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!