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By Leila Hallenbeck
photos by Rene WallPhotos by Renee Wall

Have you ever decided to climb a Leila route at CityROCK only to feel like you have been hit in the face with highsteps and lock offs? Perhaps you wonder why the route feels “reachy” when I am so short! I am going to give you guys some insight into height and how we as route setters set for different heights in the gym. At 5’1”, some of my shorty-directed moves may feel pretty awkward for a taller person. We shorties climb differently than everyone else! 

When I first started climbing, I constantly resented my height. People would yell beta up at me, and I would get so frustrated when I realized the foot they were telling me to use wasn’t going to get me to the next hold. I remember trying to flash “Diamonds in the Rain” at Wild Iris, and my six-foot-something friend was trying to help me out with the occasional beta spray. “Now put your foot on that giant ledge!” he yelled up as I started getting gripped mid-crux.

“What giant ledge?” I yelled, desperate as my fingers felt like they couldn't hold on. 

“Oh’s actually way below you... I have no idea what feet you need to do this move,” he yelled back.

I still have no idea how I got through that crux, but it probably involved some desperate smearing and high steps. 

At some point, I realized being a short climber can actually be a super power. Did you know Lynn Hill is 5’2” with a negative ape index? She was the first woman to climb 5.14 amongst other wild accomplishments. Being short is awesome! And doesn’t need to hold you back from climbing hard. Eventually, I started realizing this and coming up with my own crazy beta. I would high step up by my chest, and lock-off down by my waist. I finally realized that my body was perfectly suited to climb hard; I simply needed to use all of my strengths together and find my own beta. I’ve sent some climbs that are absolutely easier if you’re short and it is a cool feeling. Sometimes I like to find the “height dependent” climbs at Shelf Road, just to see what crazy beta I can come up with to send them. Some things are truly harder if you’re short, but a lot of climbs just require more creative beta!

When I go to work to set at CityROCK, I bring this mentality into the gym with me. As setters, our goal is to create climbs that people of all heights and builds can enjoy. It can be tricky! Short people and tall people climb very differently. However, I’m going to let you in on some of our setting secrets when it comes to making sure shorties can enjoy the climb too: 

1. Add feet! It’s not fair to make the short people stretch out as far as they can. Adding feet is the most obvious way to help them out! However, when you are adding a foot for a short person, make sure it has the same function as the foot for taller people. You don’t want one height using a jug foot and the other height trying to deal with a smeary foot!

2. Make sure the move is the same for both heights. If a short person has to dyno and a taller person can do the move static, that is a completely different climb for the two heights. I have learned to closely examine body positions when we are fore-running. If Lucas has his knees bent while resting on a foot, and I am struggling to keep my feet on the wall because I am too stretched out, Lucas will have a much easier time moving off of those feet.

3. Keep grades the same! Just because the short person can do it, doesn’t mean it’s the same grade for them. When we set at the gym, we want the V4 to be a V4 for the tall person and the short person. This goes back to adding feet and making sure the moves are the same. 

4. Make the holds directional or downsize them! If you are struggling to hit grade for all heights, or make moves fair, making the holds smaller or turning them slightly, can fix this problem. When holds are smaller, the climber has to maintain more body tension to stay on the wall. This way, you can move the hold closer and still make the move difficult for both heights. The same goes for making holds more directional. The point is that the climber will have to maintain more body tension as they do the move, regardless of height.

5. The trickiest thing to set is dynamic moves that work for all heights! The most important thing to remember is that you want both body types to be set up so that they can generate the proper movement. The short person needs to be able to generate the same momentum as the tall person, so they can propel themselves through the air!

There you have it! These are some of the basics we use at CityROCK to set for short climbers. I always try to add enough feet for all different heights, but sometimes I like to set things that are more focused towards the gym’s short climbers. It can be fun to set for short people! Also, when you are climbing outside, start experimenting with your size and figure out what your own personal “super powers” are when it comes to climbing. No one’s body is exactly the same and this means that you get to be creative and figure out the best way to use yours. It is pretty empowering when you start to figure it out! I enjoy hearing other people’s beta and often try to use it, but if it doesn’t work, there is probably an easier way for me to do it that uses my height and build to my advantage. Learning to feel confident in your size and build will improve your climbing and help you think outside of the box on those tricky climbs!


2 responses found
Leila on Monday, 22 June 2020 20:47 said:
Hi Jay! Thanks so much for that comment! I definitely love to set routes where I try to teach a specific move or technique and it’s awesome to hear that you are learning more from those routes. Stick with it and keep learning all of those little tricks and you’ll get better and better at climbing!
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Jay Aldrich on Monday, 18 May 2020 17:57 said:
I've been really enjoying the essays about Route Setting Theory from everybody.

Since I'm still mostly doing the thing where I'm trying to get from V1s to V2s and 5.7s to 5.8s, my experiences of the routes are mostly in the realm of figuring out the one thing the route is trying to teach me.

"Okay. This route is about putting your left hip into the wall until the middle, where you have to pivot and put your right hip into the wall."
"This route is all about the Barn Door and avoiding it."
"Oh, this route is all about lowering your ***."

I remember one route waaaaaay back in the beforetime, before the construction even, that taught me about swinging to get a hold. I didn't have to do a pullup! I just had to swing back and forth, using minimal effort, and my own momentum would get me to where I wanted to be.

As one of the folks in the gym who is also not 6'2" with a +5" gorilla index, I really appreciate the routes that teach me how to think about what I'm doing, even at the low level I'm at.

You and Cleg and Shanese always do a great job on the V0s and V1s, helping someone like me maybe eventually reach the point where a V2 is possible.

Thanks! And I can't wait for the gym to come back!
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