Thursday, December 23, 2010

What do you get a routesetter for Christmas?

Warning: This post contains opinions. If you're allergic to these, proceed at your own discretion.

Well I haven't done it yet, so I figured I'd do a post on holds. Since it's the holidays anyways, I figured I might as well do a "fun" post. These are some of my favorites/obsessions right now. I am not sponsored or paid by any hold companies and profit from mentioning them in no way whatsoever. But if you're looking to spend a bit of cash on your setters this holiday season, here's some good bets in my opinion. I tried to pick at least one set out of every major hold style.

Supervillains (Mega Jugs) (Teknik)
(no direct link available)
Comfort: Very good. The texture isn't super grainy, but it's got enough bite to keep you on there if you're setting a move that requires contacting an air traffic controller prior to takeoff. The edges of the jug are perfectly rounded, and despite climbing on these things all the time, I'm yet to grab one in a way that annoys my fingers (a problem I find a lot of mega jugs suffer from - the lip isn't rounded in an ergonomic way.)
Aesthetics: They are capital-b Big. About a foot by a foot. Their biggest downside is they're wall hogs. They come in a variety of (usually bright) colors and with their size they really stick out from the crowd.
Setting factors: For their size, they are super light and pretty easy to set with. The washers are low profile and don't require any special bolts or consideration. Very low-maintenance holds. Because they're so drastically incut, they do tend to collect chalk at an extremely fast rate when placed with the jug facing up.

I love love LOVE this set! I am yet to find a jug this amazingly good on any angle. They feel great, they're ultra light for their size, and they're just super comfy.

Idea: Set a sideways dyno to the supervillain with a jug on both sides. (It's shaped like an H, where the top and bottom are the jug parts. The two in the top left of the picture.) On a steep wall, this move can be set so that both hands have to make contact and compress to hold the swing. Cool.

Right now, they aren't on the web order sheet. However, I've seen them in several different gyms, so I know they're available. Maybe someone from Teknik can clear this up..?

Limestone Roof Jugs - Jugs (Atomik)
Comfort: These are extremely comfortable and that's why I love setting with them. They seem to be the right depth that they never catch my fingers in between joints. Most of them have a comfortable thumb position/catch.
Aesthetics: The dimples look pretty good. Most of the ones I've seen come in relatively basic primary colors.
Setting Factors: For the most part they have good directionality for hands, and there's at least one with two directions for easy forced matching. The amount of featuring gives the holds low directionality for foot placements.

Jugs are a pretty basic building block of routes, so what else can I really say? I love setting with these, and they just seem to stick out of a pile of holds to me, so I picked them.

Pure Slap Slopers - Slopers (E-Grips)
Comfort: Seeing as how you're always open handing them, they're pretty fun to snag. The texture can definitely be quite grainy for dynamic/slappy moves, but sometimes that's the only thing that makes the move go!
Aesthetics: These things are super flush on a smooth wall and can be quite intimidating to the climber. An entire route of these (maybe combined with some other "blob" holds) looks quite good.
Setting Factors: On a textured wall, they stick out and create crimps. In some gyms, it's almost impossible to find a placement for these that doesn't create unintentional gaps. Which sucks.

These have been one of my favorite hold sets to work with this year. They're absolutely fantastic for slabs and almost any arete / dihedral terrain. They make great palm-smears, technical feet and are really good for "I need that hold that's just barely enough..." moves.

Idea: Set a span move to a blunt arete. Place one of these pancake bad boys just around the arete, spaced so that as the climber bumps from the arete to it, their other hand comes off. (See The Groove in Progression for an idea of this move.)

Myorcan Tufa-Pinch - Pinches (E-Grips)
(see also: Mini Myorcan Tufas)
Comfort: These are quite comfortable for multiple grips per hand. In some cases the grains going against your fingers can be somewhat rough texturewise.
Aesthetics: Can be combined with the Myorcan slopers, Myorcan rail, etc and produce some really awesome looking "wrinkly" theme routes.
Setting Factors: The biggest one is about a foot and a half long or so, and definitely requires a stopper screw/hold. The smaller ones should be fine. Directionality is .. well, they're pinches. You know.

Setting this hold was a great experience - It performed very intuitively. At my USAC level 2 clinic, I was given the big Myorcan pinch and had to frog-leg hug it as a forced movement challenge. If you're looking for a fun move, that one was great, and this was the perfect hold for it. (I might write a movement analysis on that move in the future.)

Limestone Crimps - Crimps (Climbit)
(see also: Limestone Set B)
Comfort: For crimps, damn comfortable. Even hard crimping the smallest ones has never bugged me. I don't know if it's the texture or the shaping, but they just work.
Aesthetics: They're pretty small, so it means a bit less, but I think they look nice. The texture of these things is very recognizable hold to hold, so thematically they work very well.
Setting Factors: Some of them have great directionality, but others have thumb catches / two grips. A few of them have stellar directionality for both hands and feet. Additionally, they are pretty thin and I have seen them crack and break, but it took quite a while (and I'm not sure if Climb-it's material has changed since.)

As anyone who knows me (or climbs my routes) knows, I love Climb-it crimps. I think they make the best crimps on the market. I love all their crimp sets, but I think the limestone ones are a cut above.

Idea: Mess around with different levels of incut on an overhang. The directionality of some of these crimps allows you to really get a feeling for how much "give" the climber gets from different orientations and bite amounts. I think this is a really good set for that type of experiment.

Bubble Wrap Ledge Feature - Full set (E-Grips)
Comfort: These holds climb like a dream. My only niggle is that the edge on the more positive ledges can be a bit sharp on vert. (Easily remedied by not setting with them on vert!)
Aesthetics: A bubble wrap themed route is pretty easy given the number of sets available. I think there's two features, pinches, two sets of ledges, and one or two sets of feet. They look great and just feel right when combined.
Setting Factors: The two big features are definite candidates for irritating spin issues, so if you don't use screws, you will have to occupy some wall space for two stopper holds.

Love 'em. A brilliant idea well executed.

Idea: Once you tire of the fun aspect of the bubble wrap, if you want to get really devious, start setting with the ledges and big ledge turned backwards on a vert arete compression problem. That big ledge turned backwards makes an eeeeevil sloper! (You do have to worry about the bolt hole, though.)

Pinchtite - Feature (Teknik)
(No direct link)
Comfort: Good! Some bugle positions can be problematic on the wrists, but it can be avoided.
Aesthetics: This thing looks neat hanging out of a roof, and it feels very natural to occupy as much surface area as possible on it with your hands.
Setting Factors: Let's be honest, it's a huge pain in the ass. The bolt is friggin' enormous, and in some cases requires a hex bolt. It also really requires a set screw. I think it's worth it.

This thing is great fun to set with. Like some of Teknik's other shapes, it's extremely imaginative. It has very low directionality but is unique enough to still create some very interesting movement. I can think of few other holds as good for giving the climber a bicycle.

Idea: Combine with other protuding holds (such as the giant crystals - who makes those again?) in a roof to create insane knee bar, bicycle and cam action. This type of route is just a standby for me, as it's always unique and interesting to take the holds away from the climber and just give them a few huge things to work with.

Halo - Huge hold (Climb-it)
Comfort: It's there. The thing is huge and flat/neutralish, so you'd be hard pressed to find a really tweaky finger position. Heel cams in the halo can be alarmingly bomber.
Aesthetics: Like all massive holds, it sticks out, but this one has always had a special effect on me. It helps that routesetters seem to go unusually far out of their way to set dynamic movement to it.
Setting factors: Yup, it's effin huge. And it's heavy. And even if it's set with the bolt at the top it usually needs a stopper. (It's also a bit of a bank-breaker.)

This thing is just a show stopper. It was awesome in Battle in the Bubble, and it's equally awesome on just about every route it winds up on (of any grade.) There's just something fascinating about it.

I .. don't really have any favorites. I have some favorite huecos, and some favorite mega jug sinker pockets, but as far as 2 and 3 finger pockets, I'm yet to be truly impressed. It's not a style thing, I love climbing on pockets.. I'm just waiting for the perfect set. (Hold companies: sure, that's a challenge.)

Runner-ups / honorable mentions:

Voodoo Scoops Yummy dual tex slopers. Dual tex done right.

So Ill "The Growth" Are you friggin' kidding me? This thing is nuts. haven't had a chance to set with it yet, it's just impressive.

Project Landslide 7XL Intimidating and perplexing on steep walls.

Project Hurricane - one of my favorite pinch holds - can you use all 3 pinches on one route?

Teknik Fatty Long Fat pinches - so damn comfortable! Some of my favorite pinches ever. They make great theme routes.

So.. what would you guys want from your gyms this season? Have you enjoyed the shapes this year, or do you want to double up some of your old standbys?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movement Analysis: The Drive By

(While I finish up some posts in progress about the "routesetting biz", here's a post I wrote this summer. An ode to a move..)

I've been thinking a lot about the drive-by. It's been popular lately on the competition circuit:

Battle in the Bubble (3:30)
Teva Games 2009 (0:28 / deeplinked)
World Cup Vail 2010 (4:45)

Recently, I set a route up the front 45' of our boulder that featured a big drive-by lunge at a jug. It was a fun experiment at setting that move. First, I'll talk about the technical, boring aspects of the move. So if you're just interesting in learning how to set it quickly, head on down for the skinny.

Much like a standard dyno, the gist of the move is basically two steps: one, to force the climber to create momentum in one direction, and then two, to have them cancel it out when they hit the target hold (i.e. hold the swing.) What separates a drive-by from a stock one handed dyno is the momentum goes in stages: first one direction, then upward, then arcing back in the other direction as the climber hits the apex of their move. In other words, their free hand will look sort of like a clock hand swinging around from 6 to 12. The more momentum created, the bigger the clock face, the harder the move.

Basically, you can start with a sidepull lockoff, with the other hand around center mass (i.e. not very good to pull with) and good feet directly under the climber. Then, move the target hold high enough that the climber has to release body tension and perform a bit of a pop to snag the hold. This is closer to a stand-up than a drive-by, but I think it meets the technical qualifications.

Making the sidepull (the launch hold) a worse hold, or pivoting it downwards, will increase the difficulty of the second part of the move, and make the move feel more dynamic. Because they will have less purchase on the launch hold to control their body position once they start generating momentum, they will have to rely on the target hold to regain stable positioning.

Let's say you're using a left hand side pull, to the left of the body. Moving the feet to the left and keeping them low will make the move a simple "pop" with no drive-by element. Moving the feet further to the right can make the move very desperate very fast. The climber will use their poor right hand hold to rock over their footholds, then jump straight up. Their body will naturally curve left, hopefully snagging the target hold near the apex of the jump. With a sufficiently poor launch hold, this effect can make the move more of a drive-by dyno.

By altering the other hold, the one that will be released to grab the target hold, we can also dramatically change the body type of the move. As it moves past the climber's center of mass and closer to the launch hold, it becomes harder to rock over the feet and push off to begin the move. Moving it too far the other direction makes the swinging/rotating element of the move much less significant.

One of the keys of truly forcing the move is the directional nature of the off hold. Pivoting the launch hold affects the body positions created after the move has started, but pivoting the other hold (the hand you're reaching with) has drastic effects on the "setup" body position. Making the off-hold an undercling or opposing sidepull will give the climber a multitude of body position options, and maybe even let them attempt the move with their other hand. If you make that hold a gaston, they are forced to lay back on the launch hold and their body positions are constrained.

Finally, you can alter the target jug's position to change the amount of swing. Moving the target jug just a few T-nuts horizontally past the launch hold's vertical position can often change the move from a compressed, tight foot-cut with a bit of 'oomf' to a massive screaming-banshee 90-degree one-arm swing.

Sample layout

Here's a super simple example of forcing a drive by on a semi-steep to steep wall. In this case, you climb into the move from the right. It doesn't matter what the start is, so long as the holds are either necessary feet for the drive by move, or unusable for the drive by move. Remember, you want to limit the climber's options.

(Directionality indicated by the curved side of the hold.)

Hold analysis:

- In this case, hold A is a huge jug facing right. It's crucial that hold A is a great hold, but it should be low profile - very difficult to heel hook. For instance, the top hold in this set by Voodoo. Another great candidate would be the E-grips wonder hole.

- Hold B is a shallow edge or pinch, and shouldn't have a lot of bite to it. If it's too incut, the climber will be able to get opposition purchase for a heel hook. The lunar flats by E-Grips might be a good choice. A small thumb catch on hold B helps a lot with being able to hold the swing on the big move - alternatively, leave it off if you want to force them to cut the off hand and move into a one hand swing.

- Hold C can be anything you want. Just to figure the move out, I suggest a massive jug. My favorite jugs right now are the Teknik Supervillains.

Sample movement

Movement analysis:

#1. Left hand comes in to hold A as a gaston. Feet are on start holds or around terrain.

#2. Right hand matches into hold A.

(Left foot steps high onto the right foothold.)

#3. Left hand moves to hold B.

(Swap feet and move left foot to left foothold.)

#4. ("the" move)
- Keeping the left hand/arm extended for as long as possible, the climber rocks their body over the footholds by locking off the hold A jug, creating rightward momentum.

- When they reach the apex of the rockover, the climber straightens their legs, creating upward momentum.

- Right hand departs hold A. As it extends to grab hold C, the left hand's grip on hold B is holding them into the wall, causing their momentum to shift back left.

- The right hand latches hold C and the opposition between hold B and C is used to cancel out any remaining leftward momentum.

As you can see, one single move can require several body positions to set up. In this case, you could replace hold A with a smaller hold, make the feet into crimps that were start holds, and you'd have essentially the same move. The gaston/match is just to break up potential left-right-left monotony.

Need to switch this to a traditional one-handed swing drive by? It takes about two minutes. Just use this variation on a theme:

Variation on a theme:
-Move hold A further to the right, so it's not directly over the feet anymore. This will make it hard to generate upward momentum, and easier to generate rightward momentum with a natural barn door.
-Rotate hold B to be more of a gaston. It's crucial that hold B can not be used to pull directly downwards.
-Now, move hold C right a few feet, and maybe down a bit.
-Optionally, start the problem from the left to reduce the chances of skippage.

Now, when the climber sets up, they're going to naturally want to go with their left hand, the hold that was on hold B. If hold C is further to the right than hold A, the move will most likely require a wild one handed swing.

Suggestions for playing with drive-bys:
- Move the feet and watch as the climber's amount of swing varies drastically.
- Tweak the angle of your launch and off holds, even if you like the move the way it is. The body position difference / amount of "try hard" required when you pivot your off hold 10 degrees can be quite a learning experience..
- Want to scare the crap out of your climbers? Drive by around an arete to a jug that can't be seen from the launch position!
- Mega-slow balance drive by on a slab. You definitely see the "clock hand" move if this is set correctly.

Happy setting!

If you guys like this style of post (analyzing a single move) let me know - it feels kind of dense, but I write a lot of these just for posterity and I'd be happy to post them more often.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Clinics, Getting Hired, and Staying Fresh

An unfortunate side effect of the symbiosis between climbing and routesetting is that it's hard not to drift between focusing on one or the other. I spent a good chunk of this year traveling and climbing, with most of my actual setting during that time being a week here and a week there for competitions. There's nothing wrong with setting for comps - but it's hard not to get a bit rusty when you're not setting regularly.

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers makes the case that the primary characteristic of being an expert at something is having a considerable amount of practice. To be the foremost in your field, you have to get that experience before anyone else. The number he throws out is 10,000 hours. Do some quick math. Let's say you set 15-20ish hours a week, with a comp thrown in here or there where you maybe set 40 or more. Compromise at maybe a thousand hours a year. At an extremely busy, understaffed gym, maybe two thousand. So it's going to take you a while to reach Gladwell's benchmark, anyway.

For me, staying fresh involves thinking about setting as much as possible, especially when I'm actively climbing. How would I force that move if I was in the gym? Note where the feet are and the orientation of plumb lines on outdoor climbs. Try to see the climb as a series of physical consequences - each move's specific geometry being necessary to the foundation of the next.

Thinking is nice, but practice is what's really important. 10,000 hours of thinking won't spin a wrench. If you're free floating right now and have no gym to practice at, I suggest looking for one, and taking whatever you can get - friend's woodies and networking and helping at local gyms. If nothing else, get involved in the process - I pounded a thousand T-nuts for a local gym a couple months ago. Another great way to get some practice in are USAC clinics.

A subject that seems to come up a lot among setters is whether the USAC clinics are worth the cost. My opinion is that any time you get to set unrestrained on fresh terrain for two full days, get feedback from folks like Molly Beard and Chris Danielson who already have their 10,000 hours, meet other local setters and network, and generally just enjoy yourself - why would you turn that down? The cost is a fraction of what you'd pay in almost any other profession for the luxury of having expert feedback for two days.

Now that I'm back in society from my travels, I've been trying to brush up on my setting as much as possible while I look for a new gym to practice at. To compensate, I've been spending a lot of time trying to analyze indoor routesetting: both the physical act of setting and what it reduces to, and practical ways to become more efficient at it. So as I dissect my journal scribbles, there might be a lot more theory posts showing up, as well as one super secret, super mega routesetting info project.

In the mean time, I have some other new topics to cover: looking for a routesetting job in a new town, preparing for clinics and staying in shape for setting - I haven't practiced jumaring in several months and the clinic is sure to involve a lot of it. (Here's a hint: It'll be a bicep-thrashin' good time.)

Until next time, happy setting. It's indoor season!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let Your Setters Inspiration Flow

Dear Gym Managers,

This is what it looks like when you let your setters go nuts: Spot setting blog.

Seems to me like they afford their setters (and community) complete creative control over the entire experience. This is probably one of the most interesting, unique and exciting competitions in the country.

I very much doubt it's a coincidence that it has massive attendance and community support. The lesson? Let your setters go nuts sometimes. Try different formats - redpoint comps, onsight comps, mixed, pumpathons. Addon comps. Takeoff comps. Dyno comps.

Or, deep water solo comps. I've been dreaming about this forever. Thank you world. In my opinion, this is the next step in mainstream competitive climbing. Combine the wildly dynamic routes from Battle in the Bubble with a 50 foot fall, and I think any average sports enthusiast could get involved..

Happy setting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thoughts on Balance

I read an interesting climbing physiology article that made a distinction between dynamic and static balance. This got me thinking quite a bit about balance, both in general, and as an aspect of climbing.

Having good balance seems like it can be distilled down to these concepts pretty easy. Imagine a guy on a highline. While he's making slow, gentle foot movements, he's maintaining good balance. This is static balance, in the sense that his center of gravity is not making any sudden shifts that cause a need for him to react. If there's a sudden and powerful gust of wind, and he kicks one foot off, waves both arms and compensates to bring his center of gravity back, that's good dynamic balance. Both are elements in climbing. Actually, the gust of wind as a metaphor can be pretty effective: foot pops, big moves on the route, or improper footwork causing a difficult move can all be unexpected factors of dynamic balance. Obviously, dynamic moves will also need dynamic balance; but the climber will have more mental time to prepare for the body positions required by that move when they arrive at it.

Very often I see novice climbers turn static balance into dynamic balance, or try to force their way through sequences with dynamic balance. In my opinion, this tendency can be used as a way to encourage good movement.

The Tipping Point

A concept I find fruitful for setting good balance is the tipping point. Think of the tipping point as the position where the climber's center of gravity could (or must) depart its comfort zone while making the next move. The tipping point can occur during a foot move, hand move, or body positioning switch. Good climbers, or at least climbers with good balance, will find a way around a tipping point. The climbing concepts of counterpressure, compression and three-point tension are ways around tipping points. As with many concepts in this blog, the tipping point varies dramatically by climber.

As a routesetter, you can use the tipping point to enforce good movement habits in climbers. Setting a move that uses good static balance, but is very difficult to do dynamically, will encourage methodical, calculated climbing. Setting a move that requires good dynamic balance but is difficult to do statically will nurture confidence and comfort moving past the tipping point. A healthy balance of these tactics will keep routes fresh for climbers.

Personally, I like to think of balance as a strong counterpart to the choice-reward system in climbing. It's one of the most natural ways to create a choice. Different climbing styles will automatically lend themselves to static or dynamic balance. In routesetting, it's fairly common to see a route where static balance is favored over dynamic balance - for instance, doing a big lockoff instead of jumping to gain the next hold. In many cases, this is because the dynamic effort tends to require more energy (again, all physiological considerations aside.) On hard routes, that wasted energy can serve as the punishment in the choice-reward system. It's less common, but you will also occasionally see routes that punish climbers for using static balance: for instance, attempting a big lockoff but without enough momentum to reach the next hold. For these moves it becomes difficult to retreat and start over if you don't generate that initial oomph. A lot of the time this can be forced with a lockoff that requires both hands to stay on until the climber maxes out their body position and gets most of the weight on their legs.

Most moves can be accomplished with static or dynamic balance without a huge variance of energy expenditure. For many moves, the type of balance used to gain the next hold will have less impact on energy expenditure than the body positions chosen to successfully maintain that balance. This is why climbers wind up with different styles - because their physiological traits (and sports/athletic experience, and a ton of other things) affect the body positions they feel natural in.

When setting, I try to explore different types of balance, and try doing moves at different speeds or body positions. Moves that only feel balanced in one or two body positions can be frustrating, but rewarding. Moves that are comfortable in many positions can create a natural feeling during climbing, but be somewhat less fulfilling. To summarize, experiment with as many types of balance as you can, on as much terrain as you can.

Setting exercises:
Force a barn door on an arete (easy)
Force a barn door on a severe overhang (easy)
Force a barn door on a vertical wall (medium)
Force a lockoff that requires static balance, such a big rockover move on a specific foothold (medium)
Force a lockoff that requires momentum to get into the right body position (medium-hard)

See if you can get climbers to use different styles of balance when you expect them to.

Happy setting!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Just Another Climber, Just Another Route

I've been following around my "other" job lately, and I haven't had a ton of time to set routes. While this can be frustrating, the upshot is that I've had plenty of time to actually go climbing. Here in the PNW, the weather in October can be less than forgiving, so most of that time has been spent indoors.

Actually, in my climbing career this is the first time I've regularly trained at a gym away from my "home gym," so to speak. And being there just as a climber has been interesting. I don't really remember a time at my local gym where I felt disconnected from the routesetting the way I do at this new venue. In other words, I've gained a bit of perspective.

The routesetting community as a whole seems to have a focus on competition setting, and rightly so. If we're going to move indoor climbing forward - as a sport, as an activity, as entertainment - then competitions are probably our best bet for getting attention. Getting climbing in the Olympics will certainly not be a question of having enough gym rats turn up to testify for the Olympic Committee.

Here's some things I think are common misconceptions about what good setting is for a community. I'll state the myths in bold.

A bigger community means harder climbers. In the last two months I've climbed at major gyms in four states. This includes Boulder, Colorado, which is pretty infamous as one of America's hard climber epicenters. And yes, I did see some absolute crushers in all of these gyms - but the main commonality across the board was people falling off of routes that the routesetter probably rushed through to go set their next rad line in the roof.

The biggest shift for me has been going from a valley of about 80,000 people to a metropolitan area of 2.2 million. There are definitely more people in the gym total - to an absurd degree - but still most of them fall in that sweet spot between V2 - V4 / 5.10 - 5.11-.

Harder routes should take longer to set. Any setter who has an ounce of experience should be able to bang out a V1 in ten minutes, right? Well, maybe. But hard routes can be set just as fast with basic movement. And sometimes, they should. To elucidate my point, I just mean don't put too much energy into any one area. And if you do, concentrate it on the bell curve in your gym. I think a lot of routesetters can easily fall into the trap of spending their time setting for the red curve, when their gym actually climbs at the blue curve. I'm not saying slap together the hard routes - mutants are in your constituency, too - but remember to spread the love.

I know I've made this mistake, repeatedly. It's a hard habit to break, because the joy of climbing and the job of routesetting are, in a lot of ways, difficult to separate. Being able to make that distinction is one of the main traits of a skilled, mature setter.

Not every route has to be interesting or special. The truth is, when we were all new setters (and less experienced climbers, probably) every route we set was, in some way, an experiment in forced movement. Now that we have those basic movements down, it's pretty easy to recall them and slap something on the wall. But if we set with that drive to be fresh and exciting, we can consistently surprise and impress our gym community. When you're starting out, watching the mutants crush the latest project is fun - but people don't go to the gym to watch.

There have been some frustrating experiences at my current gym where I've not flashed or even struggled on a route that feels like it's in my "easy" range. As a setter this is hugely frustrating, and feels like a failure on the gym's part. I've never been a fan of gimmick routes. But when I watch climbers work on these problems that are at their limit, I remember how it felt as a gumby to unlock a specific or even gimmicky sequence. If someone's coming in to the gym as part of a group, or just trying climbing by themselves on a lark, learning strange movement is still part of the "hook" for them. And if we're setting for our community, we should be doing our best to get inside their brains. However, I do think there's a point where the emphasis should be on applicable climbing technique. V0-V1, new here. V2-V4, probably just hanging out in the gym. V5+ there's a pretty good chance they're there to get strong.

Setters shouldn't have comfort zones. There seems to be a pervasive belief that setters should be able to conjure any style of movement on a whim. That would be nice, right? But it doesn't work that way. The style and personal touch you bring to the craft is what makes your routes yours. Even if you're a powerful climber setting on a slab, the climber is going to sense a bit of that when they climb the route. At my home gym, I could almost always tell who set a route when I climbed it. Be able to branch out and try new techniques and styles. But if you're setting in a team to satisfy an entire community, don't be afraid of your sweet spot. It's where you set your best routes, and there's no reason to deny or suppress that. Of course, it helps to have a varied team. A gym where every setter was a 6' powerhouse climbing V10 might leave something to be desired.

The most puzzling thing about moving to a big gym has been the loss of that tight knit feel. It feels strange not to know the gym employees all by name, and to actually have to sign in when I get there. But it's been a therapeutic experience, remembering what it feels like to be one of the great unwashed masses of the gym community. At one point, I spun a hold and chuckled to myself when the guy on staff wanted me to show him where the spinner was instead of just handing me the wrench.

It's Fall, and memberships are about to start spiking. It's the most important time of year to have not just an inviting gym climate, but an inviting mixture of problems. So, the best advice I can give you is go to a different gym. Go to as many as you can. Remember what it felt like when you were just a climber, and your only responsibility was to yourself and the wall. Then remember that now, you as the routesetter are responsible for creating that feeling, and for creating the community that binds it together. Besides, they can use the money from your day pass. After all, their setters need fresh holds too.

Happy setting!

P.S. Being Fall, it's also the time of year to have a thousand diseases floating around on your plastic. Wash your hands before and after you set/climb. I re-learn this lesson every year..

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Imitation is Flattery: Setting "Trainers"

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so they say.

I recently returned from a multi-week bouldering trip. Our local member's party was coming up and I planned on setting for it. I had just experienced a few new outdoor areas for the first time - including the stunning granite paradise of central Washington. I was more than ready to put brush to canvas, as it were.

I was especially eager to try to recreate one of my favorite problems from the trip. I've done this a bunch of times before, but this was one of my more successful attempts, so I thought I'd try to break down my thought process. Most of this applies to creating a route from scratch in your head, but specifically this post is for trying to "carbon-copy" a route.

First, think about it beforehand. Does the route's movement lend itself to indoor setting? The more complex the sequence, the harder it will be to find the right wall terrain and holds to recreate the movement. In this case, the moves were relatively basic, but still felt fresh and classic. Even better, there were only three of them covering the distance from the start jug to the victory jug. You only used each hold one way, which helps - outdoors, combinations of holds, different hand positions and different thumb catches are plentiful. Fewer holds and moves make the route simpler - the simpler the route, the easier it is to emulate.

Analyze body positions and movement before hold type or hold placement. In this case, the movements were all pretty basic, so there wasn't much to worry about. In complex cases, try to analyze where the climber's center of gravity goes and where their points of contact are rather than the actual holds they hang on to. Real rock is complex and intricate. Working with plastic holds means we're limited to a convex environment, working above the surface. Real rock frequently has concave holds. Many gym feet have an edge that doesn't sit quite flush with the wall; real rock doesn't have this limitation. Because of these (and myriad other) issues, you'll need to worry more about the position the climb puts the climber in than the way their fingers feel on the crimp. Having pictures or a video of the route itself will help "troubleshoot" the trainer to see why moves aren't quite what you expected - feet too close, holds too good, etc.

Choosing the right terrain can be frustrating. In my case, the problem took place on a 5-10 degree overhanging blunt arete. Nothing like that really existed in our gym, but we had two sharper aretes that were lightly overhanging. The first move was a heel rockover, so I wanted the route to start at waist height or higher to prevent dabs with the hanging foot as you pull on. One of the aretes didn't have bolts in the right spot for the starting foot, so I got creative. I used the other arete and set the whole route mirrored - so you do the first move with your right instead of left hand, and the second move with your left instead of right hand, etc.

Choosing the right holds requires quite a bit of forethought. I had some time to think about it on the drive home, so I had a good idea of what I wanted to use by the time I got there. The holds on the real route are concave slopers, so I had to use some pretty low profile holds to make it work. However, if you have a good grasp of the body positioning for the route, it's easy to fine tune holds - just get on the route and see if it feels the way the real one did. If you have a wider variety of body position options then the hold's probably too good. If you can't do the move the way you did it on the route, the hold might be too poor.

Overall, be ready to make some concessions. Yep, my route was mirrored. You might not be able to make the crimps quite as crimpy or the slopers quite as slopey. It's a fact of life. As long as you capture the essence of the route, that's fine. Usually my trainers end up being easier V-grade-wise than their inspiration. And, of course, in many cases you can only set a sequence you like before terrain forces you to take the route somewhere else. And that's fine too.

Persistence will go a long ways in this endeavor. As every routesetter knows, it can be frustrating to try to create a move you have in your head. Sometimes, trying to create one that already exists in stone can be a nice mental exercise.

Happy setting!

Friday, June 11, 2010

USAC Clinic

I'm up in Portland for the USAC level 1 clinic. So psyched to set on new terrain, with new holds, in a new gym! It's run by Molly Beard and being held at ClubSport in Tigard. Should be a blast. I'll post updates on the whole shebang as it occurs.

Not much else to report - setting some more dynamic hard routes in the gym lately, which is good. Always nice to see climbers forcing themselves to commit, even if it's on plastic. Conquering the fear of setting something committing (and therefore unpopular) can be just as hard as conquering the fear of doing the move itself..

Happy setting!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Video Inspiration #1

A lot of the time, it doesn't take much to spark inspiration for setting. I get a lot of my inspiration from watching other climbers - through media, in person outside, or playing add-on in the gym. In that spirit, I'll be uploading videos of routes in our gym(s) here, that have fun or noteworthy moves. I'll try to include one harder move and one easier move in these kind of videos.

Here's a video that has two sequences for inspiration.

The first sequence is a moderate problem. The goal was to set a rose-through on a steep wall. Originally I got this idea from Andy Mann's photos of Nagual V13. I also wanted to set a hard swinging barn door as the climber came out of the rose.

Things to watch out for if you try to set a similar move:

- Roses are easier to set in concave terrain (dihedrals), but this one was actually on convex terrain. The rose lockoff was deep and could feel shoulder-tweaky.
- The hold to rose off of should be the minimum size and angle to reduce the likelihood of a match. In the end, this particular sequence wound up being matchable (although it could still be altered, it would start to make the problem harder and the rose tweakier..)
- I used a heel hook sequence just before gaining the rose hold. The size of that hold as a foothold also offered some assistance for matching.
- Ideally, you would traverse into the rose sequence with a big move, giving the climber less to work with in terms of big feet.
- For the feet, you want a gap or smaller feet under the rose hold itself, with a lot of feet under the target hold. Because this wall was convex, I found the move actually felt easier if I flagged my left foot away from the wall. In concave terrain it's natural to stem for a rose move (which makes it feel substantially less awkward.)

The second sequence is on an easy route, about 5.8, on an arete. When setting less difficult routes, sometimes it's easy to forget that simple things make a big difference to new climbers. Being able to pull different directions on holds and learning about plumb lines is a crucial lesson.

Things to consider for this move:

- Do as much as possible to make sure foot movements stay necessary. If the next left hand move is too small, it gets easier and easier to not use the right hand undercling.
- Aesthetics matter. This move in particular uses two similar holds (Gingivitis, by So Ill) It looks nice, and it's a subtle hint to the climber.
- This move would be just as good to try on a hard route. Small, simple sequences like this are enjoyable and encourage natural movement.

I'll post more cryptic and unique moves in further videos, but I intend to always show an easy move with a hard move. After all, the bell curve of your climbers aren't doing V8s - and easy moves can be just as interesting.

If you have any thoughts on setting these or similar moves, post 'em. In the meantime, happy setting!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Movement is Body Position

I think if you reduce all climbing to its basest elements, you'll find that body position is the prevailing factor.

Balance can be important on a route, but only because having the right balance or the right points of contact allows proper body position. Finding balance literally IS body position.

Distance is a function of difficulty on a route, but only because it means the climber must create a change in body position to find success. You can see this every time a novice climber "slaps" at a hold they can't reach, or a more adept climber turns their shoulder out and shoves their hip in the wall on a big lockoff.

Bad holds are frequently thought of as a good barometer of difficulty. But often body positions with better feet, different hip turnout, or more relaxed stances can make bad holds feel "restable." A good example of this is sloping crimps. On an overhang, sloped holds without the use of toe or heel hooks usually means keeping the feet lower will increase traction on the holds. When the climber goes to move their feet up, the holds become more difficult to hold on to - because of a change in body position.

Footholds are also used as a route's yardstick. Our local bouldering area has a lot of granite pebble smearing, which requires the foot to stay at a certain angle. This angle means the leg stays pointed in towards the wall, and your butt stays pointed out. If you pull your hips in too close, you might gain distance for a move, but the body position will compromise foot traction and cause you to fall. Again, body position is the building block of movement. If I were going to try to duplicate one of these routes, I know I'd need to keep the feet pretty awful. Solid feet that you can edge on allow the hips to come in farther, the heel to be raised further, and in general just allow the climber to do more.

It is functional to set routes that force movement based on balance, distance, hold type, etc. But I think setting by forcing moves that require specific body position is the most effective way to really make a climber solve a puzzle.

Applying this to routesetting is difficult. It's one of the things I try to think about most when I'm setting. If a route feels "classic," it's usually because the body position shifts a) feel natural, b) are not dramatically harder from one to the next and c) are less body-dependent.

I'll talk more about body position in a future post. For now, happy setting!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Answer to Most Setting Questions

This might feel like obvious knowledge, but I still like to think about it. Basics are powerful.

Defined crux, or consistent difficulty?

Cryptic, beta-intensive climbs, or flash fodder?

Aggressive power moves or delicate footwork?

Big moves or small moves?

High feet, low feet, slopey feet, edging feet?

The short answer to this line of questioning is yes. Not all at the same time, not all on the same route, but yes.

If you're worried a route is too much of any one thing, don't - as long as they're not all that way.

Contrarily, if you're starting to feel like your setting is one-dimensional then you already know what to do - expand your scope. We get comfortable setting one style, and tend to neglect the others. My gym has a lot more steep bouldering than not, so it's easy to get stuck in a rut.

I went through a phase recently of setting more technical sequences on vertical terrain. Not exactly my usual style, so it felt good. For me, at least, it takes a different headspace to climb a hard compression problem in a roof than it does to climb a technical lead up dead vertical. Similarly, the techniques and obstacles for setting in varied terrain requires distinct mindsets. These skills need to be developed to be a well-rounded routesetter.

It's something I know I could do more of as a setter - work the weaknesses. Set things you suck at climbing. If you crush at Smith Rock, you might want to set in the steep for a while. If you're more of a Red River Gorge kind of climber, try getting techy. It might take some getting used to, but you (and your climbers) will be happier for it.

Happy setting!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Definitions of Forcing Movement

As a preface, for this post general terms like "stronger climber," "better climber" etc. are interchangeable terms for what is really a vague system of measuring more factors than I could list. To simplify things, just assume that I'm referring to a climber who, for the relative grade, has an average ability in all areas of climbing: power, lockoff strength, technical aptitude, mental acuity, etc. I'll try not to use definite phrasing, because all things in climbing are relative.

One big question that will be discussed a lot on this blog is this: when routesetters talk about forcing a move, what are we really talking about?

There's several perspectives. As with all things climbing-related, the talking points of each point of view will vary wildly with the difficulty of the climb being discussed. Forcing a move on a V10 being climbed by a V10 climber, and forcing a move on a V3 being climbed by a V10 climber are different propositions with distinct obstacles; greater technical aptitude, raw power and breadth of experience allows V10 climbers to visualize, attempt and perform sequences that, regardless of the routesetter's intended method, will result in a successful climb. The subject is further muddled by another major issue, organic diversity between climbers: weight, height, finger strength, finger size, body tension, ape index, hip turnout flexibility, and a vast number of other factors.

One perspective of "forcing" a move is creating a choice for the climber. The choice will affect the climber's relative chances of success on the climb through what I see as a reward/punishment system. Successfully choosing the correct sequence will reward the climber with better body position, a better hold, or an opportunity to move to the next choice; choosing the wrong sequence will punish the climber with a poor body position, a bad hold, and often either necessitate retreating and making the choice again, or result in a failure. I'll talk more about the choice-reward system in climbing in a different post.

To illustrate one perspective of "forcing" a move, here's a simple graph. The line of probability reflects the point at which a climber should be able to climb a route. The colors indicate a routesetter's relative ability to force a move. As a climber's raw ability increases, their ability (and number of options) on a route increases. Thus, the green area on the graph is a point where a routesetter may find it easier to get the climber to do the intended sequence. A red area on the graph indicates that a routesetter might find it very frustrating to try and get a climber to do the intended sequence.

As a way of understanding this concept, here's a simple example. Joe, a V3 climber, arrives at the crux of a boulder problem at his absolute physical limit. Matched on a crimp rail with high feet, he must lock off and make what is, for him, a big right hand move to a slot. He barely makes it, and then is able to move his left hand to a good jug hold slightly higher. Exhausted, he completes the sequence and goes on his weary way. Tim, a V10 climber, wanders up to the problem and quickly climbs into the same move. His better lockoff strength and higher body tension allows him to move all the way directly to the jug. He finishes, drops off and moves on.

In this example, one difference between the two climbers was Tim's greater reach due to being a stronger climber. Another way of looking at the example is that Tim's climbing ability and experience offered him a wider variety of choices. He had the ability to reach the bigger hold, but still could have chosen to do the intended sequence. His ability and instincts were more developed than Joe's.

One critical element of this example is this: the red area must represent not the ability to do ONE move, but the relative difficulty of all possible choices that the climber could make that would result in a successful rock climb. In other words, if Tim finds the lockoff to the jug just as hard as Joe finds the 2-move sequence, the routesetter has done an effective job forcing the sequence. (Not that V3 will feel hard for Tim - but as long as it feels V3 to both of them, the routesetter has still succeeded.)

Therefore, from this perspective, forcing a sequence can be looked at as: a) limiting the number of choices that a climber can make from any given point in the route, regardless of organic discrepancies between climbers, and b) ensuring that the reward/punishment system involved in those choices will cause a successful attempt to have the same number of rewards (rest points, good body positions, etc.) and a failed attempt to be a result of the same potential wrong choices (i.e. a short climber should not run into five potential stopper moves when a tall climber runs into two.)

Looking again at the graph, you could use the gradient as a vague gauge of how consistent, or "classic" it is. If a move on a moderate climb lands in the red area for a climber, and they still do the intended sequence, the move was pretty well set. If they do a different sequence, that's okay too - as long as it feels consistent to them. Routes where climbers of different grades do the same sequence naturally are often considered classic. When I say naturally, I mean when they are not intentionally trying to skip moves and make the route harder than it is.

This is, based on my limited understanding of the science of routesetting, the most meager introduction to forcing a move that I could pare into words. Further posts will get more specific.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Welcome to Routecrafting


I have a lot of goals in starting this site. Hopefully, it'll be an outlet for my thoughts on routesetting. My aim is to look at both the artistic and scientific sides of the trade. I enjoy the logical side of rock climbing: causality, sequencing and problem solving. From the most obvious foot choice to the most subtle hip turnout, these mini puzzles are my inspiration to climb and set routes. However, the aesthetics of climbing are equally important: hold size, color, shape, orientation don't just affect the sequence, they affect the way a climber perceives a route.

The second goal is twofold: that through the blog, readers will be able to learn a thing or two about routesetting. Setting, like climbing, is an act that has no specific starting point. When you go to a different gym and see other routesetters in action, you might observe different techniques and methods. There is no list of "best practices" for routesetting. Instead, we have a wide range of potential styles, each with advantages and drawbacks. Much like climbers collect techniques, setters should too. It's in our best interests to have a variety of tactics available. Broader experience keeps us safe, efficient, and setting fun, interesting routes. I'll try to use the blog to introduce as many techniques as possible: general knowledge, specific tips for setting safely and speedily, and inspiration to help stoke the fire.

I'll be looking for the views and opinions of routesetters and industry professionals from all around to share their knowledge. Which brings me to my next goal: that these thoughts will help instigate a conversation about routesetting. Routesetting is complex, at least as complex as climbing itself. Pooling our thoughts and resources will help all of us evolve into better setters.

I'll try to use text, pictures, graphs and videos to illustrate points and ideas, as well as to keep things fresh. Because climbing is a personal endeavor, the blog may contain a certain amount of conjecture and opinion. These shouldn't be seen as strict guidelines for routesetting, but just as context for the discussion (and occasionally for your amusement.)

That explains the site - what about the author? To provide a background, I'm a climber and setter in Southern Oregon - obviously not the center of the universe as far as routesetting is concerned. Professionally I'm a programmer and web developer, with a fascination for data and problem-solving. Like many other gym rats, I have a very dynamic style of climbing. I've been setting almost as long as I've been climbing.

When I was a kid, I played with Legos relentlessly. I'd get a new set, put it together once with the out-of-the-box directions, then immediately tear it apart and make something new. The resemblance is uncanny, and I frequently wonder how I came so far through the years to still be playing with neon blocks.

That's all for now. Happy setting!