We started again! The job was to re-assess the finals and make prep anything that we needed to for tomorrows open competition, such as ropes, draws and the like. Arguments and assessments of the final slab problem in the male open A final had us working until 2:30, where I promptly fell asleep sitting on the floor, awakened by Rom and Dan yelling at me…….. ‘ Will, is this ok!?’ I opened my eyes, climbed it in my mind and responded ‘Yep!’…………. I think we had all reached a stage of delirium, taking holds on and off and climbing and testing and tweaking and climbing and………… drinking Red Bull……….. Sam by this point had fallen asleep in a tent. He woke up rambling about testing the Open finals….. but we sent him home.

By 3:30, it was done. I managed to sleep under someones jacket for an hour, waking up to take photos and remove holds. We were good, I hoped…… prayed…..Because I was pretty spent. Massive props to Rom, Dan and Isaac for making it through the hour and a half that I was out for!

The HRT Stalactite in all its glory

Another day, fuelled by coffee, adrenaline and of course Red Bull. Sam had completely lost his voice, plus all the colour in his face, with my voice slowly disintegrating too

. Before we knew it, it was finals time and Rom and I mounted the lift to ram the holds back onto the walls for finals! Everything ran smoothly….. sort of……. the holds were back on, the lift was away and the climbers began.

Hopefully you got a chance to watch and read about finals already, because I’m not going to tell you about them. I finished the 5 days with 20 hours of sleep and 3 meals, but I tell you what, I felt more energised and full of psych then ever! Watching people put so much into every climb, every attempt, every hold tweak and every sleepless hour is inspirational.

Standouts for me were –  (not including climbers of course)

Sam, 30+ pitches of 25+ climbing in 3 days with maybe 2 hours of sleep! Legendary!

Rom, I could kill you sometimes, usually at 4am when you want to change a whole climb, but you can be a real comp setting genius.

Dan, the fearless leader, that smile, that calmness! I will set for you again in a heart beat…. and of course that crazy vision of stalactite mounting glory! EPIC……

– I hope you enjoyed a sneak peak into the life of a route setter….. it can be tough…… but what a job! .