Hailing from just outside Boston, Massachusetts, Dave Wetmore is Chief Routesetter at Metrorock Climbing Centers and mastermind behind the routesetting of the well-known Dark Horse competition series. Known for his jovial attitude and pinching prowess, Dave has been involved in a number of high profile competitions in the past 5 years, from the Salt Lake City rooftop comps to multiple USAC Youth and Adult events, in both bouldering and sport climbing. He keeps a frenetic pace, managing routesetting for three major gyms, a top competition series and other events each year, and also has an accomplished outdoor climbing resume, regularly ticking off countless double-digit problems around the country and abroad.
EG: Let’s start not
on routesetting. Did you play other
sports as a kid? If you weren’t a
climber and playing another sport at a high level, what would it be?
DW: I was big into hockey—on the pond, school teams, private
leagues, clinics—the works. Working hard on the ice was special, but I gave it
all up to focus every ounce of energy on climbing. In retrospect, I should have
stuck with hockey because you can actually eat burgers and drink beer without
feeling like you’re sabotaging your career.
EG: You started
climbing around Boston? In the gym or
outdoors? How and why did you get into
DW: My Dad took me to the Boston Rock Gym in Woburn, MA,
when I was 8. That place, one of the oldest, most unique gyms in the country,
pretty much shaped my entire future. The
challenge revolved around the individual—the entire practice could be shaped
however you wanted. Complete freedom. I’ll never forget my first top-rope
climb. It was an orange 5.10b I scrambled up in soccer cleats. I remember my
instructor telling me to “knee-drop”. Still trying to figure that one out.
EG: What was your
first routesetting experience?
DW: In 8th grade, my friends and I cut out the
second floor of my family’s barn and built a decent woodie that had top-rope,
lead, and bouldering with varying angles and degrees of sketchiness. We pre-drilled
and installed t-nuts into around 20 sheets of 8x10 particle board. After the
framing and construction were complete, an entire Summer’s worth of work, I
ordered my first 25 Hold Combo Pack from Franklin Climbing Holds and we started
making climbs for each other after school.
Soon enough, kids from all over the neighborhood started
stopping by to check out what the freaks were doing. Within a year, we were
holding our own micro-comps. My mom would bring out popcorn chicken during
sessions. Those were the days man.
EG: You’ve just
started into the 7th (?) season of the Dark Horse series,
right? Can you describe the evolution of
the comp series and what your goals are for it in terms of the atmosphere and
routesetting? What would you say sets
apart the Dark Horse events?
DW: Yes sir, 7th season. My goal is to provide
the best boulders that we can every year and with the help of LT11 and
Sparkshop, Dark Horse has spread like wildfire.
The number of events we string together each season and the
diverse field that we set for within each round is one of the main components
that makes us not necessarily better than other organizations, but certainly
different. Working year after year with companies like Teknik, Soill, and
eGrips, we’ve been able to stay ahead of the curve in terms of hold selection
and volume use. Being extremely attentive to the constant influx of new shapes
and trends (Read: Chris Danielson’s spreadsheet matrix) is essential to
maintaining a high level event.
However, it should be noted that the sheer number of events
we do each year is heavily taxing both mentally and physically. Sometimes we
hit the mark and sometimes we don’t. There are years where it seems as if
setting makes complete sense—cause and effect—and that there really is a
cut-and-dry science to what we do. It’s easy to get cocky and comfortable, ya
know? But as soon as you let your guard down, the all-knowing climbing universe
suddenly opens up yet another realm and makes you feel like you’re blind again
learning to read brail.
question: If you could just transport
yourself anywhere – to any place, or any climbing event in the world, where
would it be? And would it be to compete,
or to set?
DW: Damn, Chris. I’ve got to be honest. Being smack dab in
the middle of this season’s comp setting maelstrom, I think I would transport
myself to Fiji or Tahiti or some place in Indonesia to experience some of the
best waves this planet has to offer.
EG: You now oversee
three big Metrorock gyms, and a fourth gym is on the horizon – can you talk
about what it has been like over the years you have been involved routesetting
at Metrorock? What has the transition
from being Chief Routesetter of one gym to running the routesetting for
DW: The biggest transformation for me has been going from
worker-bee, automated route-setting robotron, a phase that lasted about a
decade, to the guy who is now responsible for communicating, organizing,
structuring, and planning for the big picture. Because I’ve always been more of
a doer and less of a planner, learning how to effectively delegate while maintaining
respect as a leader is complicated and challenging. As time goes on, I’m
starting to the get hang of it. Instead of playing chess with a pile of holds
on a daily basis, it’s a bigger game of chess with setters, hold companies,
competitors, wall manufacturers, and whatever other unknown variables
inevitable arise on a yearly basis.
EG: When you look
at a blank wall and a pile of holds, give us some insight – what are some of
the things running through your mind?
DW: No matter what the setting situation, high level
competition or everyday topropes, I want to focus on what feels good. How much
fun can I have on this wall with these holds? How goofy and weird can I be? Or
how serious and strong can I be? It’s crazy to think how much setting style can
depend on mood especially if you’re as moody as myself.
More importantly, I like to visualize every single hold
option I have in that pile in as many different orientations and variations
that I can remember before even touching a grip and putting it on the wall.
This pre-setting exercise helps to keep the mind sharp and the lower back less
EG: What do you do
when you’re not setting or climbing?
What keeps you motivated?
DW: When I stop caring about climbing, which happens in
cycles throughout every year, I go deep into the White Mountains to search for
big boulders. Finding random pieces of tall granite hiding in the pines that
nature has so aptly placed for you is inspiring. It brings everything all right
back into perspective. We are so lucky to be able to do what we do and nature
always reminds me of this fact.
The ocean too—I’m hooked on surfing. Spying a nice line down the face of a wave
and being able to interact with that pure energy is just like tackling a
behemoth in the mountains. Same raw connection to the Earth.
EG: Describe an
average Dave Wetmore day?
DW: Jeese, now that I think about it, I’m pretty darn
selfish. It’s either about MetroRock, climbing, or surfing. Can we skip this
EG: Let’s talk a
bit more about routesetting… Can you
pinpoint a few of the key things you think you’ve learned in your diverse
experiences? Whether from people, comps,
or climbing in general, that have contributed to your development as a
DW: These events
definitely impacted my setting career.
1) PAN-AMS in Mexico: This
event taught me that the impossible is possible. Anything that you could scheme
up in your wildest Dr. Seuss nightmare realm to happen at an event, CAN HAPPEN
AT AN EVENT and IT WILL HAPPEN AT AN EVENT.
2) SCS Nationals in Atlanta:
I learned how to work until you think you might drop dead and shrivel up into
your 100-year old self like Benjamin Button.
3) UBC in Salt Lake City:
Kynan Waggoner taught me how to laugh when it seems like the world is ending.
It’s important to be able to lighten up when the dark cloud of doom and gloom starts
settling into your dome.
4) New Jersey Rock Gym Gravity
Brawls: Jason Danforth and Pete Ward shaped my perception of what comp
climbing should be.
5) Dominion River Rock in
Virginia: I learned that Chris Danielson can survive a 20-foot death drop rope swing into
2-feet of water.
6) ABS Nationals in Colorado:
I felt way out of my league--like I was setting with a team of neurosurgeons. Full
on intimidation mode. Very humbling. This comp taught me how to slow down and listen.
EG: What is Dave
Wetmore going to be doing in 5 years? 10
DW: I hope to be
doing exactly what I’m doing now if I’ve still alive!
EG: One of my favorite
questions...Features or Footholds?
DW: Features, features, features. Aesthetics play a huge
role in my level of psyche and ability to focus on the task at hand. If
something looks inspiring, it makes me want to climb it. While it may be true
that feet are effective tools at forcing all sorts of movement, you’ll never
see me reach for a pile of feet before I snipe a Bubble Wrap Beehive or a Mallorcan
Volumes hold even more gravity—I can’t keep my hands off
EG: And…name a few
all-star climbing hold shapes or sets, past or present (eGrips or otherwise)
DW: Bubble Wrap anything and everything. There is just
nothing else like them. And the Main Dish is one of my original go-to features.
When in doubt, grab a set of Comfy Crimps and Loaves—they will never let you
down. As far as Teknik goes, it’s hard to go wrong with just about any set, but
the Pinchtite and Bloctite run deep in my veins. The Fatty Long Fat pinches
make me feel like a dingus because I just can’t hold them like I visualize
myself being able to hold them, but because they are so elusive I keep coming
back to them. Same as relationships in my life; past, present, and future.
EG: You and I have
worked together at multiple USA Climbing events and clinics. At the last clinic we did you noted the
importance of systems – can you talk
a bit about this?
DW: Setting can be
like clockwork. From the moment you enter the gym to the moment you leave, you
can be deliberate in how you attack the task—strategically and tactfully. This
can range anywhere from ladder and rope use when setting an overhanging wall to
the order of operations when designing a boulder. On a bigger scale, if you can
train an entire team to read from the same script in terms of how you get the
job done, you can crush some really heavy work-loads in a very efficient and
EG: Some personal
details… Did you go to college? If so, what did you study? Does it help you with your work generally?
DW: I went to University of New Hampshire to study
Journalism. I ended up working for Urban Climber for a bit, then a publication
in Portsmouth, and finally freelancing. But as is tradition for everything else
in my life, climbing took over that too. Although I don’t write anymore, the
journalistic background has helped me to hone and sharpen communication skills.
Just being able to listen to a setter and reply in a way that will forward the
process along has been crucial in the skill development of the MetroRock
DW: Movie: Goonies or Hook or Sandlot. Book: The
Martian because I just read it. Living on Mars would be something else.
EG: If other setters
were to describe your style of routesetting, what would it be? What do you want to be better at? How do you improve when you have so much
experience already, both with day to day commercial routesetting and
DW: My style of
setting might be described as straight forward tom-thuggery. I’d like to be
better at setting individual moves that I don’t fully understand because I’m
not strong enough to do them. By watching other climbers that are either
stronger or weaker than myself, I get closer and closer to better understanding
movement, which in turn allows me to manipulate that movement with more power
and efficacy. Everyone can tell you a major lesson on any climb. That’s
exciting to me.
EG: What about
competition routesetting? Can you give a
brief history of how you got involved in comp setting?
DW: The level of strength and intellectual prowess within
the competition field these days feels like a growing tsunami—often times
unpredictable and savage. Keeping up with these freaks keeps personal professional
improvement an imperative.
I started setting on my woodie growing up, then for
MetroRock getting paid per route, which turned into helping forerun for comps
and then eventually setting a few boulders in them. From here, the spark
ignited into an inferno with no end in sight.
EG: When you are
working in a competition setting environment, aside from the act of putting
grips up on the wall and having a good climbing ability to get the level
appropriate for the field, what do you consider to be the most important
aspects of working in a competition team?
DW: Be yourself and
don’t get your panties into a bunch. When you’re deep in the trenches of a comp,
working tirelessly through the intricacies and insecurities of sequence, a good
attitude, which I will admit I have trouble maintaining, and a strong work
ethic can mean the difference between a winning comp or a losing comp. I’m 3-1
Oh, and listen. Just stop talking for one second. Be quiet
and observe. Watch and listen to your team. Understanding this has helped me a
bunch in all aspects of setting.
EG: Of all the places
you have been to climb, favorite experiences?
What about in terms of the climbing – what places or experiences would
you say have influenced you as a routesetter?
DW: Deep water soloing in Mallorca was easily the most fun
I’ve ever had on a trip. But I would say the Rocklands has defined what I find
to be the most enjoyable type of climbing I’ve experienced due to my beefiness
and general thigh magnitude.
EG: Do you have much
time to climb (either in the gym or outside) aside from your routesetting
work? What’s your perfect climbing
session in the gym look like?
DW: Yes, Pat Enright has helped me shape my work life within
MetroRock and I’m extremely grateful for it. Without these freedoms to climb
and travel, playing with the same sand in the same sand box year after year can
be feel like a lobotomy. Luckily enough, we are constantly buying new volumes
and shapes, training new setters, ripping through comps, and pushing our
product to the next level as often as we can.
My perfect climbing session is pretty simple. Smash a couple
pancakes, half-pound of bacon, and some coffee in the morning. Show up to an
empty gym, blast some Adelle, and just go to town on some boulders. If nothing
hurts by the end of the session and I was able to hold onto some bad holds, I’m
EG: If you had to
pick one thing that you think is the most important skill to have as a
commercial routesetter, what would it be?
DW: As a commercial
setter, it’s important to know how to pace yourself. Setting 4-5 days a week
can be extremely taxing on your body and creativity. Pace is essential to not
burning out. Find meaning in every set. Be happy. When you start plugging
t-nuts without caring or thinking, product quality will drop rapidly. Also,
knowing how to balance the wants and needs of a large customer base is crucial.
All feedback is useful, even the feedback that you think is absolutely
The basics of commercial routesetting are more or less the
same as the basics for competition routesetting. Function, fairness, and
aesthetics should be present in any set, but within competition these
guidelines are far more consequential. Every mistake, no matter how small, can
lead to catastrophe at the high level. So maintaining a constant stream of
vigilance over as many details as possible is essential to controlling results
and mitigating potential variables. Be aware of what’s going on and stay aware
until the comp is over.
EG: You worked as the
Chief Routesetter for the Bouldering Pan American Championship last fall. What were the highlights? Was it fun?
What did you take away from the experience?
DW: Luke Burtelson and I will probably right a book about
this experience someday. It was easily the most challenging event I’ve ever
been a part of. This event makes me feel like I can deal with any problem that
could ever arise at any comp. Looking back, I don’t regret having set foot into
that situation of complete unpreparedness and lack of organization or any sort
of plan. I’m thankful for the opportunity.
Ripping a panel off the bouldering wall and falling
into unpadded concrete.
We didn’t have enough ladders, so we used a 400-pound
iron pirate ladder that needed 4 guys to move it when making tweaks.
No cutting knifes on hand, so we cut ropes with glass.
Bolts were all rusted, so the t-nuts that actually
stayed in the wood, which was rare, usually created spinners.
The number of boulders for each round changed all week.
The number of rounds changed all week. Even competitor categories changed up
until the event and sometimes during the event itself.
Luke and I lived in a small concrete cell. From our rooms,
we could here automatic rifles clacking off in the distance as rebellions and
protests fought on through most nights due to civil strife while we were there.
I ended up in the emergency room the night before
Finals because I wasn’t seeing straight, my heart rate had jacked up, my eyes
had a yellow hue to them, and I had cold sweats. Turns out I have Gilbert’s
syndrome, a liver disorder, that shows these symptoms, when malnourished, sleep
deprived, and stressed.
Oh, and I speak English and Mexicans speak Spanish. So
that was tricky.
EG: Over the past
year you have worked with the Metrorock ownership on development of the next
gym, in Brooklyn, NY. When working on
the design of the climbing walls and the facility, can you talk a bit about
what your motivations were? What are the
most important things you want a climber to experience, in the gym environment,
and how do you translate that to the climbing wall design?
DW: As a climber, you can have all of these crazy ideas and
dream designs, but at the end of the day, the space the gym is being built
inside of and the budget that you have to build dictates many of your
decisions. Not only that, but your demographic also plays a major role in
climbing terrain. So once you are able to pinpoint these three major
components, then you get to play with lead terrain versus top rope terrain
versus birthday party corner versus bouldering versus walking space, etc. With
the gym being located in Brooklyn, we had a relativity small footprint to work
with, however, with the help of Walltopia’s brilliant engineers and designers,
Pat and I were able to come up with the best possible mix of terrain for the
Climbing inside these days is absolutely nothing like
climbing outside, so most elements are naturally lost in translation, but
speaking on a very general level, I like to have big, open planes of surface
area that can make you feel exposed when up high on a route or make you feel
small when your moving through an open panel on a boulder. In my mind, the
cleaner and simpler the angles, the better for setting and climbing purposes.
EG: Last question: Four words that define routesetting for you.
DW: Instinctive. Freedom. Expression. Strategic.