Forums: Climbing Disciplines: Indoor Gyms: Re: [Carlo890] Route Setting: Ethos, Aesthetics and Mechanics by Sean Milligan : Edit Log


Dec 16, 2012, 6:02 AM

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Re: [Carlo890] Route Setting: Ethos, Aesthetics and Mechanics by Sean Milligan
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Route Setting: Ethos, Aesthetics and Mechanics


Perhaps the only things more difficult for a route setter to accept beyond having the responsibility to consider all members of the facility is…….that every piece of work they do will be evaluated (and commented upon) by every member of the facility. For the route setter, this is not just a matter of being thick skinned – it’s well worth considering both the compliments and criticisms as a form of performance evaluation. Much of the commentary will be a direct result of the moves that have been set (everyone’s entitled to their opinion) and the “value” of the opinions can be weighed and accounted for over time as appropriate. There is, however, another area of “critique” that pertains to nothing more than “how” those moves have been presented to/placed before the climber(s). It may seem like a somewhat “intangible” quality – difficult to address – but most of the evaluation pertains to one strategy that all climbers (should) practice and one question that (outdoor) climbers hate.

The element of climbing/climber strategy that the setter should attempt (is obliged) to address is…….“surveying the route” – i.e. the climber should be able to examine/see the general path of the route in question to identify sequences and rests before leaving the ground. Needless to say, if there’s too much clutter on the walls (holds and/or tape), the route is not going to “stand out” in any way and……..surveying the route properly is going to be difficult (if not impossible). To my mind (and the minds of many) the only thing more frustrating than encountering a “stupid” move on a manufactured climb is……..having to ask “Is that mine?” The frustration could be experienced by an outdoor climber who is accustomed to using all parts of all available surfaces or by someone who is concerned about ethics or blowing a flash but either way…..I’m of the opinion that it’s an unnecessary (and unwelcome) part of the indoor climbing experience. Some may suggest that there is benefit in being forced to “search” for the holds (hands or feet) that are required to complete a given route in terms of simulating a natural surface, but I would (and will) contest that the true trick in climbing a natural surface is not finding “a hold” to use……….it’s finding “the right hold” to use. That said, what I propose is that a route setter should, as part of their overall process, take steps to eliminate any doubt in the climbers mind as to “what is” and “what is not” considered part of the route in question.

The first step towards eliminating any questions of this nature is identifying what factors/conditions produce them and…….I would suggest that the two largest contributors are features of the walls themselves - ranging from arêtes and open books to holds (hands and feet) that are a permanent part of the surface (such as might be included on EntrePrise, Eldorado, Rockwerx or Pyramide walls (to name a few)) – and…….the holds that have been used to construct neighbouring/overlapping climbs.

The simplest solution to questions arising from “surface” features is to include all such features (hands and feet) on all climbs – the truth of that matter is that most people are going to put their hands and feet all over them anyways. For those who are working at (or near) their limit, there’s something kind of annoying about having to consciously avoid using good holds for the sake of doing something hard and for those looking to do something a little harder……well – they can avoid using features as they see fit. In the case of arêtes and open books, if the feature is not to be used it seems more reasonable to construct the route such that the climber is moved away from the feature than it is to expect that people won’t attempt to use it if it’s close enough for hand or foot placements. Knowing (and understanding) that layout in some facilities may make this approach challenging (if not impossible) – especially for wood framing in a tight space – confusion and questions can be reduced through adopting a convention (i.e. such features are always “in” or always “out” unless stated) and sticking with it. All that said, I would also suggest that questions arising from features of the walls themselves are far easier to account for (and far less annoying to the “engaged” climber) than those that arise due to holds on neighbouring (or overlapping) climbs.

Some facilities attempt to address the effect of neighbouring climbs through the use of taped boundaries but at the same time I acknowledge and appreciate the effort, I would also suggest it’s limited in it’s application and……not completely effective. Taped boundaries are of little use in the case of overlapping climbs (the existence of which will be justified in Part 3) and……pieces of tape are often removed (generally by sloppy foot work close to the climb boundary) instantly placing climbers back in the situation which was trying to be avoided. As such, a more successful approach to “highlighting” the holds that “are” (and “are not”) included as part of a given route is to construct routes using only one colour of hold. Yes, this may limit what holds can be used for a given climb (and as a result place some limitations on what type of climb can be built) but…….both these problems can be addressed with a little forethought on the part of the setter (which, it could be argued, is amongst the things they are being paid for).

Even if a climb is constructed using only one colour, climbers may still have to search for holds, or practice some form of “discrimination” while climbing but……..aside from those with forms of colour blindness (@10% of males and 0.5% of females), colour focus/distinction is relegated to the unconscious level somewhat quickly (leaving climbers free to focus on other aspects of the climb (and climbing)). That said, the effectiveness of this approach cab be augmented by taking two additional steps…….

(1) Use similarly coloured tape to mark holds;

In short, consistency of colour (along with the increased visual footprint offered by the piece of tape) will make finding holds that much easier for the climber. Yes, like with taped boundaries, pieces of tape are likely to be removed over time BUT…….given that the route is colour consistent, the effects of removed tape are not quite as pronounced AND…….while the tape lasts, it will assist climbers in both surveying the route and finding the appropriate holds while climbing. Of course, colour consistency with taping will introduce some limitations in terms of quantity (there are only so many colours of both tape and holds) and is only truly effective for actual “climbs”. In the case of designated bouldering areas (and boulder problems), the easiest (and most effective) approach is to use tape colour to designate difficulty. Used this way, tape (and colour) serve not only to designate/mark a specific problem but also to assist the climber/boulderer in identifying other problems of a similar grade.

It is, at this point, worth noting that taping of holds – taping anywhere for any reason in the facility for that matter – has an impact on the overall appearance of the facility and is worth paying attention to/exercising control over. There are some facilities that extend the notion and put in place “taping guidelines” (or something like that) such that every piece of tape on the wall must be facing in the same direction but……this approach has it’s drawbacks too. As well intentioned as idea may be, the overall effect is……“agitating” (kind of like looking at BAD modern art), in some scenarios counterproductive and in the long run it’s a little easier (and more visually pleasing) to place tape using a few simple principles……..

(a) Tape should be placed such that the hold itself (hand or foot) plays a part in keeping the tape on the wall (i.e. some of the tape should be “underneath” the hold)
(b) Tape should not meet the hold at a contact surface – pieces of tape that meet a contact point will quickly be removed from the wall by sloppy climbers (of which there are many) and…….have the potential to change the nature/feel of the climb (even for those who are not sloppy)
(c) Tape should line up with/point towards t-nut – in general, this means that tape will be oriented “somewhat” symmetrically with respect to hold
(d) Tape should give some indication of hold orientation – if tape lines up with obvious line/feature on hold…….it can be used to re-orient the hold if it spins
(e) Length of exposed tape should be somewhat consistent – different length pieces of tape marking a route look sloppy (end of story).

(2) Choose carefully the colour of neighbouring climbs

The overall idea is….all climbs should be similarly constructed – holds and tape colour consistent – but…….the colour of adjacent climbs should be selected to offer enough visual contrast for each climb to “stand out” against it’s neighbours. There are some obvious contrasts that work very well - blue and yellow, yellow and green (bad for some), blue and white, red and white (always nice around Christmas). At the same time, there are some colour combinations that should be avoided – depending on the exact shades purple/red or blue/purple end up looking like a big bruise on the wall; red/green is worth avoiding (unless you wish to mess with those who are colour blind) and……yellow/red always looked to me eye like a McDonalds add. In the end, there are many more combinations with “strange associations” – ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference and the easiest approach is just to avoid combinations of colours that don’t offer an immediate and obvious visual contrast (ex: red and orange or combinations of dark colours).

As important as making a route stand out and reducing hassle for the climber are……I would suggest that of equal importance is……making the “visual sales pitch” – drawing the climber’s eye to the line and……giving them a reason to get excited about the climb before they even leave the ground (obviously, this is far easier to do if the climber can actually “see” the route in question). One of the easiest ways to draw a climber’s attention to a route is to include a big “feature” hold – something that makes them think “I want to go up there and put my hands on that”. That said, the sales pitch ends if climbers are able to touch the hold without leaving the ground and………some effort should be put into placing the hold far enough up the wall that climbers actually have to start the route to get their hands on it. Other ways to generate a little pre-climb excitement include taking the climb to (or through) an “intimidating” feature on the wall or by using an assortment of obviously nasty holds to build the route (kind of depends on whose attention it is you’re trying to get). Taking a broader perspective, the ideology and process is really accomplishing two things: not only does it serve to draw the climber’s attention to the route…… also helps to generate a positive (or at least “productive”) headspace before their hands even touch the wall.

In the end, the success of a route setter – and the quality of their routes – will always be measured and determined by the people who are climbing their routes. That said, at the heart of what I’ve put forth here is….most of the evaluation and criticism is (and will be) completely subjective and the route setter serves their own interests by considering not just physiology but also psychology – to build a foundation for success by taking steps to eliminate objective sources of hassle and confusion and…….to generate a little excitement – both on the wall and on the ground.

(This post was edited by limestone_cowboy on Dec 16, 2012, 6:03 AM)

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Post edited by limestone_cowboy () on Dec 16, 2012, 6:03 AM

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