Featured Routesetter

Dave Wetmore | Boston, MA

Interview Date: 012.31.2015

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.

Interview »

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 it? 

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.

EG:  Random 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 multiple facilities? 

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 sore. 

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 one?

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 routesetter?

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 years?

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 TufaPinch.

Volumes hold even more gravity—I can’t keep my hands off them.

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. What?

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 safe manner.  

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 setting crew.

EG:  Favorite book?  Movie? 

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 competition setting?

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 this season.

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 satisfied.

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?  Competition setter? 

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 ridiculous.

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.


1)      Ripping a panel off the bouldering wall and falling into unpadded concrete.

2)      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.

3)      No cutting knifes on hand, so we cut ropes with glass.

4)      Bolts were all rusted, so the t-nuts that actually stayed in the wood, which was rare, usually created spinners.

5)      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.

6)      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.

7)      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.

8)      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 space allotted. 

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.


Routesetting is the lifeblood of climbing on plastic.  We’ve always understood that and been driven to create products that give routesetters the best tools to explore climbing movement.  With that in mind, we do our best to support setters at the gyms where they work, through our support of USA Climbing, and with sponsorship of other climbing competitions and events around the globe.   We believe that sharing experiences is a great way to engage the setting community. Years back, we started interviewing setters to hear their interesting stories and to delve into the backgrounds of some of the people who are really dedicated to the craft.

In 2005, we started a routesetting team and supported just a select handful of setters by hooking them up with holds and gear. We also put together our first interviews with these top guys (among them, Mike Moelter, Chris Danielson, Kynan Waggoner – now the “old guys”). In 2007 this evolved into the “Profiled Routesetter” Program. Each month we interviewed a new routesetter from a different part of the country. There are so many awesome setters out there that have worked with the eGrips team at some point. Each setter brings a unique background and we wanted to hear about their day-to-day routesetting experiences.  We’ve posted some of these original interviews here and will be updating this page to include the original team interviews and some history. 

Today, we’re re-starting the Profiled Routesetter program to continue telling these stories.  Each month, eGrips National Climbing Wall Rep, USAC and IFSC Rouetsetter, and all-around setting movement guru Chris Danielson will interview a different setter.  Profiled Setters will get some new grips, a fresh and exclusive eGrips Hoodie, and other schwag. 

Read on to see what makes some of these unique setting characters tick, how they got to where they are in the setting world, their favorite styles or methods to setting, and some of the tricks and tips they use.


Past Featured Routesetters

Ward Byrum | Rockville, MD

Interview Date: 03.15.2015

Ward Byrum (aka “Skilla”) is the Head Routesetter at Earth Treks Climbing Center’s Rockville, Maryland gym – one of the biggest in the country.  He’s been around… from the east coast to Kansas to California and Bermuda and back again, and is an aesthetic specialist who is always thinking about the creative angles and also understanding the importance of who the products that routesetters create are for.

eG:  How long have you been climbing and when did you start routesetting?‏

WB: I really started climbing and routesetting about the same time. I knew my university had a climbing program so showed up day one my freshman year with a pair of Mocasyms all ready to go. This was at the University of Kansas way back in '96. The program was small but extremely welcoming so everyone was involved with routesetting.‏

eG:  What was the wall like?‏

WB:  Not that great...vertical plywood TR wall. I think 16' x 28' tall, and a 10' x 60' "bouldering" (used loosely) wall, except for one small overhanging section the entire wall was vertical, and an adjustable crack. Certainly grim in comparison to where I set now, but at the time we were all so excited to be there and to be a part of climbing that it really didn't matter. I was just so psyched.‏

eG:  Now you set for Earth Treks, primarily in their Rockville, MD location - how long have you been there and did you have a lot of other setting experiences before landing at ET?‏

WB:  I've been the Head Routesetter for Earth Treks Rockville for the past seven years or so.  Before that I was with Planet Granite in CA.  But really I've been setting pretty consistently since those early days in Kansas. In the early days of routesetting it was pretty common to trade routesetting for memberships. I would often set for gyms I didn't even climb at just for the experience of setting alone.‏

eG:  Prior to California you had an interesting stint in your setting/climbing career that I bet few people know about your... yes?

WB:  Oh yes, I did build walls for Entre Prises for a while.  I worked primarily as a traveling installer. I would spend most of my time traveling with fellow installers all around the country building walls mainly for rec centers and universities.  Most of my coworkers were climbers so we would squeeze in climbing days at either the local gym or crag whenever we could.  It turned out to be a great way to see a lot of areas I normally wouldn't have traveled to.  That ended when I was sent to build a wall in Bermuda and decided to stay and run the climbing program there for three years. It was a truly amazing experience. Bermuda is where I learned the most about the front end of the climbing gym business and also met my wife.  She really supports me so much in my pursuit of setting as a career.‏

eG:  That is a different and unique background, for sure!  So you are the Head Setter at the Rockville facility, but also work with the setters at the two other gyms and get a chance to set at Timonium and Columbia fairly often. What’s it like getting to set at the different gyms and with different crews, regularly?  Pros/Cons?

WB:  Rockville is without a doubt one of the best gyms in the country.  That being said, setting in the same facility can still become a bit monotonous.  I find that getting to travel to the other gyms and work with all of the amazingly talented Earth Treks setters is one of the main reasons I'm able to stay so motivated and inspired…really only pros.‏

eG:  Motivation is a hard thing to maintain no matter what the environment.  Can you name a few things that keep you motivated that have to do directly with the job, or climbing itself? Also, what inspires you to be a routesetter that maybe doesn't have to do directly with the act of setting?‏

WB:  Honestly I'm really motivated by the creation of movement.  The variety of movement involved in climbing, particularly gym climbing, seems to be evolving so fast.  I love pushing the boundaries of what is considered "rock climbing". At the same time, setting a technically sound crimp problem can be equally inspiring.  It’s the variety that I find most interesting and limitless.  Of course new holds and tons of volumes don’t hurt either.  One of the reasons I've been able to stay so motivated over the years is my interest in things outside the world of climbing.  I consider myself an artist and craftsman, so whatever I'm working on helps to develop my personal aesthetic.  I like to think that this attention to detail shows in my work as a setter; I like to create routes that look as good as they climb.  Currently my biggest non climbing related project is remodeling my mid-century home in Silver Spring, MD.  Having something totally disconnected from climbing allows my mind to vent and recharge.  If I was only climbing and setting 24/7 I think my life would seem a little one dimensional.

‎ eG:  Favorite thing you've built (in your house or otherwise), that is not a route... and why?

WB:  Easy one for sure.  My wife and I's master suite in our house.  Open floor plan...modern.  It's my favorite because we designed it from the ground up to reflect our personal style and to complement our lives together.  It’s very spa like so a great place to relax after a long day of setting.‏

eG:  You mentioned wanting to reflect your personal style in your work, and aesthetics being important.  If I were to ask a few random ET Rockville climbers “what is Ward Byrum's style?” how would they answer?‏

WB:  First of all they would say “who?”.  I set under the name “Skilla”, so the majority of our members only know me that way. I would hope that they would say creative movement that doesn't detract from the flow.‏

eG:  So… code name is "Skilla" Please explain.‏

WB:  Ha Ha. It's a Rastafarian term used to describe a person with talent.  I picked it up somewhere along the way and it stuck.  It was sort of a thing in Cali to set under an alias so Skilla became mine. There is a certain bravado that comes with setting under an alias.‏

eG:  OK – quick questions...‏Features or Footholds?‏

WB:  Features are definitely have the wow factor but footholds truly dictate the quality of movement so footholds‏.

eG:  If you could only set on a single wall angle - one consistent angle - for setting eternity, what would it be?‏  (Yes... you can use volumes)‏

WB:  Probably 20 degree or so – steep enough for a pump but not so steep that you lose some of the subtle technique‏.

eG:  Ward Byrum’s GO TO moves?

WB:  I can't stop flipping into underclings after you do a long move off of a gaston.  It’s just too good.  Follow it up with a drive by….pure gold‏.

eG:  You can choose, for one week, to set in one place – where?‏

WB:  I'd have to say that Stuntwerk gym in Germany. The style of parkor-esque boulders that they seem to specialize in are very avant-gard.  It just looks so fun.‏ I'm traveling to Japan this fall and hope to do a bit of routesetting there as well.  I'm excited to see the style of setting in Japan‏.

eG:  You mention different styles in different countries. Styles of routesetting seem to evolve/shift/adapt.  Does routesetting influence climbing?  As a sport?  As an activity generally? How so?‏

WB:  That seems to be a hot topic lately and I think people are coming at it from the wrong angle.  I know a lot of problems in some of the more recent comps have been criticized for their use of dynamic or parkour style of movement.  A lot of people don't consider this part of "real" rock climbing.  I think in a way they’re right but only in the context of today.  A few years from now a lot of these athletes will be taking this style of movement outside onto real boulders. I think that’s when things will get really interesting.‏

I think moderation is the key. A comp with all parkour style problems will probably not put the best rock climber on the podium but neither will a comp with all crimp lines.  I'm all for the progression of the sport as long as there is a lot of variety and you could conceivably do the movement outside on real rock.  Indoor climbing and outdoor climbing are not the same thing, yet exist in the same community…moderation and variety‏.

eG:  Here’s a technical Earth Treks question.  You switched Rockville from all tape, to all color. Can you talk a bit about that process - how you went about it - how long it took - how the community adapted?‏

WB:  I came to ET having set for PG so I was accustomed to setting without tape.  I really think that’s how all gyms should operate.  The look is just so much cleaner and all of the down sides can be mitigated by a large back stock of holds and a good turnover.  I started by setting by hold color while still taping; this was a good starting to point for introducing the idea to our community of climbers.  There is also a learning curve to setting without tape, so keeping the tape allowed our setters to refine their skills while still having a crutch.  The gym rotated a few times like this before there was a general feeling that the tape was redundant.  From that point, removing the tape just made sense.  There are still a lot of considerations to be made in regard to similar colors being too close and color combinations that are problematic to color blind climbers.  We try pretty hard to minimize these as much as we can.  The whole process took a little over a year or so.‏

eG:  Favorite hold or hold set (any brand)‏ not made in the past 10 years?

WB:  The best hold set ever made are Comfy Crimps…and I’m not just saying that - they've been my favorites for years.  Good on almost any angle.‏

eG:  Nice! Any other favorite eGrips sets, or features?‏

WB:  Main dish is a stand-out, the whole Myorcan line is amazing.  Bubblewrap everything… one of the most uniquely comfortable textures ever created.‏

eG:  Can you share a brief experience or two - about what have been your most enjoyable routesetting experiences?

WB:  Setting for Dominion Riverrock is always such a great experience.  The height of that scaffolding combined with uniqueness of those suspended volumes is spectacular. I've had the chance to work with some great setters at that event.  Ayo Sopeju, Dave Wetmore, and Chris Danielson to name a few… really good time.  Definitely a hard comp to set as well.  Really demanding forerunning and terrifying using 20' ladders on Asana mats.‏

eG: What have you learned the most about in your routesetting career?

WB:  I try to remember that it’s all temporary.  No matter what I set today, good or bad, it'll be gone in a couple months. This idea frees me up to experiment and challenge myself to continue to evolve my craft.‏

eG:  Can you share any advice for aspiring routesetters who want that dream job setting at an awesome gym like Earth Treks?‏

WB:  Routesetting is not for lazy people.  I've had a lot of hard physical jobs but setting is another level.  It's like digging a ditch while painting a painting at the same time.  Every Head Routesetter wants someone to come in everyday, bust theit butt and do it with a smile on their face.  Also being receptive to feedback is crucial; it’s all part of our growth as setters.‏

eG:  Last question:  four words that define routesetting for you.‏


Choreography: As route setters we're designing movement.  Although sometimes unpredictable there must be a basic thought behind the intended movement.  Our intent as setters should be to design movement that inspires people, just as a choreographer would in dance.‏

Fulfilling:  It’s a very empowering feeling to create something.  Within routesetting we are not only receiving fulfillment from the act of creating something we're proud of but the climbers that get to interact within our creations will also find fulfillment when their able to hold that crux move or figure out that hard to read sequence.

Purposeful:  I feel that holds should be placed deliberately. Anyone can put holds on a climbing wall but understanding how others will use them is the mark of a seasoned routesetter. There will always be happy and not so happy accidents in setting. That’s okay but every time someone doesn't do something the way you intended is an opportunity to learn.‏

Fluid:  Blood, sweat, tears… all fluids.  Every routesetter has to be prepared to spill these in the pursuit of their craft.  But fluid or rather fluidity is also an important element particularly in commercial route setting; a climb that flows well will be enjoyed by the masses.

Justen Sjong

Justen Sjong | Boulder, CO

Interview Date: 08.06.2009

Update: Justen still regularly works at Movement Climbing and Fitness as a private coach and travels around the country with his climbing training program Team of 2.

eGrips: Justen, you’ve been routesetting for a long time. How did you get your start? Did you have any mentors?

Justen Sjong: I had several mentors through the years. The first setter who had a huge impact in my setting was Jimmy Redo. Jimmy had the ability to set hard sustained routes with small moves that were difficult to bypass, a great skill for gyms that aren’t tall.. My other mentor, Craig McClenahan, the Head Setter of the Touchstone facilities in CA, taught me a lot about organization in a large facility. He highlighted the importance of grade distribution and layout, of achieving a balance between quantity and quality, and product appearance.

eG: You’ve worked at some of the best respected climbing gyms in the US and seen the industry shift from one where regular climbers were the primary participants to one where new and recreational climbers, groups, fitness users are all part of the greater demographic – any comments on this? How has it affected your routesetting, if at all?

JS: I think it’s great the gyms are full of recreational climbers. They are the ones with real jobs who support the climbing industry. When someone has a full-time job and family it becomes very difficult to get outside except for easily accessible and well-protected climbs. I hope the mentality of the dedicated dirt bag climber will shift and embrace the recreational climber. I don’t see them having a negative impact on the outdoor scene at all.
With routesetting, I do my best to create interesting sequences in the easier grades. The majority of the members who climb in the gyms climb routes between 5.8 and 5.11c. Those are the grades that MUST be fun to climb so they remain members.

eG: Your new role at Movement Climbing and Fitness will be as Head Coach for a diverse range of youth and adult teams, right?. What are a few important things that you would you say make for a successful coaching program at a commercial gym? How can routesetters and coaches work together?

JS: The route setters MUST set and tweak the 5.8 to 5.11c climbs so they have an interesting sequence and are technical for the grade. Route turn-over must happen on a scheduled routine. It becomes VERY difficult to train members on climbs that have been around for months.

eG: Local climbers and gym folks across the board are excited about Movement… as a part of the operation and someone who has worked in a lot of gyms – what are you most excited about with the new gym?

JS: The natural light and open feel of the gym which creates a great place to hang out and builds a community.

eG: Do you have a routesetting 'philosophy' or style?

JS: I like to set sustained climbs that the vertically challenged will enjoy. I think it’s important that setters understand the importance of building a quality product in a timely manner.

eG: A couple tricks or tips you can suggest to routesetters in the industry who are just starting out?

JS: 1) Start by creating a hand sequence and then add the feet so the climb flows. The flow of a climb is all about the FEET. 2) Don’t get too ‘creative’ at first. Just master the basic four wrist rotations: Downpull, Sidepull, Undercling, Gaston.

eG: Alright, we’ve got to hear about the 4:20 route taping program. You had set at some gyms in California and applied this and have since used it at the Spot Gym in Boulder. Whose idea was this? You prefer it?

JS: Andres at Mission Cliffs is the one who is responsible for the 4:20 tape plus every setter can remember 4:20. I had the same arguments that I have heard from setters and members. “You can’t see the tape sometimes!” That is true but part of your job as a setter is to sell climbing. When a possible new member walks in the front door the confusion of the tape is a turn-off. The end product looks better from a distance and tape direction doesn’t change your setting.

eG: The real business… what about outdoor climbing… this is obviously something you excel at as a prolific 5.14 climber and new route developer. What most motivates you as a climber?

JS: Long consistent climbing, I love getting pumped and doing my best to keep my head together.

eG: If you could be anywhere in the world developing a new route, where would it be… what would the route be like?

JS: A 3000’ climb in a slightly remote area with a variety of climbing: crack, face to slab, steep.

eG: And e-Grips… what is it about eG you love? Favorite sets? What would you like to see more of?

JS: I love the shapes from e-Grips! Obviously the shapes are cool and simple at the same time. The fact that I don’t need to use Martini Bolts is a huge bonus!

eG: Thanks Justen – good luck with routesetting and coaching at Movement – we’ll hope to see some new young guns coming out of your program in the coming years!

Peter Kamitses

Peter Kamitses | Burlington, VT

Interview Date: 07.08.2009

Update: Peter continues to climb at a very high level and establish new climbing in the Northeast. He has since gone on to set for multiple SCS Youth Nationals.

eGrips: Peter, you’re a bit of a New England legend, having climbed hard routes all over the crags in the Northeast, but some people may not know you’re also a longtime routesetter – what got you into setting?

Peter Kamitses:
I started climbing on the cliffs of New England when I was 18 and a couple of years later the first climbing gym in Vt opened up just outside of Burlington. Indoor climbing was new to me and I was amazed at the volume of climbing I could accomplish in such a short time. Right away the owners let me start setting and I was hooked on the creative challenge that setting provides.

eG: Tell us about the gym you set at in Vermont – Petra Cliffs – how long have you been involved setting there?

PK: After the Burlington Rock Gym closed we went a couple of years with no indoor facility until Petra Cliffs opened in 2000 and I have been setting there ever since.

eG: Do you have a crew or do you do most of the work yourself? Play any other roles in the gym?

PK: I end up doing the majority of the work myself but over the years there have been many great people who have come and gone in the northern Vt community who have given a lot to the route setting at Petra Cliffs. Currently there are a good group of barter setters who help out once a week or so. As for other roles in the gym, I used to guide a bit, coach the junior team and do private lessons but now only have time for the setting.

eG: Are there unique characteristics about the gym you can tell us about? Whether the climbing terrain, the layout, the climbing community..?

PK: The highlights of Petra Cliffs terrain are the 50 degree lead cave capped by a 12 foot horizontal roof and the bouldering cave upstairs which has a tone of interesting angles and features. The climbing community and members of our gym are really our biggest asset. There is a great deal of energy and psych to draw from that is really motivating through our long winters.

eG: So, when it comes to setting, being as experienced as you are outdoors, do you take inspiration from real rock?

PK: Definitely, I am a little embarrassed to admit how much time I spend thinking about specific movements and sequences on routes I’ve done or projects that I’m working on. I feel super fortunate to have been able to do as much traveling and climbing as I’ve done and to then be able to draw from that in my work.

eG: What about grades… it’s hard enough finding consistency with grading on real rock, what’s your take on how to think about grades in the gym and when setting?

PK: Grades in the gym are only a suggestion and as long as the routes with higher grades are harder than the routes with lower grades customers should be happy. In general I think making gym routes a bit stout or at least really solid for the grade is a good idea so that when people go outside to more challenging terrain they have the fitness to meet those challenges at similar grades.

eG: If someone who climbs at Petracliffs regularly were to describe your style of routes, what would they say?

PK: Probably a bit longer (as in more moves) user friendly with nice flow and generally getting harder towards the top. Also more flat and positive holds versus slopers so that it isn’t as big a deal when they get all greasy caked up with chalk from all the traffic.

eG: Setting in a gym commercially, it can be a real challenge to please the diverse membership – if you could describe one route you think would be most popular in the gym, what would it be in terms of grade? Would there be specific movement styles? A crux?

PK: I’d have to say that a classic 5.10 would get the most traffic as it will be the beginners’ project and the more experienced climbers warm-up. I like the ultra classic gym route to have flawless flow with increasing difficulty and between 25 and 50 moves long. No huge rests to mess up the pump. It should have a bit of everything as far as hold type and orientation though I sometimes like to group hold types in a certain section of the climb; like a series of 5 pocket moves into some angling layback edges or whatever. Positive clipping holds to help people relax without fear of blowing clips. For the most part the sequences should be moderately easy to read with a few distinctive technical sections that require more thought. Most importantly they should be fun. Awkward, jerky, “trad” moves are not fun.

eG: You’re in a gym that’s been around for a while, probably has a lot of holds old and new… what are some of your favorite holds out there? Petracliffs is also one of the many gyms on e-Grips First Dibs program, and favorite eG sets?

PK: Yeah we have been weeding out the oldest, polished resin holds as best we can and replacing them with new urethane sets from a variety of companies. e-Grips and So Ill are my favorite companies and I’m not just saying that cause this is going on your website. e-Grips were the first company out there to have the durability and texture which made them my favorite regardless of shape when I first used them. There is nothing worse than a sweet new hold that has decent texture when new but gets totally polished up the first time its put on a high traffic route where it gets stepped on hundreds of times a day for a couple of months straight. Or worse gets broken when accidently dropped on the concrete. Case in point the first set of e-Grips we got years ago still have great texture while some holds we’ve had less than a year are polished already. As far as favorite e-Grips sets….I love em all but the old school Solar System set and Ian’s Tribal are some of my favorites as well as the newer Side Dishes and Little Wings.

eG: I asked this question to another setting friend recently – I like it so I’m going to ask it again… If you could be anywhere in the world developing a new route, where would it be… what would the route look or climb like?

PK: I’d say it would have to be here in my backyard in Vermont or the Adirondacks. I think developing new routes in your home region is one of the best things you can give to your local climbing community. Having somewhat limited time to climb these days with my two sons and my wife’s new business (here’s the plug www.urbanmoonshine.com) I would want it to be super rewarding. For me that means a beautiful overhanging intermittent crack and face route on bullet granite with decent gear, spaced out and spicy, but safe enough, with moves I can conceive of but not quite do without lots of work.

eG: Ok, back to the outdoor world – what are your aspirations for 2009 – 2010, do you have any serious trips planned or projects you’re excited about?

PK: Probably do a short sport climbing trip to Quebec next month and a longer trip to the southeast in the late fall. I have two amazing projects here near home, one is half gear/half bolts and is definitely possible, just this spring I finally did every move. The other is an all gear route following an arcing seam up a gently overhanging face and I’m not so sure if I can do it, half of the moves I could conceive of but not do….but I am psyched none the less.

eG: Thanks Peter, have a great summer!

Molly Beard

Molly Beard | Portland, OR

Interview Date: 01.01.2008

Update: Molly has continued to set prolifically for USA Climbing competitions and regularly instructs USAC Routesetting Clinics.

eGrips: When did you start routesetting? How many, and which gyms, have you set at commercially?

Molly Beard: I started setting around ’95, mostly just tooling around the gym where I was coaching. It was very fun, as most setters can attest. I was also starting to compete and that really perked my interest as I quickly noticed when the setting was good and when it wasn’t. Most of my commercial setting time has been spent here in Portland; primarily at Stoneworks and ClubSport. With comps I’ve set at more gyms that I have digits on my paws. Right now I’m doing the freelance bit, when I’m not dry-walling and painting our house.

eG: So, Molly, you’ve been a part of the USAC National Setting family for years now, what’s it like to be the reigning queen of routesetting in US competitions?

MB: Ha. I like queen better than Grand Dame, that’s a fact! The folks I’ve gotten to work with and know over the years are AMAZING. No lie. I think it would be impossible to do the things we do: to critique each other, to be brutally honest with each other and still really like each other if we weren’t all good people at the start. Family is a good way to call it. On a serious note, I don’t know why there have been so few women involved. Up until last year I hadn’t worked with a single lady at any event. On the one hand, I don’t care about being the only female; hell, my best friends are guys, why does where the toilet seat goes matter? Yet it’s more than a little weird because I know there are good lady setters out there!

eG: Yourself, eG Team Setter Kynan Waggoner, and kid climbing phenom Kevin Branford all call Tony Yaniro a routesetting mentor – tell us what you’ve learned from the legend of American Routesetting?

MB: Unyielding desire to always do better. There is always something new to learn as long as you look carefully at what you have done.

eG: We met at your longtime gym Clubsport, in Portland, OR at an ABS Regional that yourself, I, and Mike Moelter set. Initially, we all had some friendly friction about the style of problems back then, as I recall. What do you think were the differences in approach, then, and if any, now?

MB: You still remember that? Jeez, I have problems finding my shoes some mornings! I don’t remember much about the style of problems, so much as the location you two were proposing for the finals. I think the biggest difference was one of experience. I was coming from the place of ‘independent’ routes, of how most onsights had been run, where each route or problem had its own space well separated from the others. You and Moelter were trying to create more of ‘the show’, where all the routes were much closer together. I was glad (still am) that we ran the finals in the Moelter-Danielson vision; it was way more exciting than what I had planned. I think any differences now have more to do with what kind of space each gym offers and how to try and create as much action as possible in that space for any given spectator.

eG: Do you prefer one “style” to another, whether in bouldering or routes? What would you say is your personal setting style, if any?

MB: I don’t know that I have much of a specific style anymore. I have worked hard to try and not get boxed into a ‘style’. After doing so much commercial setting I feel good at setting one route that challenged folks of very different heights fairly. I think if anything I would identify my setting as brutally pumpy and requiring much body-tension.

eG: You recently withdrew (or is it a sabbatical?) from commercial routesetting. Do you miss it? What were the biggest challenges of commercial setting? What do you not miss?

MB: There are days when I miss the commercial stuff quite a bit. The members at the gym are really great, I miss giving them the ‘little presents’, and I miss receiving the feedback; good or bad, it added up to a huge amount of learning. Then there are days when I am elbow deep in the garden psyched I’m not hanging in a harness!

eG: As a competition setter, you are as experienced as anyone else in the US. Don’t be modest… what makes you so good at it? What makes a great comp setter?

MB: A mouth as coarse as your teenage brother’s. Just kidding. I don’t know that there is anything really special about what I do. I watch the competitors carefully thru the year, I am a big believer in the ‘team’ concept (listening carefully to what my setting teammates have to say about my routes), and I pay very close attention to how hard each move feels. I’m a bit OCD for observation, both objective and subjective. It can all be summed up as attention to detail; that is what makes the cut from a good setter to a great one.

eG: What are your favorite eG sets? Or types of holds in general?

MB: Mini Myorcan Tuffas. I would use those every time, on every route and problem if I had the chance. Ooooh! And the Bubble Wrap. I drool just thinking about that sucker. I also am a huge fan of the original VooDoo Talus series, Stoneage’s Pandora, and some very vintage slopers that Tony Yaniro shaped for Metolius...where have those molds gotten to?????

eG: You instructed a USAC Routesetting Clinic this summer with folks from the Southwest all the way to Alaska – how do you “teach” routesetting? What suggestions would you have for people looking to improve?

MB: Other than basic mechanics, which must be shown, more advanced routesetting is so much about observation, objective and subjective again! There are the little tricks like teaching folks how to gauge sizing for small climbers, adding appropriate footholds, how to force sequences, etc. Yet I find the majority of teaching routesetting has to do with teaching folks how to give and take critique in a useful manner. You can teach someone a way to force a rose-cross, but when it comes to future application it might not work. How is a newer setter to learn nuance if they can’t handle the critique? How does a newer setter give that critique and be heard? Really good setting evolves from practice, observation, AND communication.

eG: Lastly, there must be some crazy setting stories from your past… will you give us a nugget? Scariest? Most surprising? Most fun?

MB: Hmmm…Scariest- that would have to be the time at a National when we had our room reservation messed up and there were 6 really stinky setters sharing one room. Another story isn’t really scary, and would take way too long to relate…but here’s the bones: 2004 Continental Championships in Mexico City. Adult and Youth categories in difficulty, speed and bouldering. We had nine days to set everything with approximately 400 holds (fully half of them monster jugs), a wall that could hold 5 routes, a boulder that was under construction, and no outdoor lighting. Yet the locals were rad, the international judge was super supportive, the food was yummers, and in the end we got the job done. It was an incredible time. It really made me see what could be done with almost nothing.

eG: Thanks Molly!

Brent Quesenberry

Brent Quesenberry | Glastonbury, CT

Interview Date: 06.30.2009

Update: Brent has since gone on to build the mega volumes and help organize and set for the now well-established Dominion River Rock competition. He is now the Head Routesetter at Central Rock Gym's Glastonbury, CT gym.

eGrips: Brent, how'd you get your start setting? What got you psyched about it?

Brent Quesenberry: One day while climbing at the gym it dawned on me that these things bolted to the wall moved!, and that I could move them. I got psyched on it because I realized that I could force people to do what I wanted them to with the holds, and help them climb better, stronger, and with more energy.

eG: You set at Peak Experiences in Virginia. This gym has some great history a lot of people might know about it, with a design by one of the top course setters from the 90s, Mike Pont. What stands out about the gym?

BQ: The texture is pretty sweet, and you have to get psyched about nearly 50 foot tall walls. Over all the design is very user friendly for both strong climbers and beginners. Mike might argue that the original plans where way cooler than what actually got built but it has worked out well over the years.

eG: You spend a good bit of time coaching kids for Peak Experience's Youth Team. How long have you been coaching? How do you incorporate your route setting with coaching?

BQ: This is my fourth year working with the kids, I really enjoy it. Being USA Climbing certified as a course setter has helped me coach kids with many aspects. It helps with everything from sequencing for on-sights and route reading to putting up "on-sight challenge" routes for them that are closer to what they will see at the Divisional and National level competitions.

eG: You're what some might call a workhorse setter, in the gym all the time - What keeps you psyched to set everyday?

BQ: Fresh holds, theme sets, and my endless imagination.

eG: Your gym sets by color of hold, rather than tape. Do you prefer this method all the time? Does this make for better routes, or are you limited?

BQ: I was a little scared when I started setting at Peak, setting by color was a new to me, but I have gotten over that and prefer setting this way now over any other method that I have used. Setting by color makes for better routes in my book just for the fact that there is nothing on the wall but holds. The quality of the route is up to the setter not the holds though. Over the last 5 years I have been buying holds very methodically, I wanted to make sure that each color was as developed as the next and that the best holds where available for more than one route in each color. I have tried hard to ensure that any argument of setting by color is limiting, does not hold water here.

eG: Tell us about your setting rotation program? How often do you change routes, and how do you keep track of them? Do you have an assessment system in place for judging how the route setting is?

BQ: 12 routes a week...up and down. We track all of our routes two ways...first through a "quick reference" dry erase board that is updated weekly...and secondly electronically. We track every route through an excel spread sheet. This has helped us create a historical record of every route that we have put up or taken down in the last 4 years. This has helped us with everything...including scheduling, budgeting, cost analysis, and the hold inventory. We also have a regularly scheduled event every Tuesday, called "Climb Time" where all of the route setters and any Climbing Center member that wants to join us....gets together to climb all of the new routes for the week. We use this time to evaluate, grade, and tweak each new route as needed. We certainly solicit feedback from our members during the week.

eG: You've been to clinics instructed by a lot of experienced routesetters – always looking to learn more. Give us a couple pieces of knowledge from someone who's always a student – What have you picked up over the years? Who have you learned the most from? How do you apply what you see from others to your own setting?

BQ: More often than not, it's the little things that I pick up. Like want kind of wrench someone is using or how they ascend with a different system. I learn a lot by watching a setter's process of setting a route from start to finish as well, just seeing what they do different than I do and trying to evaluate if that is better or worse. It did seem to be just these little things...That was until I met Chris Danielson! He and I have worked and set together a few times and I also took one of his USAC clinics last year. This guy is a genius, I learned more from him about truly forceful movement in three days than I had from any one else in 10 years!

eG: You've been setting for so long, off and on – what tips do you have for new setters out there? How do you get to see the moves without having to climb the moves?

BQ: LISTEN! Listen to the people that are teaching you, listen to the people that are climbing your routes! If all you ever hear is people hopping off of your route complaining about it being reachy...maybe it's reachy. If all you ever hear is its awkward...maybe its awkward. Do not set a route thinking about yourself climbing it. Imagine someone climbing it that climbs the grade that you're setting, and think about weather or not they would enjoy it. You have to remember that when you are setting commercially that you are setting for all of your gyms members and clients...everyone but yourself. How to see the moves??? That comes with time and experience...overtime you gain a perception of space and how the human body can move through it, as well as what is possible, or not. Lastly...never be scared to try new things, no matter how crazy they are.

eG: Okay, let's talk holds... you've seen and climbed on your fair share of them. What are some of your favorite shapes from companies of old?

BQ: There was this really awesome hueco form Vertical Concepts that was always one of my favorites. I saw one at CATS on a recent trip to Boulder....it was hard to leave it on the wall. I also have a special place in my heart for the Boss...the original from Pusher. It was the first really obnoxiously huge feature hold, I can remember being worried that it was going to pull the t-nut through the wall! The first one that I ever got was a solid-none hollow backed resin hold.

eG: What makes a hold a good hold? When you're picking from a big pile – what is it about the best holds that makes them "work" best?

BQ: Holds that are well defined work best for me. I like holds that are specifically a left or a right hand or something that is clearly matchable. I also love dual-tex they can really help force a sequence. I prefer urethane – for sure and new holds would be best.

eG: And e-Grips... what is it about eG you love? Favorite sets? What would you like to see more of?

BQ: The urethane is the best, and I love that I can order a set today that has been in the line for a while and it will be identical to the ones I already have. Pockets...I love the pockets! The Loaves are pretty rad too. Just keep shipping in the First Dibs holds and I will be happy!

eG: Thanks Brent – have fun building routes!

Joe Czerwinski

Joe Czerwinski | Mesa, AZ

Interview Date: 04.09.2008

Update: Joe opened his own bouldering gym, Focus Climbing Center, in Mesa, Arizona in 2013 and continues to set and coach regularly.

eGrips: So, A little history first - how did you get your start routesetting and how long have you been a setter?

Joe Czerwinski: I got my start setting at the Phoenix Rock Gym back in 1994. I asked the head setter if I could put up a route. He gave me a bucket of holds and told me to make a 5.7 on this tight vertical corner. I only had one requirement, it couldn’t be a ladder…… I think there was one match. About two years later, the head setter moved and I filled that position with a bunch of routes I thought were good. Knowing what I know now, I am sure everything was horrible. However, I learned a lot of the basics at the PRG, and the owner was very supportive of my work.

eG: You work at a major gym in Arizona, AZ on the Rocks. I’ve never been to the gym but from the pictures, it looks like there is a lot of steep terrain and great bouldering. What do you most like to set at the gym, routes or boulder problems?

JCZ: Well, the lazy guy in me prefers to set boulder problems, because I don’t have to lug around a 16ft fiberglass extension ladder. Boulder problem setting requires less time both physically and mentally, so it can be easier for a lot of people to do. What I hate about setting problems in my gym is the vertical kick plates at the base of the wall. This frustrates me to no end as it is increasingly difficult to even out problems reach wise. Overall, I get the most satisfaction with well set routes. I have set some really bad ass lead routes, and found it more rewarding than making a brilliant problem because it is harder for everything to work out over 40 ft of climbing versus 12-15ft bouldering walls.

eG: When it comes to setting proficiently, people with as much experience as yourself are looked to for advice and direction. So, here’s the hardest question ever - in the gym, what makes a good route good? What makes a good setter good? Is it consistency, creativity? Learned, or intuitive?

JCZ: When it comes to what makes a good route good, its whatever I tell people…… Just kidding. I think it comes down to flow, movement and the originality of the climb. Crimp ladders on a 45 are great, but every gym has a climb like that. What your gym has that is different or "out of the box" is what can separate average setting from great setting. Since commercial setting is about education of the climber, you are testing individual aspects of climbing: footwork, sequencing, body position etc. So having good flow and movement on your routes is essential to the education of the paying customer. The originality of climbs seems to matter more as the difficulty increases. Typically, 5.7 climbers are psyched to have new climbs. I have never heard them complain that the new 5.6 is just like the last one. Another part of being a good setter is the climbing experience of the individual. Since every climbing area is different, one who has climbed in multiple areas, on a variety of rock types, yields a better movement vocabulary. I think the problem with a lot of new setters is how much movement they know. Also, I think there is a great benefit to learning from everyone you work with. If I am stuck, I always ask the less experienced setters what they would do. Mental block is HUGE in this line of work and sometimes it takes a fresh brain to see something you don’t. No setter knows everything. Lastly, I think setting both learned AND intuitive such that one is always learning new skills. However, its how the setter interprets those new skills and evolves them into something that applies to the walls he/she is working on.

eG: You coach the AZR Ascenders - has working with a junior team changed your approach to, or understanding of setting?

JCZ: OMG, this is HUGE. I have completely changed my approach to commercial setting because of the team. For example, everything 5.10+ and under is based off the reach of the shortest kid (right now, that is 60 inches between hand and foot). If it is any longer, she can’t reach it. This way, when I am coaching, I have more terrain for her to climb and get stronger on. I am the BIGGEST advocate of making climbs reach friendly. Additionally, it has changed my understanding of how kids climb, and what their short body can do on the wall compared to mine. The biggest downfall of this has been in my own climbing. I have a group of girls who are REALLY strong, so I have to set V8 and V9 for them to work. Because of this, there are no moves where my body extension feels "maxed". Therefore, when I climb, I am always looking to get my feet up to avoid feeling extended.

eG: You recently came up to Boulder for the ABS Nationals with your team, and put on a superb performance yourself, making finals in a very stiff crowd of competitors and getting the spectators psyched! What motivates you to compete and were you happy being a participant in the event? Any comments, as a competitor who is also an experienced comp setter?

JCZ: I am always motivated to compete because it is fun for me. I have a great time bringing everything to the table and throwing down. I think you can find out something about yourself when you can walk away from something like that and know you could not have tried any harder. It’s a good feeling knowing you can "summon the beast" when you have to. I think being an experienced setter gives me an edge in competition, as I am always on the lookout for all the tricks I use when I am setting a comp. Typically, I can feel flow and movement really well, and I have more success on problems that are made that way. Also, it seems like many of the top setters don’t compete. I think it is really important to compete at that level because you have a better understanding of what the athletes are going through within the given format of the competition. As a setter, your outlook on the difficulty of problems/routes can be skewed as you will climb it, then tweak it, over and over. Meanwhile, the setter is learning the muscle memory of the problem, and with each attempt the problem can feel easier. If you are not careful, it is very easy to "tune-up" the problem too much and shut down the field.

eG: I remember reading your entry in "The Art of Coursesetting", a couple of years ago and thinking.. that’s a pretty bold stand to take.. I agreed with much of it, but could see a general backlash, some perhaps saying - "that’s not climbing" - what’s your take these days?

JCZ: My opinion has evolved a bit, but that is the ticket. For someone to say "that’s not climbing", is ridiculous? There are so many different types and sub-cultures to climbing its crazy. Its easy for someone to like a single aspect of climbing, and not to like another. For the same reason there is not one person in the past year who has: summated Mt. Everest, climbed M12, bouldered V13, onsighted 14a sport, fired 13c crack while dominating the World Cup circuit. We all have our preferred method of climbing. However, I think if climbing is going to survive on television, it is going to be with the crazy gymnastic, dynamic climbing style of the Asian X-games, or other high level production events. As an industry, we have to ask ourselves how we want the sport to grow. Oddly enough, many people don’t want climbing to evolve for fear of losing the "roots" of climbing. This is total BS. Look at professional bullriding…… do you think that encompasses the true spirit of a rodeo? Hell no, but a group of riders found a way to do what they love and make a TON of money doing it. Why can’t climbing do the same? When it comes to competition climbing, the crazier the better; swinging holds, PVC pipes, whatever. Let’s make a toilet bowl out of urethane and bolt it to the wall and see what we can do. In know that is extreme, but non-climbers have no idea how hard little crimps are. However, all of them could imagine what it would be like to hang onto a toilet bowl hanging from the ceiling. All the creativity in the world is great, but in the end, it comes down to what the sponsors want. If Bud Light will give 50K to host a dyno-comp, why not? Is it "real climbing"? Not really, but it’s a way for athletes to showcase a singular aspect of the sport and make some good money. Millions of people have laced up ice skates, so all those people have a grasp on the difficulty of a triple-lutz in figure skating. As setters and organizers, we need to create a competition that captivates the un-athletic beer drinkers of America. What is more likely to hold their attention: static slopers, or double dynos with footless rose moves? There is a good reason why speed climbing lasted longer than any other form of climbing at the X-Games……because people love a good race. Did I mention Nascar?

eG: Having set such a different style event for many years and worked with many different shapes from various manufacturers - which hold types would you say you prefer for such a dynamic style of setting and why?

JCZ: Funny as this may sound, but Tony Yaniro has some shapes that were truly ahead of their time. Especially some of his thread holds. They are great for high end figure-fours and un-trackable campus moves. I am a big fan of dual texture everything. I hate it when the shape of a hold allows a tracking foot placement. If I want you to use your feet on a given section, I will bolt one on. As far as hold type for the AsianX, we use more positive holds than slopers for sure. However, the success comes from a diverse hold selection, which can be very challenging because we bring most of the shapes with us. Every year, I wonder how we are going to top the problems from the previous year, but somehow we find a way. A big part of the success of our setting comes from brainstorming ideas with the other setter.

eG: What about e-Grips in particular? As a setter - do you have any favorites? Any comments on e-Grips design? What would you like to see in the future?

JCZ: To be honest, I was not crazy about e-grips 3-4 years ago. However, I am finding the genius in the shapes the more I use them. I like the artistic nature of the shaping. I have tried my hands at shaping a bit, and it is way harder than one would think. I would like to give some major props to the shapers of e-grips. You boys got some serious skills. Some of my favorites are the comfy crimps and many of the foothold sets. Bubble wrap slopers, and myorcan tufas are great as well. I love the Hueco Wonder hole for one handed dynos. What I think hold manufactures are missing is the opposite hand shape. For example, some crimps are shaped right hand specific. Well, make me the left hand version. I know this is incredibly time consuming, but its lacking in this industry. Also, I would love to see untrackable pockets for steep climbing. I have a lot of ideas for holds which are not currently available.

eG: Thanks Joe - hope to see you competing in future events and bringing some strong youngsters onto the scene!

Diane Russell

Diane Russell | Santa Cruz, CA

Interview Date: 02.12.2008

Update: Diane continues her work at Pacific Edge in Santa Cruz, California and is always psyched for new eGrips shapes.

eGrips: When did you begin climbing and routesetting?

Diane Russell: I was raised in Boulder Colorado. My family spent weekends at our family cabin in Wild Basin where I scrambled up trees & cliffs until my frightened parents called up Cleve McCarty and he introduced me to my first roped climbing experience in 1969. (Cleve was my dentist & my father's climbing partner when they were younger) I climbed on Cookie Jar Rock, a boulder on Flagstaff and I loved it! He suggested Colorado Mtn. Club for further instruction. I became involved with the junior's club & worked my way up from assistant to senior climbing instructor over the next four years. My introduction to a climbing community began after high school when I moved to Estes Park and began my first job at Komito's selling and repairing climbing & hiking boots. In 1975 I moved to Santa Cruz, CA where I went to school & learned my next profession: cabinetry & carpentry, which I did for the next 18 years. During the summers between school I returned to Estes & worked as a guide for Colorado Mountain School with Mike Donahue. Route setting began for me 25 years after I first climbed Cookie Jar Crack. Three years into my competition chapter, Tom Davis asked if I would like to come to work at a new gym he was building in Santa Cruz. At this point I put down my tool belt & picked up my cordless drill. I transferred my love of building to creating routes.

eG: You're at one of the great old school gyms in the country, Pacific Edge - what makes this gym stand out?

DR: Old School! Does that mean made in 1993 or that half our walls are vertical or our staff is older than 25 or that our level of craft is superior? Our climbing school style is traditional. I like it that PE is old school! We take our route-setting seriously! We change the routes often & they are always high quality & technical in nature. Our members may curse us on the plastic, but when they climb outside they are prepared. The first thing that strikes a new person entering the PE is the 50-foot walls (ahead of our time) and the natural lighting from the skylights. The walls have appealing features that imitate the arêtes, corners & cracks of our neighbor climbing area Yosemite. The climbing community is warm and welcoming & many new relationships have bloomed here.

eG: You used to compete in the mid-nineties - how do you think indoor climbing and competitions have changed in the past decade or so? Feel free to share some stories… all the new setters out there would love some history!

DR: I started competing in 1990. My fellow competitors were all outdoor climbers. For me it was a great opportunity to travel, possibly win some money, and receive some sponsorship doing something I was passionate about. I spent time in "iso" with a talented group of climbers: Bird L., Bobbi B., Alison O., and Shelley P. (all before they were married) to name a few. That year I traveled to Europe with a group of Americans including Hans F. and Steve S. In between comps we climbed some of the best limestone in France. At my first world cup, I sat in iso. with Lynn Hill, right before she went out to climb (and go on to win the comp). I was in awe of her ability. I didn't even know how to climb overhanging walls; I was a slab climber who didn't even make it out of the qualifying round. So my learning curve on this trip was tremendous. I was invited to the first X-Games. This was a luxury affair for a climber, with all expenses paid & the opportunity to win money. It turned out I had more talent at speed climbing than the difficulty. Throughout my 9 years of competing I met & climbed with some of the most talented climbers in the country, all of us new to plastic and coming from an outdoor experience of climbing. Now the competitors & route setters are much younger. We even have climbing mom's & dad's (similar to soccer or baseball) and teams that travel & compete together. Most of them were introduced to climbing on plastic at an indoor gym. I have been very fortunate to watch some extremely gifted young people (Chris Sharma & Tiffany Hensley) develop into fantastic climbers.

eG: Does your experience as a competitor give you a different take on routesetting? Is climbing outside the most inspiring? What motivates you as a routesetter?

DR: Route setting for competitions is always a thrill! We set; we test, tweak holds, second guess ourselves & finally exhausted & out of time surrender our art to the competitors. I find technical routes the most interesting to climb, I seek them outside & I build them inside. After a climbing trip outside I am inspired to replicate & transform my favorite moves onto plastic. When our new "holds of the month" arrive I am at my creative best. In general any day route setting is a good day! The routes build themselves from the selection of holds. It is a fantastic process and I look forward to experiencing my own creations & testing all the new routes in the gym to confirm the grade. I enjoy watching people climb my routes. I enjoyed one of the early comp/route setting clinics that Steve Schneider did at PE. The organization of certification was just beginning so it was a casual approach. Chris Bloch, myself & the owner of Vertex were the only "students".

eG: I've visited your gym, and it's pretty huge.. do you have a crew of setters that work the gym regularly for commercial setting and comps?

DR: PE spends 40 to 50 hours per week setting. We currently have a crew of four guys, my partner Caroline (who has been setting for over 10 years) and myself. For competitions we have a reserve list of setters.

eG: Do you get out to other climbing areas and indoor gyms often? From your experience, what do you think makes a good setter for a gym like Pacific Edge?

DR: In 1990 I invested in the first gym in the Bay Area - City Rock in Emeryville. The Bay area enjoys the highest concentration of climbing gyms in the country. I used to make a point of visiting them all, because I am curious about how other gyms are developing and I wanted to check out the route setting. I liked the steep terrain of some gyms but found the routes to be very ladder like and unimaginative. I have checked out climbing gyms in Britain over the last few years & stashed away some ideas for future additions to PE. Fortunately I get out to the crags for a number road trips each year & I love to explore areas that are new to me. When hiring a new route setter at PE, I require that a prospective route setter have extensive outdoor experience. They "audition" by setting a route at the 5.8 - 5.9 grade. The reason for this is all of our setters must share setting all grades, and this is a difficult grade to hit & make interesting & accessible for all of our members. So a setter for PE needs outdoor experience, have a natural talent for setting, love to set routes at any grade, make the route stimulating, handle criticism & do their share of washing holds.

eG: What are your favorite kind of routes or boulder problems to set? Terrain? Grade? Difficulty? Do you have a particular style yourself?

DR: Give me any blank wall with t-nuts & a pile of new holds! Add a few natural features such as corners or arêtes & leave me alone. I love to set a 5-10 degree overhanging wall. I've been setting for almost 15 years now & I am always changing it up. I might set a "theme" route of only pinches or pockets, or use holds that I'm not as adept at climbing or make the route awkward, balancy or technical. (Or "chaotic" as one member commented) I spend a lot of time creating a route, so I believe the person climbing it should ponder their way up. Caroline & I joke that a person needs to have a PHD in engineering & yoga to climb our routes. A thoughtful vertical puzzle that one solves with their body - what a great game! Our lead cave is another favorite place to set because of the challenge of upside-down terrain. This can be a burly setting day & gratify to watch others climb. For commercial routes I enjoy setting hard 10's & up to mid-11's because these routes see the most travel. For competitions I prefer to organize & test the routes rather than set them. Boulder setting I leave to those who love to dyno.

eG: How do you think setters can learn to develop their own styles?

DR: A new route setter develops their own style naturally by their preferences of footholds & moves. I believe that a setter can improve by watching people of all sizes and abilities climb their routes. As a benefit, route setters become much better at on-sighting routes. Climbing outside for motivation & experience is essential. Having a sense of humor, being receptive to criticism and a willingness to add footholds complete the prospective setter.

eG: Any favorite e-Grips sets? Pacific Edge is on the eG First Dibs program, and we're always trying to get the best new stuff out to you - is there anything you'd really like to see that hasn't been done yet!?

DR: I love e-grips! The shapes, texture & durability. When Ty & Ian first came out with the foot disks, I was hooked. At that time there were no durable small foot chips on the market. I've been a fan from the beginning (I think PE still has some pre-e-grip artistic holds that Ty sold us when he was passing through the Cruz) The First Dib's program is fantastic with all the surprising new shapes. I'm crazy for the new limestone hueco & pocket series! I would like to see shallow thin finger-tip size cracks that melt into the wall. (there is something like this in the Dakota pinches set) Also a Piggyback hold with 3/8" t-nut holes, so you don't have to change bolt sizes.

eG: Thanks Diane - have fun setting and climbing in and around Santa Cruz!

Kyle Musgrove

Kyle Musgrove | Nashville, TN

Interview Date: 11.06.2007

Update: Kyle worked at Climb Nashville as the Head Routesetter for many years. He hung up his wrenches in 2012 but still lives in Nashville, happily raising a family.

eGrips: We first met when you came out to the 2005 SENDFEST to help out as a setter, and since then you’ve been at a couple big events with the USAC team – what are those comps like?

Kyle Musgrove: From a creative standpoint those comps are great. The setting and climbing are at such a high level it allows for the most creativity in the movement and design of a problem. Setting for those comps can be stressful or frustrating if your vision does not translate well to the wall. For a setter though, those comps are great. You are able to set at your limit and learn from the other setters as well. It is organized mayhem that all comes together in the end. Any setter should set for a national level event given the chance.

eG: You set at the Southeast powerhouse gym Climb Nashville… and from what we hear that gym never has less than 100 people climbing. What makes it so great?

KM: The people make it great. We have an awesome member base and on any day plenty of walk in newbies. As for there always being 100 people, the 2 month turnaround on routes keeps people coming a few times a week.

eG: Did you begin setting at Climb Nashville, or beforehand? How long have you been at it? How did you learn?

KM: I started setting at a small gym with about 30 topropes, 25 foot walls and a large bouldering area south of Nashville in 1998. I’ve been setting for 9 years and setting full time since I graduated college in may of 2004. I am basically self taught. The owner of that first gym I set at gave me a couple tips on what to do, but it was mostly trial and error setting. Since I had no mentor there were probably more errors when I was first setting, reachy moves, no feet, etc. I have always listened to what climbers have to say about my routes or boulder problems and that probably helped me the most as a beginner setter and is still helping me today. I have been setting for comps locally almost since I started setting and comps are great for learning, especially since it usually involves collaboration with other setters. At the Sendfests and ABS nats I learned a lot by seeing what is involved with higher level competitions. I will always be able to learn more about setting.

eG: You’ve got some great Tennessee climbing areas nearby, as well as the Red River Gorge and Horse Pens 40 – do you get outside much and use these places as inspiration?

KM: Yeah, not to mention little rock city and rocktown. The creative juices definitely flow more freely when I am going outside every weekend. I boulder mostly but a lot of times I find routes to be more inspiring for setting.

eG: I’ve visited your gym, and it seems like as a routesetter, you have a great rapport with the community and people there are really interested in the routes, checking out what’s new, giving feedback. How do you build that kind of community as a setter?

KM: Being around and setting for 9 years you just get to know people. Some of the guys that have been around since I started have witnessed my setting evolution. I get the “remember routes” frequently from them. Those are the ‘remember that route you set 2 years ago, can you set something like that again’ routes. I definitely used to spend way too much time at the gym; setting, climbing, socializing. Recently I have been trying to limit my non working time at the gym. I talk to members and friends, ask them what they think about the new routes and what they might want to see in upcoming routes. I will also hold mini routesetting clinics and have volunteer help for repopulating the bouldering to get people psyched on climbing/setting. But really everyone in the south is just nice and friendly.

eG: What do you do to keep from setting getting mundane? In 2006 you built some new walls, right? What else? Any techniques for staying motivated and excited about setting new routes?

KM: Climbing outside is the best solution for me. We added 1000sq ft. of steep bouldering with big smooth angles that is awesome to set on. I get psyched whenever I reset it. I stay motivated by trying new ways of setting, thinking outside my typical style zone, and using themes. If you set as your full time job staying excited can be the crux. Anything new, fun or exciting can help beat the burn out.

eG: What are your favorite kind of routes or boulder problems to set? Terrain? Grade? Difficulty? Do you have a particular style yourself?

KM: I don’t often set specifically for myself but my favorite boulder problem is steep, slopey, hard with lots of body tension. You could substitute pinches for the slopers if you want. And if it’s not that it’s technical with lots of subtle hand movements on the holds on a slightly overhung wall. For everyday setting on routes sometimes it’s a power climb sometimes finesse or technical or endurance or a combination of those. I try to keep our climbers interested and provide routes that are fun to climb over and over again, at least for two months. My style of setting would definitely be southern; hard, powerful, slopey or crimpy, body tension deadpoint type moves like you see at horse pens 40 or rocktown. Setting at the Sendfest’s and ABS Nats have definitely opened my eyes to different types of setting, especially gymnastic type moves to get the crowd into it. I have been incorporating these types of moves into my setting in the last couple of years.

eG: Any favorite e-Grips sets? Climb Nashville is on the eG First Dibs program – what keeps you psyched about the monthly shapes?

KM: Papa elephant ears, solar system crimps, side dishes, loaves, and all of the bubble wrap sets get my first pick for comps and resetting the boulder. I think the first dibs program takes it back to the previous question about staying psyched to set. Getting new holds every month is exciting and you can’t wait to get them and set something new, especially because your climbers have never seen them either. The shapes are always great and well versed. One month might be a feature and the next a set of sweet dual tex crimps. Variety is the spice of life and setting.

eG: So, I only heard rumor of it, but a while back there was some kind of moustache contest with the boys at Climb Nashville, right? What was that all about? Did you win?

KM: the moustache contest was an in house challenge to see who could grow the best moustache. Best moustache is kind of an oxymoron I know, but we had fun doing it and creeping out our co-workers, friends, wives/girlfriends. I don’t think anyone was a winner really, but no, I didn’t win…sorta. I got least creepy moustache which I guess is like winning. The whole thing was just for fun and it got a lot of laughs from our members at the gym.

Louie Anderson

Louie Anderson | Orange, CA

Interview Date: 11.04.2007

Update: Louie continues to be a prolific hold shaper in the climbing industry and has built numerous climbing walls since 2007, including his own climbing gym, The Factory, in Orange, California, which he now runs.

eGrips: Where to begin…. So many questions… let’s start with your setting history - How long have you been climbing and setting? Where did you get your start?

Louie Anderson: I’ve been climbing since 1974, having begun in Joshua Tree with a friend of my Dad. Setting came initially in the form of gluing rocks and homemade holds onto a series of “glue-up walls that myself and my friends made to train on here in SoCal prior to the opening of our first climbing gyms. This was around 1988-90. When a small wall opened at a local gymnastics center (Rock and Roll Gym – long since closed) we started putting holds up in order to be able to train there at no charge. Then a larger and more professional gym opened right down the street from my house (Rockreation – Costa Mesa) and I began to set regularly and began to learn just how involved setting really was

eG: When did you make your first handholds? What was your inspiration? How did you learn?

LA: The first holds I shaped I made using clay or just basic sand casting (dig a hole in the sand and pour in some resin). The resulting holds were used on our glue up walls. The first commercial shaping I did was for Climb It in 1992. There was no one around to tell me how or what to do, so I learned by doing and along the way found out what worked.

eG: What would you say is the most challenging part of shaping climbing holds?

LA: Because of the fact that I shape for multiple companies, the biggest challenge is in keeping sets unique. It would be very easy to duplicate things I’ve done for different companies, but I try very hard not to do this. I also like to create shapes that have a distinctive visual impact and often times it can be difficult to get the look you want and still have a hold that makes sense when it comes to usage by the setters.

eG: Can you name a few of your favorite sets or specific holds you’ve shaped – whether old or new?

LA: This is always changing, but:
Looking back, I’d have to say that I’m proud of what Scott Rennak and I accomplished with his old company, Crater. We were the first ones to really explore screw on holds and I think our resulting shapes helped greatly to change the industry’s perception of their viability. When I was shaping for Stone Age, I had the freedom to do a lot of feature-sized holds; many more than any other single company was offering at the time. This selection, along with some of the stuff I did for Voodoo and the offerings from Pusher at the same time showed gyms and setters the impact that these larger shapes can have. Finally I’m still psyched on the Limestone and Hueco shapes I did for Climb It. Even being a few years old, they are still a lot of fun to set with and climb on.
More currently, I’ve just finished doing some shaping for Project and some of the sets I came up with turned out very good. Also did a huge dual-tex, volcano shape for Halo Holds that will be very popular once word spreads about it. It’s the type of shape I could see every gym wanting at least one of. The whole line of Climb It crimps has been reshaped over the last year or so and they work wonderfully for themed setting. I’m very happy with them. The piggyback/volume shape I did for Climb It is good on steep walls too. I’ve also got a few ideas bouncing around in my head that should be great if I can get the ideas to come to life in foam.

eG: What about e-Grips? As a setter – do you have any favorites? As a prolific shaper yourself, any comments on e-Grips designs?

LA: Setting wise, I love the footholds and smaller shapes. They are very minor parts of the e-Grips line up, but they can be very intricate and work well when trying to set more technical footwork into my climbs. Using them is a great way to make something harder without changing the handholds much.
Shape wise, there are too many good sets to separately mention. Ian and Ty were the first shapers to do shapes that accurately resembled real rock without the holds being overly painful. The amount of detail on those first e-Grips shapes made everyone who saw them sit up and take note. They, and the rest of the e-Grips team, have followed those first shapes up with a continued commitment to creating unique shapes that capture the intricacy of different rock styles very well. Those shapes definitely had an impact on my own shaping and challenged me to try to introduce some of their elements into my own shaping.
e-Grips also has a broad line of more abstract shapes that look great and still climb well. As many companies try to make holds that are visually different, often times the usability of the shapes suffer. e-Grips has avoided this trap very well with their sets.

eG: So, you officially wrote the book on setting - that was the collaborative brainchild of Scott Rennak and yourself, right? What was the experience like of writing that book?

LA: Originally we were going to write the Coursesetting Bible. Once we started working on a basic outline for the book that accurately addressed all of the associated tangents involved, we quickly realized that the project would be a huge undertaking. Scott had a lot going on at the time, as did I, and so I decided to carry on and write a much more scaled-down version of the book myself and talked Scott into writing a section on competition organization drawing on his vast experience in that area.

eG: The “Art of Coursesetting” is a great resource that has probably introduced many hundreds or thousands of people to setting. It must be nice to know you have played a role in the instruction and growth of the routesetting community. Do you think anything has changed in routesetting or how you approach it, since you wrote the book?

LA: First off, let me say that while I think I am a good setter; I am in no way a setting Guru. I know of dozens of people that could set circles around me. When Scott and I first started talking about writing this book, we did so not because we thought we were better than everyone else, or because we felt that we had so much to teach, but simply because there was very little available information out there for folks looking to learn about setting. What I tried to do with the book was to discuss most of the basic principles, while at the same time intentionally leaving room for different interpretations by the reader. I think that so much of good setting depends on the setter’s creativity and originality. The last thing I wanted to do was to stifle that.
I hope that my book has had an impact in the setting world. If nothing else, I hope that it has helped to somewhat educate beginning setters and maybe standardize a bit how they approach the activity. I’ve received many emails from setters around the world that have read and appreciated the book. That alone is a great reward. As to what specifically has changed, I couldn’t say for sure.

eG: You also build climbing walls. You must be one of the most experienced routesetters in the world who also builds walls – how does your knowledge of setting affect your design of climbing walls?

LA: Immensely. I just finished a design for a new facility here in California that will offer about 12,000 square feet of climbing. I spent a solid week on the gym layout and wall design alone. I look at every angle transition and do everything I can to avoid the type of terrain that will lead to setting difficulties. On a whole, I attempt to make sure that my designs offer as many different angles of climbing as possible in the bouldering, lead climbing and toproping areas, and that the transitions from angle to angle are achieved as seamlessly as possible so as to not interrupt the climbing and setting too drastically. I try to design the type of terrain that I would want to set on, regardless of whether I think I will ever set there or not.
We’ve all had to set on walls that were poorly designed and know how much more challenging this makes our task. Because of my setting experience, I’m uniquely positioned to produce designs that are great for climbing and for setting. The more I set, the more time I spend on my designs. It is an ever expanding skill that relies heavily on my setting experiences.

eG: I’ve been to a number of the Southern California gyms, and it seems like there is a theme of shorter walls, but often with steep roof sections? It must be fun to set on these walls. What are your thoughts on wall designs in the US overall – what improvements do you think could be made on new designs coming out now, overall?

LA: I think that many of the So Cal gym owners rushed to open their facilities and settled for shorter buildings than they needed to. Due to the short ceiling height, many of these gyms have opted for steeper terrain in order to offer longer climbs. While it’s fun to set and climb on these steep angles, I would rather see people hold out until they find taller and more open buildings. These offer far fewer limitations when designing the walls and allow for more variety in the wall angles.
I’m happy to say that all of the newer gyms seem more focused in this direction. There are also more open wall planes and an emphasis on not overcrowding the facility. As an example, a gym that could have been built ten years ago may have crammed 10,000 square feet of climbing terrain into their space and resulted with a somewhat claustrophobic space full of small, choppy angle transitions and wall panels. The same gym today may only offer 8,500 square feet of wall space, but be filled with larger planes and smooth transitions. This newer gym would also have more room between the climbing structures and a much more open feel to the gym. In my mind this is a huge step in the right direction. The focus should be on the quality of the climbing terrain being offered, not the quantity.

eG: Lastly, there must be some crazy setting stories from your past… will you give us a nugget? Scariest? Most surprising? Most fun?

LA: I think that many of the So Cal gym owners rushed to open their facilities and settled for shorter buildings than they needed to. Due to the short ceiling height, many of these gyms have opted for steeper terrain in order to offer longer climbs. While it’s fun to set and climb on these steep angles, I would rather see people hold out until they find taller and more open buildings. These offer far fewer limitations when designing the walls and allow for more variety in the wall angles.
I’m happy to say that all of the newer gyms seem more focused in this direction. There are also more open wall planes and an emphasis on not overcrowding the facility. As an example, a gym that could have been built ten years ago may have crammed 10,000 square feet of climbing terrain into their space and resulted with a somewhat claustrophobic space full of small, choppy angle transitions and wall panels. The same gym today may only offer 8,500 square feet of wall space, but be filled with larger planes and smooth transitions. This newer gym would also have more room between the climbing structures and a much more open feel to the gym. In my mind this is a huge step in the right direction. The focus should be on the quality of the climbing terrain being offered, not the quantity.

eG: So, you must have set on dozens of walls you’ve built. What is your favorite type of route or boulder problem to set? Do you lean towards specific terrain? Grades? Movement patterns? Do you have a particular style?

LA: I’m pretty comfortable setting on all angles, but I guess my favorites would be those between 10 and 35 degrees overhung. These are the angles I like to climb on the most, so I probably prefer them for setting as well.
My setting tends to be a little more technical and foothold driven than some other people’s styles. Very seldom can you just plant and foot and jump on my climbs. Instead there will usually be some elements of balance and/or technique required to generate movement and more often than not that begins at the feet.
I probably lean more towards stamina/resistance setting, where there is an accumulated difficulty over several moves rather than generating the climb’s difficulty in just a single sequence or set of individual moves.
If forced to choose, I probably prefer crimps and slopers.

eG: It sounds like you are always busy – do you have any time to set routes these days? If so, where at?

LA: I set for many of the SoCal area comps and occasionally at the gyms I frequent (Hangar 18, Rock City) close to home. I honestly don’t spend a lot of time in the gym anymore as there is very good climbing under an hour from me, but when I do visit the gyms I will usually set something while I’m there if for no other reason than to have a new project for the group to work on that evening.

eG: Do you still set for competitions? What changes have you seen in competition setting over the years? Any thoughts on the future of competitions?

LA: Yes, I do, in fact we just wrapped up Hangar 18’s annual ABS comp yesterday. I was the organizer and head setter for the event and it was a smashing success. We set 100 problems for just over 140 competitors and dozens of the climbers came up to me after the comp and commented on the high quality of the problems. The event went smoothly and saw an increase in popularity (by about 20 climbers) over last year’s event.
The overall quality of comp setting is much higher than in years past. I think in a large part to the fact that climbing gyms place more value and emphasis on their setting programs than they used to. They realize that they are selling a product to the public in the form of the climbs being set. They are much more likely to hire setters from outside their own facility’s talent pool for comps and collectively this compiled setting team brings a higher level of setting to the events.
Locally, we see an increase every year in not only the number of events, but the number of climbers attending those events. I have no doubt that this trend will continue for many years to come. New gyms are also incorporating spectator areas and comp-friendly environments into their initial facility designs and as more and more of these new generation gyms open I think we’ll see even better events.

eG: Lastly, since you’ve been a mentor to so many in the setting world – how about some advice to new setters. If you had to pick a couple different sequences of climbing moves to learn that you might suggest people learn to master, that might most help people learn about setting and how to create interesting movement – what would they be?

LA: Don’t forget about the feet. Learn how the use and positioning of footholds can affect and control the movement on your climbs. You can use your climbs as the conduit to teach climbers more about footwork and balance. Instead of just bolting on a foothold to act as a “launching pad” for the next move, try using somewhat directional footholds that force the climber to think about their foot placement. Position the footholds off to the side or higher or lower than where you would normally place them. Learn how adjusting this position affects the difficulty and intensity of the movement.
The old pattern of using small holds, placed far apart to achieve harder climbs is no longer acceptable. Take the time to learn how to set easier climbs using bad handholds and harder climbs using big positive handholds. Both can be done if you take the time to explore the relationships between handhold and foothold sizing. Once you can add this type of setting skill to your repertoire you will be far less limited by your hold selection and will likely be appreciated for setting a broader range of climbing styles than your peers.

Jackie Hueftle

Jackie Hueftle | Boulder, CO

Interview Date: 10.13.2007

Update: Jackie is now the Head Routesetter at The Spot Gym and regularly sets for some of the best climbers in the country for the Spot Bouldering Series. She also runs the popular Spot Setting Blog.

eGrips: So, I’ve known you for a while now Jackie, but I’m not sure how you got started routesetting. How’d it all begin, why’d you get into it? How long have you been setting and climbing?

Jackie Hueftle: I started climbing around Lake Tahoe just before I turned sixteen. A few months later I was invited to take part in a new setters clinic that Rocksport’s head setters (Ted Welser and Bill Kelly) were holding. Bill and Ted both hailed from the University of Miami in Ohio where Tim Steele, one of the only nationally certified setters from the ALF (American League of Forerunners), was head setter. ALF setters Mike Pont and Steve Schneider mentored Tim, and he mentored Ted and Bill, and they (mostly Bill, as Ted moved a few months later) mentored me, so I like to think my setting style has long roots.
I spent six years setting at Rocksport with Bill as my head setter. He inspired me with his thorough understanding of movement. He taught me that hold selection, hold angle, and generous yet technical feet could create fluid yet challenging routes. He also told me stories about great setters of the past, hold companies and shapers, and the amazing feats performed by some of them (for example, the time at Rockquest when Tim Steele climbed his 5.12 slab route in bunny slippers). When I left Rocksport, I took with me some strong feelings about holds, a still-forming understanding of movement, and a great respect for the setters and shapers of the past.

eG: You’ve been a part of some pretty big competitions, having volunteered a lot of your time over a couple years to learn more and work hard. What motivates you to be involved in these big events? What is most challenging about them?

JPH: I was a JCCA competitor for three years, so I was never allowed to help set the yearly comp at Rocksport. When I finally aged out of the JCCA and got to help set the Nor-Cal regional I was really psyched. Then I started helping with ABS comps (regional and national) at the Spot, then the Sendfest comps (thanks Jamie and Chris!), then ABS Junior Nationals and SCS Junior Rope Nationals (thanks Kynan and Molly!), and then the Mammut Bouldering Championship (Jason!) that happened at the OR show this year.
As for my motivation—I really enjoy being on the inside. It’s fun to spend a few days working really hard in an empty gym with a few friends, a bunch of clean holds, and blank walls that you are responsible for turning into something entertaining, amazing, and of just the right difficulty. You don’t eat right, you don’t sleep right, you forerun till you are exhausted, if it’s a rope comp you have mad harness-burn, and then, after all your hard work, when you can barely see for being so tired, you get to sit and watch all the competitors try their luck on your creation. The goal is to spread the climbers out, and, though sometimes you think you messed up as you watch climber after climber fail, it only takes one climber in one moment of grace to vindicate your efforts and make the whole thing worth it.
The most challenging thing is probably setters block—when you want to do something cool and it’s just not working and then suddenly nothing is working and you lose confidence in your ability to do the job. That’s when having a good team of people to work with is key—everyone helps each other over and around the blocks and on to (hopefully) success. Also, getting hired is hard. The only reason I’ve gotten to do many of the comps I’ve done is because I’ve been persistent and people have helped me out. Even then, sometimes getting included in these comps feels like slogging through thick mud in oversized boots.

eG: So you’ve traveled a lot, and probably climbed at many crags and climbing gyms as well – are there any gyms out there that inspire you to set, or climbing areas that you really love and you think about as models for movement?

JPH: I definitely find outdoor climbing to be a great source of inspiration for setting. I’ve taken ideas away from every climbing area I’ve been to, from the technical vertical climbing at Smith Rocks to the overhanging tufas of Spain. One of my favorite areas to mimic is Maple Canyon in Utah, as its big, friendly cobbles are very reminiscent of gym holds and the routes there are so fun to climb.
As far as gyms go, I find most blank walls to be inspiring, though some angles are better than others and of course hold selection plays a big part. The obvious answer for a specific gym is the Front, as it’s beautiful plywood walls seem to have endless possibilities. On the same note, my old gym (Rocksport) has clean angles on nice flat white Radwall, and I rarely lacked for inspiration there. Also, when stripped, the boulders at the Spot are very fun to set on because they are so big, their angles lend themselves well to comps, and they have such exciting top-out potential.

eG: Do you have any setting mentors? From your experience, what do you think makes a good routesetter, whether for competition, or commercial routesetting. Is it style, intelligence, creativity, strength?

JPH: By far the most influential person in my setting career has been Bill Kelly. He formed my setting style and, even more, my setting philosophy. Subsequently I’ve set with lots of people and I’ve learned something from each of them. People who I’ve found to be especially helpful recently: Kynan Waggoner, Molly Beard, and Chris Danielson.
I think a good setter must have a good attitude, a well-informed sense of movement, a good aesthetic eye, and the desire to create routes or problems that are fun, exciting for spectators, safe, and as fair as they can be. Creativity is definitely important, but the setter must also be able to whip out some meat-and-potatoes routes. The setter should not be “too good” to set any grade, and should be able to set challenges for him or herself as well as for customers of all abilities. Most of all, a good setters should not be lazy. Setters should take the time to do their job right and to the best of their abilities. Bad routes are often the product of laziness more than anything, and putting in the extra effort by changing out a tweaky hold or adding a few feet can make a world of difference.

eG: You’re one of few female routesetters in the country who’ve been doing it a long time, and the only female setter (besides Molly Beard), who has set for National level events. What’s it like being the only girl a lot of the time? Is it intimidating? A challenge? A motivating factor?

JPH: I sort of like being the only girl, though when I do get to work with Molly its super awesome. I also like all the guys I’ve worked with and they’ve all been open-minded and treated me well and fairly.
I am very motivated to carry my share of the weight at any event I work. I want to be recommended and hired because I do a good job. However, I’m not as strong of a climber as the guys I set with, so I’m not as useful forerunning their problems as they are forerunning mine. I have to make up for it in forerunning by watching others and by being able to visualize and understand movements I am unable to do under my own power. I think having lots of setting experience helps me do this because I understand what will work and what will not, even if I haven’t climbed every move. Still, sometimes I feel sheepish about being unable to do all the moves the guys can do. A big challenge for me is remembering that I have other things to offer that are just as useful as raw strength.

eG: You’re also relatively tall compared to some of the top female climbers or youth climbers in general. How do you take that into account when routesetting?

JPH: I’ve worked with Junior Teams off and on for as long as I’ve been climbing (as a climber, then as an occasional coach), and when setting for juniors I imagine my team kids climbing the problems. I don’t set to one specific kid, but rather imagine how the team as a whole would do. That usually allows me to pick out any reachy moves. Then I use trick number one for setting for youth climbers: I add extra (and equally good) feet. These feet should make the initial part of the move similar for the range of heights that will be on the problem. Along with the extra feet, I make sure the target hold isn’t too far away by measuring my kids’ reaches against my arm, then trying to touch that part of my arm to the hold. If it’s too far, I move it closer, change the launch hold, or add a bumping hold or some other option of similar difficulty. Pretty basic, but it works. Once I think I’ve got it figured out, I show it to Molly and she checks it out. Molly is pretty much the youth setting master guru, and if it isn’t going to work she can tell you in a second. She can also tell you if it is going to work, which is a nice thing to hear when you’ve spent two hours trying to make it that way.
As for shorter women—they’re usually a lot stronger than me, and a lot stronger in general on their arms than taller women (except Alex Johnson), so you can usually account for them by adding a few feet and making sure nothing is too far away. I actually think shorter women tend to have it easier in comps because they’re good on high (scrunchy for me) feet and better at campusing. I think it has something to do with leverage. I like setting for women in general because I can put feet super high and know they’ll be able to get a foot up and rock onto it. Most women will do technical static moves more readily than guys will, and it’s enjoyable to set to that.

eG: You’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge of climbing holds having set with so many at different gyms and comps – what can you say about e-Grips as a hold brand? Any favorite sets? If so, what stands out about them?

JPH: Before I moved to Boulder I had never set with e-Grips. The Radwall at Rocksport is perfectly flat, so we never needed to buy urethane holds. When I started setting at the Spot I began using mostly e-Grips, and they quickly became my favorite hold company. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, the walls at the Spot are far from flat, so e-Grips flexible-yet-strong urethane is a necessity. Secondly, e-Grips texture, which may seem slimy fresh out of the box, quickly evens out to a skin-friendly, not-too-slippery, not-too-aggressive, amazingly good at chalk-holding surface that seems to maintain its gentle stickiness through multiple washings and years of use. Thirdly, and largely due to the artistic genius of Ian Powell and Ty Foose, their shapes are original and some of the best in the industry. Their crimps are unmatched, their 2tex is great, and their slopers, pinches, jugs, kids holds, and features are pleasing to look at, friendly to hold, and fun to set with. Also, their directional feet are actually directional—not as common as it should be in the industry. Don’t get me wrong, other companies have some great stuff going on as well, but right now I’m definitely a huge e-Grips fan. As for favorite sets—I really like Ian Powell’s crimp sets, the Wonder Hole feature, and Ty’s bubble-wrap pinches and giant bubble-wrap feature. I’m pretty psyched on the mini-water tufas right now too. Oh, and the new 2tex crimps are sick!

eG: From your experience, what would you tell young new setters about how to learn more and gain experience themselves?

JPH: In Your Gym: set as much as you can, as the more you practice the easier it gets. After you set make sure you forerun. If things don’t feel the way you want try to tweak them until they do. Then watch other people climb your stuff—with your mouth closed. You can’t get a good idea of how people will climb your route if you feed them beta the whole time they’re on it. If they’re not doing what you want, tweak it so they are. On this note, if you spend a long time trying to force something and its just not working it might be time to put down your wrench, take a deep breath, and get over it. Then take it down and try something else. Setting is a balance of art and product, but it’s important not to get so caught up in trying to force some vision you have that you forget your first responsibility, which is to create something that is workable, safe, and fun.
At Other Gyms/Big Events: to set at someone else’s gym or for bigger events you need to be able to work with a group and possibly under a head setter. We all have our own ideas about setting, but to make big comps go off those ideas must sometimes be compromised and mutual respect must exist. If you come in with a big ego you’re going to hurt the team more than help it. Try to see everyone’s perspective instead of stubbornly sticking to your guns. After all, it’s just a route, right?
The “F this: Factor: setting sharp footsie-crimps your body length apart does not qualify as a fun hard route. If you’re having trouble understanding why, imagine some graceful yet short climber (Emily Harrington, for example) trying to climb what you’ve just set. She’s very strong, but can she do the moves? If she can, is she having fun? Do you really want to set something that makes her that unhappy? I didn’t think so.
Final Notes: Every route doesn’t have to be for every person, but there are better ways to set difficulty than to put uncomfortable holds really far apart. If you can’t figure any out, try road tripping to other gyms and see what their setters do. Still having problems? Compete in some big comps (or volunteer to help set them), take a USAC clinic, or check www.routesetter.com for advice. Kung-fu movies have also been known to increase setter’s motivation, discipline, and understanding of the beauty of movement. Plus they’re awesome.

Jamie Emerson

Jamie Emerson | Boulder, CO

Interview Date: 01.01.2007

Update: Jamie set at Movement Climbing and Fitness from 2009 until 2013 and in 2011 released Bouldering Rocky Mountain National Park and Mount Evans, a guide to some of the best alpine bouldering in the country.

eGrips: How long have you been setting and climbing?

Jamie Emerson: I started setting in 2002 when I began working for The Spot Bouldering Gym in Boulder, CO and I started climbing in Michigan in 1999.

eG: How did you learn?

JE: Starting in Boulder was a huge advantage, because the standard is very high here. I really learned about competition setting under Scott Mechler when he came through with the PCA. He has had a big influence on my style. Of course I put my time in like anyone else, as I was setting 4 days a week at one of the busiest gyms in the country.

eG: What do you most enjoy about setting?

JE: I have always been interested in the hardest moves and the strongest climbers. Setting for big events for the strongest men and women in the country is really amazing. It’s hard not to be motivated knowing that the likes of Chris Sharma and Daniel Woods will be climbing on your problems.

eG: What makes a "good" routesetter?

JE: Lack of ego. As long as you are willing to tweak your route for the betterment of the comp and drop any personal attachment you might have to a certain hold or move, I think you can go a long way with setting. It helps that I know the field very well, because I climb with most of them on a regular basis.

eG: What do you think makes YOU a "good" routesetter? What would your friends say?

JE: I am willing to work with the group and am open to changing my routes at any point. I also think I have a creative and unique style. I am one of the only people in the country strong enough to set and forerun for people like Paul Robinson and Daniel Woods. That certainly helps my cause.

eG: Where have you, or do you, set?

JE: I have set for several PCA’s, Sendfest I and II, ABS Nationals for the past 4 years, TEVA Mountain Games, Adventures NYC and too many regionals and locals to count. I currently am just working as a national level setter.

eG: What are favorite events you’ve been a part of?

JE: The big events are always fun. The Sendfest events are really cool, its summer, the strongest climbers are out for the trade show and people seem psyched to throw down. I also like to do the local events because you can set a really crazy style and the climbers have time to work stuff out.

eG: Do you have any favorite moves or problems that you’ve set?

JE: I love to put the starting box on the floor and make them jump to a hold on the wall. I also love one arm pulls. Very powerful and very dramatic.

eG: What is your favorite e-Grips set?

JE: Of course, anyone that has set with me knows I can’t live without the Joe’s Slopes II. One handed sloping holds are so good for comp setting.

eG: Favorite Unique Feature?

JE: The Hueco Wonder Hole. Not the obvious answer, but there are so many possibilities. I love setting a hard problem with a jug on it.

eG: Finally, how would you describe what makes e-Grips handholds the best?

JE: The shapers have climbed around the world and are some of the most amazing artists I know. They bring the subtlety of outdoors to their holds and this translates to amazing movement. They are unbreakable and the look awesome on wall. E-grips is the first shape I always reach for, because I only have to reach once.

Kevin Branford

Kevin Branford | Colorado Springs, CO

Interview Date: 04.12.2008

Update: In the years since this original interview, Kevin has accumulated more miles traveling around the world working on cruise ship climbing walls than one could imagine. He still regularly sets and coaches in Colorado Springs.

Kevin Branford: I did my first competition at the Sport Climbing Center here in Colorado Springs - The Western Regional Championships. At that point, there was not really such a thing as "Jr." competitions, so any events that I climbed in, I was competing against the adults. From there, I just tried to compete in as many events that I could. My first competition was in 1992, and I did competitions regularly until 2000. I really enjoyed climbing in comps because I was able to travel and see all of the friends that I had come to know through the years. After the Jr. Circuit started to go nuts, I won the Jr. National Championships 5 times, and the Jr. Continental Championships in 1994. I also had the good fortune to compete in the ESPN X-Games 3 times. It was just a fun way for me to bounce around and do what I loved. I am sure that is why I am a Route Setter now.

eG: Were you routesetting while a competitive climber as well, or learning the trade intuitively through climbing comp routes? Did you have any mentors as a young setter - how did you get into it?

KB: During the time that I was a competitor, I sort of catalogued everything that I was climbing on as a mini data-bank of information. My route setting overlapped the competitions that I was doing for about 4 years. In retrospect, the Route Setting that I did during the time that I was competing, was a great tool for me to be able to understand what the Setters at comps were doing and why they were doing it. I think I started to explore setting in about 1996, and it had continued through until now. The mentors that I had during that time were any of the people who were setting the comps - Tony Yaniro, Mike Pont, Steve Schneider, Christian Griffith. However, the main mentor that I had during that time and who continues to be a mentor to me in many aspects is Tony Yaniro. There is no one even close to Tony that I can think of, who has had a greater impact on my setting and climbing career. Tony has continually taught me about route setting and has mentored me (and continues to mentor me) in many aspects of climbing.

eG: So, Tony Yaniro (generation-changing climber, hold shaper, front lever hero… and, godfather of American setting) helped you learn setting as a trade and gave you some initial focused instruction. What methods did you learn years ago that you still apply in your setting? What new styles or techniques have you learned or applied?

KB: Tony has taught me and shaped me into the setter that I am. It is a bit difficult to identify exactly what Tony taught me since he has been the primary person to take me under his wing and teach me about setting for the past 12 or so years. Tony has an extensive knowledge about high level Route Setting, so anything he told me to commit to memory; I committed to memory. Any new Setters that I have worked with - Mike Moelter, Kyle Musgrove, Chris Danielson, Steven Jeffries, Kynan Waggoner, Molly Beard to name a few – I have also tried to take knowledge from them and incorporate it into my setting repertoire. The most bit of setting knowledge that I have tried to incorporate into my setting is that of Bouldering. I have never considered myself a boulderer so it has been a good learning curve for me. I do, however, still feel like I have quite a bit to learn about that particular type of setting.

eG: When it comes to competition routesetting, can you give us your take in how important forerunning is and why?

KB: Forerunning, whether you are doing it for everyday course setting in a gym, or doing it for high level competition climbing is of paramount importance. Climbing is still a relatively young sport, and giving climbers (new or not) good routes to climb on will help to give them a better understanding of climbing as a sport. In terms of competition route setting, forerunning minimizes the "error" that can happen during a competition. This question of route setting and forerunning is a bit of a loaded one because there are so many variables. On any given day, the competitors can be climbing well, or not. Forerunning and watching the climbers on previous routes gives the setter a better understanding of how to set the routes in order to test all facets of a climber’s ability. In my opinion, competitions are a way to test a climber to see how they fare against other climbers. If you don’t spend a good amount of time forerunning, it is way more difficult to pre-determine the outcome of the event.

eG: You shape holds yourself, with a few nice lines in production now - where do you draw inspiration when you put tools to foam?

KB: Thanks for the encouragement! I fear you may be a bit generous saying that. My hold shaping career is defiantly in its infancy. When I shape holds, I try and mix form with function. I like holds that look nice and also serve a purpose. Because of my competition background, most of the time that I shape, I try to think of things that I would like to use on competition routes. When I am setting comp routes, I look for holds, both hands and feet that are primarily mono-directional - meaning they can only be used in one way and one direction of pull or push. I have done about 100 shapes for various companies, and I am hoping to fine tune my shaping ability to get more of my ideas out there. Any of the companies that I have worked with have given me great feedback and constructive criticism on my shapes.

eG: What about e-Grips? As a setter - do you have any favorites? What makes eG a standout on your home wall or in the gym for comps?

KB: eG is one of the companies that is a perfect example of form mixed with function. Like I said before, I like holds that look great and also have a valid use. My primary use is usually directed at competitions, but I do spend time setting routes at X-treme Rock climbing in Miami, and the Sport Climbing Center here in Colorado Springs (and a few others) just doing day to day routes for gym use, and the purpose is still much the same… user friendly holds - e-Grips fist that profile to a "t".

eG: So… a lot of setters have probably heard rumor of what you, and a few others do professionally - that being travel around the world to change routes on cruise ship climbing walls. Where have you been? What’s it all about?

KB: Wow, word travels (because I talk a lot)! I do travel around the world on cruise ships - guilty as charged. The route setting is definitely part of what I do. My job also has a safety aspect to it. We take care of training the people who work at the walls on the ships and make sure that they have at least a basic understanding of the climbing world and what it is all about. I do have a job that only a handful of people do, and we get to go to some great places. I don’t usually get a huge amount of time to sniff around the places that I go, but over the past 6 years or so, I have come to know a bunch of great places, and I have favorite restaurants in most of the places that I go. I have to say that probably one of my favorite things about the job (other than the travel) is that I have met some incredible people. I feel confident in saying that I could go most anywhere and have a friend to show me around. I truly enjoy showing people about climbing, and my job is one of the best ways that I can think of to do so.

eG: You have been involved in a couple of Tony Yaniro’s setting clinics and are now part of the USA Climbing Routesetting Committee, which has developed further clinics and internship programs, making an effort to open up opportunities for instructional and certification opportunities. Any words on the value there is in top setters instructing clinics?

KB: Setting is a science. I have worked more than half my life (almost 17 years) to understand climbing. I think it is wonderful that it has really started to gain some steam in the mainstream. When I started climbing, there were only 5 climbing gyms in the country, and so I have really seen it come around - ups and downs (pun intended). The main value that I see in the top setters teaching route setting to aspiring climbers and route setters is simple - to make climbing a viable sport in the eyes of everyone out there, the professionals in our line of work need to pass the information on. A greater understanding of what we as setters do will help bring the level of the sport to a place where it is not just some esoteric sport that no one knows about. We (route setters) set the standards of sport climbing to a higher level. As a group, we are moving our sport forward.

eG: What are the most valuable things for a new setter to learn? If someone doesn’t have a mentor, how might they pick up the skills and improve?

KB: The best advice I can give for new setters is to gain experience from many different setters. I have literally worked with more than two dozen route setters in the past 19 years, and I have gained knowledge from all of them. After that long I still learn things from everyone that I work with, even some of the people I teach. The other piece of advice that I can recommend is not to think you are too good to learn. Everyone has something to offer no matter how small it may be. Route setting is still not quite at a place where someone can make a huge amount of money, but it is a truly rewarding job regardless of the $. Enroll in clinics, set at your local gym, and don’t be afraid to take criticism (at least constructive criticism). We are all working at this to make our sport better.

eG: Lastly, what’s on the horizon for you in 2008? Setting, climbing, traveling?

KB: Well, this next year brings good omen. I just got done with setting at the SCS Adult Nationals in Salt Lake City, and I will be at the SCS Jr. Nationals this summer. I am planning on spending any bit of free time outside climbing this summer, and I am planning on working on several new sets of holds that hopefully will come out later this year. As far as traveling, I am sure it will be as crazy as ever. Last year I logged about 130,000 frequent flyer miles (on about 120 flights), so I am out to beat that number, hopefully by a long shot (I am a nerd I know - Want to see my spreadsheet with all my miles?) I am moving in the direction that I was destined for - even if I am not sure which direction it is.

eG: Thanks Kevin!