Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On Placing Plastic

When I first began setting I was simply trying to get out of paying for the gym. I was there damn near everyday and as a college student eating oatmeal for every meal I couldn't afford it. At first I knew next to nothing, which was fine because no one at the gym knew any better. I set two types of routes in the beginning: warm ups and projects. It would be a long time before I learned to fill in the gaps.

We were allowed to name our problems so I made a huge collection of book titles with climbing puns, thinking I was so clever. I would sit in class thinking about names like James and the Giant Reach, The Old Mantle and the Sea, or a traverse I could call On the Road. It was fun, I was climbing for free, and before long I was setting nearly two-thirds of the bouldering in the gym.

It wasn't long before I sought steeper angles and changed gyms. A small basement of a gymnastics studio, the space was limited but the motivation was through the roof. I found out early on that anyone could set, and I began setting recreationally until picking up a shift. Looking back I realize that I have been drawn to setting nearly as long as I have been climbing, though I never saw a future or a way to make a living through wrenching.

Today, under the scrutiny (and payroll) of a serious gym (read: not a basement) I realize the power of course setting. I read more about career setters such as Jackie Hueftle and Jamie Emerson and actually catch myself daydreaming about setting for big events.

In trying reach the core of what drives me to set I have a few scribbles to share:

The ability to encourage and force movement is borderline Jedi. When done perfectly it seems downright illegal.

I have always prized movement above all. I would gladly climb any amount of choss if there is fluidity.

Simulating outdoor problems on plastic is a wonderful mash of ideas and memory that almost always comes out unique. If you asked 100 people to set a simulation of a classic problem from memory it seems likely that you would get 100 different routes.

The idea that someone can set a seemingly unique route in a gym, then some time later climb a problem outside that mimics that movement is astounding. Is gym climbing broadening the imagination of outdoor developers? If so then you could be subconsciously setting a future outdoor project. Whoa.



  1. Max,
    We miss the hell out of your boulder problems at the Peak. It's going to suck losing Antoine as well.

    Can't wait to come visit you guys.


  2. We'll be so psyched to see you man. Hot sauce and beers are long overdue.