By Chris Cleghorn aka Cleg
I miss seeing everyone's smiling at CityROCK, the Team, the community and the atmosphere. Oddly, I miss the smell of chalk in the air and the "ssssssuh.... ssssuh" (we all know who I'm talking about) and the faint call of a wild Lucas off in the distance.
I miss the unique child-like excitement I experience when I see an empty climbing wall. Yeah, it looks good filled up with holds, but as a route setter, an empty wall is a blank canvas. I love to envision movement and watch it become reality. I let the wall do as much of the setting as possible by following the natural curves, lines and angles: heel hook an arete, stem in a dihedral, etc. I rarely come into the gym with an idea of what I'm going to set unless it’s for a big competition or I've been influenced by a move while climbing outside. Even when I do come in with an idea, I know that there are many factors at play to whether or not I can actually make it a reality such as: angle of the wall, other sets already on the wall, hold selection, direction of the hold, direction of the foot, how big the foot is, how small the foot is, how far the hands are apart, how close the hands are together, volume selection, the list of factors goes on and on. Sometimes it comes down to one of these things, sometimes it feels like all the stars in the universe have to align for it to work out.
Much of route setting is trial and error. Trial. Error. Trial. Error. Until you get something that works. I've fallen and failed more times than you can imagine - on my own sets - and I do it all the time! I usually end up laughing about how ridiculous my original idea was, but you can't learn unless you try - that's part of the fun. Its pretty rare if I'm trying to set a specific move, that I get it how I want on the first try. You learn what works and what doesn't work and over time you build up what we call a "bag of tricks" that we can pull from and put on the wall in various sets. Climbing is organic though and sometimes what works on a 45-degree wall won't work on a 10-degree wall. Or, maybe you don't have the same resources that you had before, but there are many variations on the same type of move. You just have to find out what works for your situation.
There's also a lot of factors when it comes to hitting a certain grade, every gym is different. Within every gym they have their own standard of what a V2 is or what a 5.10 is and it might not fit what you think constitutes a V2 or a 5.10. Even though some gyms use the same scale of difficulty as what is standard outside, they are not the same. Some gyms have switched their grading completely to another scale, for example a climb labeled a "koala" is a V2-V3 or "blue" is V2-V3 and usually its a scale that encompasses multiple traditional grades, like a range. Its actually kind of an interesting idea and further makes the point that indoor and outdoor climbing have differences. Using the traditional scale indoors and coming up with your own scale both have their pros/cons and usually its personal preference. I think that using a range certainly makes it easier for the setter, but some climbers like to have a "definite" idea of the difficulty so they can track their progress. Either way, the best thing the gym can do is try to maintain consistency within their facility. We try, but we are human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we get overly excited and set too hard, which is called "sandbagging" in the community. I am an admitted "sandbagger" because I often get a little too psyched for my own good.
Hope you enjoyed the little glimpse into my setting mind. If there's any setting topics that you'd like me to discuss or talk about let me know! Some ideas are easier to explain than others, a lot of route setting is not definite and you need to be able to adjust to your resources and again - trial and error, trial and error, until something works and you learn. That's the best part of it all!