Aug 31, 2010
Hey guys and gals!
So, I recently finished building a nice little woody here in the garage, but upon completion of the construction project, I realized the setting project was equally, if not more challenging! I searched the web for setting tips, but most applied to roped climbing or setting on big gym bouldering walls...
Here's my story
After the wall was done I started out with a "blank slate", and attempted setting individual routes of various difficulties. I came up with several fun advanced routes, but after that it was hard to set something that felt different... It was difficult to keep from repeating the same moves, especially off the starting holds. I'd set about half a route then hate it and take it down. After tens of hours I still had a wall that was close to blank.
This was starting to be more frustrating than fun. I eventually said "screw it" (bolt it?) and put up all my holds somewhat randomly just to fill it in. This instantly opened up a wide range of options and I was able to mark out several fun routes.
The lasting problem was they were all difficult.
It is true: it is easy to set hard routes and hard to set easy ones... I had one or two "REC" routes but they were pretty boring and still difficult for most non-climbing friends... Like any climbing zealot it is important to me to have some fun bait to get friends and family interested and out climbing with me. Everyone that would come over would quickly get bored or discouraged with the "easiest problems" on the wall and I had nothing more to offer, despite my continued efforts.
I resorted to ordering a few new sets from Nicros and ClimbIt that were more beginner/intermediate friendly but upon attempting to set with them I ran into the same problems.
Aggravated, I took everything down. I knew there had to be a better way. Eventually I arrived at the following:
Woody Foundation Theory:
This is a method for setting a home wall with a solid foundation that solves the problems mentioned previously and makes building new routes fun and easy. Each step taken by itself does not add up to much, but taken as a whole, this method has transformed my wall and has left me with a woodie that is fun for pros and n00bs alike!
1. Start simple: Begin by setting the easiest routes. Remember the whole time that easy means easy!
Before I would catch myself bumping moves up in difficulty a bit wanting to keep routes somewhat challenging, I finally realized that for beginning climbers, just hanging on to a jug can be an ordeal. For the easiest problem, make the moves as easy as you can. Let gravity provide the brunt of the challenge.
2. Set on the "longest path" Everybody's home wall is different, but I'm pretty sure every one of them has a "longest path"… that is– the farthest distance you can travel. Especially with the easiest route(s), I think it's crucial that it be as long as possible.
By making foundation routes as long as possible, even if the individual moves are easy, the longer length will maximize the challenge and set a clear, and more importantly: enticing goal. This keeps the climber interested in getting to that goal and excited to try again and again to get farther and farther. You get far less mileage out of short beginner routes, because if it is indeed easy, they will probably make short work of it and then want something new. Unless you have a full wall of beginner problems this is bound to end in disinterest.
3."There and back again" - BiDirectional setting: In setting these "longest path" routes, it is good if they can be run both directions. Rather than having a route finish out at high point, the route can go up high and then "rainbow" back down to another start/end block on the farthest side of the wall. This preserves the challenge of a route to a great degree. A route that goes straight up and stops can be run once, then it is old news. These bi-directional, long-path routes can be attempted one way, then the other, then to one side an back without stopping. This ensures that (especially your n00b) routes will keep providing challenge where a traditional top-finish route does not.
Ok, here's the meat of my woody foundation theory:
4. Set "bi-directional, longest path" routes for each difficulty. I found the best way to do this is to separate all your holds by set, or if you don't have many full sets, then separate by type. That is: jugs, pockets, crimps, pinches, slopers...
Set "longest-path" routes with each set/type of hold. Don't go out of your way to try to make the routes more or less hard, just due to the difference in hold type they will naturally grade themselves. A sloper traverse is going to be hard no matter how you try to set it… Make each move doable (to you) but keep the route as long as possible, with start and end blocks at each side. On my wall this means a traverse from one side to the other, usually in a "rainbow" or two.
By setting these routes with each hold type, you will instantly have long routes with clear challenging goals which cover a whole spectrum of difficulties, that can be run more than one direction and that challenge every level of climber. This gives the wall a great foundational set of problems.
Now the magic:
5. Build new routes on this foundation. I found that by setting these single-hold-type routes, it automatically produced a best-case distribution of holds across the wall. Any hold you put your hand on now has neighbors reachable from either direction of the same type, and moving from one type to another is easy because they are all distributed at move-length distances across the whole wall. Bolt "on-ramps", that is: starting blocks, along the lower points of the wall so you can jump in at any point to this highway of routes, and mix in any larger features you may have in high traffic locations.
From this set up, I have found that fun new problems literally leap off the wall… I can barely keep up. To find a new problem, I will free climb until I make a move/sequence that is really, really fun, then I will mark off that sequence wherever it is on the wall, and build the problem out to a start point in one direction and an end in the other, and can add new holds to the wall to complete the problem as needed. These problems are more traditional, with bigger, more difficult moves and usually a high finishing point.
After several months of frustration and heartache, I finally have a wall with many awesome problems ready to challenge n00bs and pros alike. Everyone who has been up on the wall since this change has climbed longer and had more fun… wanting to come back and get further in their problems.
I couldn't be happier!
Anyway, I know that was a looooong post, but I feel I found a solution to a problem that was crushing my spirits, and I wanted to pass this method along. Again, I realize everyone's wall is different, but I think there are some underlying mechanics at work here that should yield favorable results for anyone facing similar problem setting problems.
That's it! Hope this is useful to you fellow woodyites!