Gym Hours

The Routesetting Process and Recent Changes
Ben Winstanley

We’ve made some changes in the past month or so with our setting process, and how we present new routes and problems to you, our customers. We’ll dive into those in a minute, but first, I’d like to give you a rundown of what goes into getting those routes up on the wall.

The Setting Process

First off, I have a couple of complicated spreadsheets with details on all the current climbs, their grades, styles, when they were set, by who, and an internal “quality” marker that I update based on customer feedback. From this, I can figure out which climbs are due to come down, what grades of climb need to go up, and in what style to keep a good spread of varied style at each difficulty.

Each week, our crew of setters (see the corkboard at the front of the gym for their bios) comes in and strips the oldest – or sometimes lowest quality – routes and boulders, pressure wash the holds to remove the built up chalk and keep them grippy, and get to work setting up new climbs.

Some of Ben’s data visualization, more of which can be seen on the setting board

Within the criteria I set for them – should the route be crimpy, technical, powerful, slopey, etc. – the crew get to work putting up a bare-bones skeleton of a climb. This is ideally done without trying any of the moves, just visualising movement, and getting a full sequence up as fast as possible. This skeleton is then the framework for the climb, which can then be climbed and tweaked as a whole, instead of move-by-move.

Once all the climbs are up, to the best of each setter’s ability, myself and 1-2 other routesetters start forerunning the climbs and ensuring that they’re of a high enough quality to present to you all. Things we look for are:
Flow – does the route feel good to climb? Are the movements interesting?
Grade – is the route at the grade requested?
Style – does the route complement other climbs at the same grade?

Sarah Spurrell climbing one of the more unusual problems from Bloc on the Rock 2017

Innovations to the System

So, back to the new things!

Recently we stopped putting grades on the newest climbs in the gym, just until the next week of setting happens. This was done to remove the intimidation factor of seeing a high number next to the climbs, and encourage people to try things they otherwise wouldn’t. In addition, it allows us to gather feedback from the people climbing them to ensure our grading process is as accurate as possible.
After a couple of weeks of this, we did get some feedback from new climbers that they were having trouble figuring out if a new climb was suitable for them, so we’ve scaled this back slightly, and new climbs under 5.7 now show their grade during this first week.

Additionally, in fact, just 2 weeks ago, we started setting without tape (except for starts and finishes). This has become industry standard over the past few years, and I think we finally have a large enough inventory of holds to pull it off without sacrificing quality or quantity of routes. For now this is limited to just the rope walls, and will be a slow transition as we change over the existing routes. Due to the required density of the boulder problems, we’ll be sticking with tape on that terrain for the foreseeable future.

I hope this has shed some light onto the setting process, and the recent changes to what we do. As always, I welcome feedback either in the gym or by email (just ask at the front desk), and route feedback can always be given to the staff on duty who will pass it along to me. Your feedback is what we need to ensure our setting is as good as it can be. If you like or dislike something, please let us know!

Ben Winstanley is the Head Routesetter for
Wallnuts Climbing Centre. He also coaches the
Newfoundland Junior Climbing Team, and
manages the Wallnuts website. He has been climbing
since he was small and setting for over 15 years.

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About the Author: Leo van Ulden