Route Setters are heroes

For some background on this post, please feel free to read my post from several days ago titled, “How Difficult Should Indoor Problems Be?” which follows: “This is a hard question. How difficult should indoor problems be? I’m sure everyone who climbs has their own opinion on this. I’m talking in a general sense here, though. Think first of the people you may have climbing indoors. There are beginners. There are outdoor boulderers who train indoors. There are indoor climbers who train exclusively indoors. There may be competitive climbers at your climbing gym. There are short climbers and there are tall climbers and there are average height climbers. There are skinny climbers, heavy climbers, and muscular climbers. There are climbers who are trying to get in shape. There are climbers who are recovering from injuries. There are climbers who simply want to climb because it’s the only thing that keeps them going. There are climbers who don’t really care. There are climbers who are trying to improve their skills. There are climbers who have hit a plateau in their climbing. Imagine trying to set problems to satisfy the needs of all of these people. That’s a tall order! As a former route setter, though, I can tell you that it can be done, and every effort should be made by the setters to create a wide variety of problems to cover the needs of the climbers at their particular climbing gym. Route setters sometimes get this “fever” to set the most obscure and difficult problems imaginable with impossible cruxes at the tops of the problems. That’s how people get hurt. I’m of the opinion that routes and problems in an indoor climbing gym should be training oriented and safe first and foremost. Make climbers hone their technical skills — set a problem that requires really precise footwork, for example. Save the crazy stuff for comps and special events. Set some problems for everybody. Set a few for each group of climbers that you can identify in your gym, then set some generic ones. Have fun, but don’t lose sight of the safety aspect. The last place anybody needs to get hurt climbing is in a climbing gym! That just doesn’t make a good fireside tale when you’re camping out. As to difficulty of grades, again, I suggest variety, from the lowest to the highest that you believe someone at your gym could send safely. As a route setter, you need to use your creativity and bring into existence something for everyone. That’s the mark of a great route setter, and it directly reflects on the perceived quality of the experience at any climbing gym. Keep in mind that you, the route setter, are the backbone of the success of any new skill that is learned or taught in your gym, so make it count. Even if nobody knows it but you, know that you keep the gym going. Without something to send, there’s no climbing gym. You set the stage for success, failure, and potential improvements in climbers’ trajectories. Keep that in mind and help each of your climbers to reach their ultimate potential. Safely.”

Now, before you form an opinion on what you just read, I’d like to clarify a few things. First, as with all of my blog posts that are written in this form, I’d like to make sure you, my readers, know and remember that this is my opinion (as stated). You are perfectly entitled to yours as well, and it makes great fodder for discussion. Feel free to comment. We can agree to disagree, if it comes to that, but that brings me to my second clarification on this post, which is that this post is and was meant to be an ode to route setters of sorts. In other words, no part of it was directed at any climbing gym in particular, nor any route setter personally, in any regard beyond being a pep talk of sorts with some generalized advice. As a former, and hopefully future, route setter, I have great respect for route setters and they have a special place in my heart — a very positive one. None of what I said above was intended to be construed as criticism. Friendly advice is the extent of it. Some of my best friends and climbing buddies are route setters, and I apologize to any route setter who understood the post to be personal or criticism or personal criticism of their work. I miss route setting very much, and my climbing life isn’t complete without it. My injuries sustained in the motor vehicle accident a year and a half ago prevent me from climbing as I once did and that’s frustrating, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy what I am able to climb, and the route setters make that possible. I hope to return to route setting one day at my own gym. A third clarification I want to make is that my climbing gym’s setters do an excellent job of making the routes safe and fun. I don’t feel squeamish about trying problems of any grade at my gym. If I ever do, I let the route setter or the gym staff know personally — I’m not going to embarrass you on my blog or social media and let you read about my complaint “on the front page of the news”, so to speak. I apologize if anyone has ever felt that I have done that to them. Here, I want to make a very clear statement of my own way of operating using my blog. If you follow my blog, you know that I don’t give a lot of details about places or people beyond what’s necessary to say what I’m trying to say. That makes things a bit more generic than some would like, but it protects people’s identities and businesses’ interests and reputations. I’m not going to smear you on my blog, in other words. I’m not that person. If I have a personal beef with you, chances are pretty good that I have your phone number, your email, am friends with you on Facebook, and/or see you regularly enough in person to pull you aside and talk to you face-to-face. If I think a misunderstanding has occurred and you aren’t just trying to smear me for grins and giggles (like my troll), then I may ask for more information from you so that we can clear up the problem without embarrassing anyone unnecessarily. Here’s the thing — I didn’t grow up with this social media stuff. I was also in the military where, if you had a disagreement, you manned up, went out back, duked it out, and it was over. We had to have each others’ six, whether we liked it or not, and there were very few fellow troops that I truly didn’t get along with. That’s okay. Climbing is the same way. We have to have each others’ six because it’s life and death. Again, I rarely meet anyone in the climbing world that I genuinely don’t like. Trust is the bigger issue, though. I have found the same camaraderie in climbing that existed in the military ranks for me. That is especially true in the route setting community and is worth more than any riches in the world to me. So, what I’m trying to say is that route setters are heroes. Respect them. Offer suggestions and find out what you can do to help them, because without them, we climbers would have nothing to climb indoors! A final clarification is in order. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I appreciate you, my readers, and your patience with me when I do screw up. Just know that I am a climber with PTSD who does their best to inform and entertain and sometimes I get it wrong. Feedback is important to me, and please do me a favor — shoot the message and not the messenger if you must shoot at anything. I have too much climbing to do in life still! Thanks again to all my climbing buddies, readers, followers, and supporters. You all make this blog possible for me and I appreciate you. Never be afraid to Like or Comment! Have a great one, and climb on! And just remember, route setters are heroes! (This post is dedicated to two of my best climbing buddies, who also taught me to set routes — T and AJ. May we always have the memories and have the opportunity to make new ones!)

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