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Female Route Setters


Original Post
Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

https://www.mountainproject.com/blog/4393/where-are-all-the-female-routesetters

Great article and one most gyms would benefit from reading.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

Does unpaid count? 60 year old female route setter, here!

Best, OLH

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530
Old lady H wrote:Does unpaid count? 60 year old female route setter, here! Best, OLH
Any female setter presence in a gym is a good thing. I'm proud to say 1/3 of our setting staff are women, and I'd love to increase that percentage in the next couple years.
Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

We had a great female head setter for a while, and the routes were less gymnastic and more like real outdoor climbing. I don't think we have any female setters now.

jmmlol · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Nov 2016 · Points: 0

It would be nice to have more. We have a bunch of tall dudes who are also bad setters.

Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

I also think it would be nice if more gyms either required, or better yet, paid for their setters to go through training. Being a decent climber does not make one a decent setter.

JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,940

For me it is more about having route setters who genuinely understand training and what goes into a good training route, and how to make good training routes which are more or less equally accessible to various body types. In other words, people who can make up simple routes and problems which do not overly favor specific body types, which apparently is a hard thing to do. Yes, having female route setters would undoubtably help with this, especially given women are an increasing ratio of the clientele, but more important I think is an emphasis on actual training knowledge. By focusing on the right things, namely quality accessible training challenges, the need for female setters should naturally come into the conversation and be addressed. FWIW, I climb at a gym where this diversity stuff among the local culture is the focus of nearly everything, and things like the training value of the routes directly suffers because of this because it is one of the last things focused on. Focusing on the demographics of the setting team in favor of their actual, in the real world, here and now route setting credentials misses the forest for the trees, and makes me miss the days when a setting staff, or just a team of people intended to accomplish a goal, was hired primarily based on directly relevant experience. People have taken the lesson of hiring a diverse crew from a qualified pool and took it a little too far a little too often to the point that the diversity is all that gets focused on.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,135

"MO" at the Gravity Vault gyms in northern New Jersey sets brilliant routes at all difficulty levels. The craftsmanship is amazing: such variety of creative thoughtful moves sustained so close to the difficulty level. Luckily she tends to set the moves right at the limit of my reach, so it pushes me physically. But more for my "mental" side I seek out her routes to teach me new things that are possible for my climbing.

She does have some key advantages: The managers of the Chatham and Upper Saddle River gyms are big believers in the importance of really great Top-Rope setting, so they support and appreciate her work. And the infrastructure at those gyms is skewed in every way to enable and support maximum routesetter creativity for Top-Rope routes. And they have "bred" and supported several male routesetters at a similar level of creativity and craftsmanship, so I assume they learn from each other (and push each other).

. . (oddly, I've never met her).

Ken

Alexander Stathis · · Athens, GA · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 80

I personally like the idea that the gym should have problems for everyone over the idea that every problem should be doable for everyone. The gym I go to seems to think the latter and so you get a bunch of really dumb, boring problems. To that end, hiring women seems like an excellent way to do get a wider range of problems in the gym.

AndrewArroz · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2016 · Points: 10

My primary gym recently hired a couple female setters and I really like the way they set. Julie Ellison nails one of the key problems in this article. There's one male setter in our gym who predictably puts a dynamic move 1/2 through every route he sets that is only really doable for people about 5'9 and taller. Which leaves out a lot of people.

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125

Before this becomes a height thing, realize Jackie from The Spot is fairly tall (and Sarah in one of the photos isn't short either). The current female setter I have membership at climbs very tall for her height, but she brings a different perspective from the male setters (but so do each of the male setters). We also have a very tall setter that sets good routes for average height climbers.

While I think having more female setters may/will improve setting, overall experience/technical level (both as a climber and as a setter) is just as important.

JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,940
Alexander Stathis wrote:I personally like the idea that the gym should have problems for everyone over the idea that every problem should be doable for everyone. The gym I go to seems to think the latter and so you get a bunch of really dumb, boring problems. To that end, hiring women seems like an excellent way to do get a wider range of problems in the gym.
Due to real-world constraints which tend to be present in any gym, I think gym routes should be set with multiple sizes of end user in mind. This will still innately leave some people out some of the time, so a gym operating under real-world constraints which seeks to make each problem maximally accessible will result in a gym which maximally has "problems for everyone". This is how I did it when headsetter at a gym and it worked out well as I often got compliments specifically from women regarding the fun nature of the problems. I can only assume this would be because they found many of the problems accessible to begin with. The recurring theme I heard from them was they wanted accessible routes that they could use to work on their weaknesses, which often unsurprisingly was upper body muscular power, and so often unsurprisingly involved having a diversity of not-too-reachy dynamic problems available to them as well as enough holds on the wall for them to make up their own when needed. I imagine your gym suffers from some other malaise, though clearly having good training routes is not their focus.

From a demographics and equality of opportunity aspect, the thing I would be curious about is whether or not the ratio of women who enjoy climbing gym training and have knowledge about it are somehow under-represented among setters and gym workers in general, or whether having more than a few women at any given gym runs the risk of over-representing this group.
Tradgic Yogurt · · Unknown Hometown · Joined May 2016 · Points: 55

My gym used to have a tall lady setting. She was very good at enabling flow via good sequences, and in my opinion, she was the best setter they had. After she left, well, the routes have been getting notably more reachy and focused on power. More bro-ey for lack of a better term. It's not quite as good as it was with her influence around, especially for my short partners.

JNE · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2006 · Points: 1,940
AndrewArroz wrote:There's one male setter in our gym who predictably puts a dynamic move 1/2 through every route he sets that is only really doable for people about 5'9 and taller. Which leaves out a lot of people.
Compression oriented (and so span specific) dynamic movements, especially compression-oriented deadpoints with the only option being relatively far-away feet, tend to gravitate in this direction for whatever reason. Do we need female route setters to get away from an over-proliferation of reachy deadpoints with far-away feet? Is that the only solution?
Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40

It is obvious when you go into a gym and either the setting is good or it sucks. Lack of feet, overly gymnastic movement and/or always using weird volumes are a sign of untrained gym setters.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530
Eric Carlos wrote:I also think it would be nice if more gyms either required, or better yet, paid for their setters to go through training. Being a decent climber does not make one a decent setter.
Unfortunately, there is no standard setter training available for new setters other than what each gym is willing or capable of teaching.

The closest thing to training available is the USAC certification system, but that is competition focused and does not actually teach setting in the way you might think.
TheBirdman Friedman · · Eldorado Springs, Colorado · Joined Jan 2010 · Points: 65
kenr wrote:"MO" at the Gravity Vault gyms in northern New Jersey sets brilliant routes at all difficulty levels. The craftsmanship is amazing: such variety of creative thoughtful moves sustained so close to the difficulty level. Luckily she tends to set the moves right at the limit of my reach, so it pushes me physically. But more for my "mental" side I seek out her routes to teach me new things that are possible for my climbing. She does have some key advantages: The managers of the Chatham and Upper Saddle River gyms are big believers in the importance of really great Top-Rope setting, so they support and appreciate her work. And the infrastructure at those gyms is skewed in every way to enable and support maximum routesetter creativity for Top-Rope routes. And they have "bred" and supported several male routesetters at a similar level of creativity and craftsmanship, so I assume they learn from each other (and push each other). . . (oddly, I've never met her). Ken
  • WARNING*: Boulder Guy Commenting...
  • FURTHER WARNING* I don't recall if the routes were MO routes or otherwise but I did a pretty good sampling at the Chatham Gravity Vault.

I thought this was some of the worst setting I've ever experienced. Two of my biggest pet peeves were prevalent all over this gym. 1 being that the cruxes were often the clips. Considering the walls are a mere 25 feet, making the hardest move on the route clipping the 3rd bolt was a terrifying proposal. Further, if the crux was not the clip, I found it to be some completely arbitrary and out of character move towards the top of the route that was simply made hard by virtue of unusable holds or the complete absence of feet. 5.12 felt like doing a 5.10 to one V8 move.

Or maybe I'm just a soft Boulder gym climber. I really do find the setting at the BRC to be the highest quality in Boulder. Sustained, thoughtful, and since they have a large kids team, the routes are often set with multiple options to move through cruxes to accommodate climbers of all shapes and sizes. Rant over.
Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250
Eric Carlos wrote:https://www.mountainproject.com/blog/4393/where-are-all-the-female-routesetters Great article and one most gyms would benefit from reading.
Our gym has 3 female setters out of ~10, me being one of them, which I guess is better than average. Though if you start deconstructing the number, none of the full-time setters are female, only part-time. One only sets bouldering, and one is going through personal issues right now, and isn't setting much, so 3 out of 10 starts looking less impressive, and if you count the number of routes that were set by females in the past ~3-4 weeks, you would get something like 3 out of 25.

The article does bring up several good points.

I started setting initially because I was frustrated by the lack of routes that would help me train for climbing outside. Once I started doing it, I discovered that I enjoy setting, so I have been doing it for about 10 years now.

But I don't think that being a female gives you a unique perspective on setting, and automatically makes you a good setter. There are good setters, and bad setters of either gender. And the lack of feet, only dynamic bro-moves, reaches that are not meant to be dynamic, but are impossible for anyone under 5'6", are not the hallmark of male setters, they are the hallmark of bad setters.

I certainly have climbed my share of routes that were set by males, but were thoughtful, well-flowing, and working well with my 5-ft frame, as well as with the 6-ft tall guys. And I have certainly climbed my share of other kind...

I do think that this would change (is already changing) as climbing, and competition climbing, becomes more and more popular. Hopefully one of the changes would be more female route-setters, but more importantly, I hope it would be more better-trained setters of both genders.
coldfinger · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 55

The two biggest problems with route setters:

1. The guy (yes male) who sets routes to show off how good he (thinks) he is.

2. The guy (yes male again) who thinks he is way better than he is and doesn't listen to or learn from anybody else.

Thinking it's kinda lame to compete with your clients! Gyms are about technique AND strength and you always do better with teamwork!

Eric Carlos · · Chattanooga, TN · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 40
Lena chita wrote: the lack of feet, only dynamic bro-moves, reaches that are not meant to be dynamic, but are impossible for anyone under 5'6", are not the hallmark of male setters, they are the hallmark of bad setters.
This needs to be repeated and forwarded to every climbing gym owner.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,135
TheBirdman wrote:I thought this was some of the worst setting I've ever experienced. Two of my biggest pet peeves were prevalent all over this gym. 1 being that the cruxes were often the clips. Considering the walls are a mere 25 feet, making the hardest move on the route clipping the 3rd bolt was a terrifying proposal. Further, if the crux was not the clip, I found it to be some completely arbitrary and out of character move towards the top of the route that was simply made hard by virtue of unusable holds or the complete absence of feet.
Sounds like you have a different perception of Chatham GV than me, because you visited once and climbed mostly Lead routes, while I climb almost all Top-Rope routes there. And you come from a region whose gyms have a different (and commonly seen) philosophy of Lead routes than Chatham GV.

Key reason I don't do much leading there (and never at a difficulty grade anywhere near my Top-Rope capability) is because I have often found that I don't like the style / philosophy (and infrastructure) of some of the Lead routes. Since I love and love the style / philosophy (and infrastructure) of the Chatham GV TR routes, I haven't had much motivation to change my mix. And I guess it's not just me, since my observation is that the GV gym has about the lowest ratio of climbers Leading versus number of climbers Top-Roping I've seen anywhere.

Philosophy: Many gyms feel that real climbing is Leading, and TR is just training for Leading -- (so most of their routes are lead-able, and they expect that most of their climbers will be leading). Rather at Chatham GV ... I sort of guess ... I'll have to ask the top managers sometime ... Leading is a special challenge for a minority of climbers who have the right mental "stuff" to handle it, while Top-Roping (and Bouldering) are wonderful exercises in movement and problem-solving without any need to prepare for Leading (or outdoor climbing -- so most of the TR routes lack quickdraws.

I have pointed out the low ratio of number of people Leading to a top management guy of GV gyms, and he was well aware of it and didn't seem terribly worried. Gravity Vault is one of the fastest-expanding indoor gym brands in the world, so I guess most of his customers aren't very worried either about seeing a collection of intimidating Leadable routes nearby their beloved TRs, and not very worried about the feeling that they lack the "right stuff" to try those.

Back in January I talked with a young woman at Gravity Vault who'd just finished easily on-sighting a 12 on Top-Rope. Found out that her family's home was a long drive from there. Asked her why she'd driven so far. She said she was in school now in Colorado, and of course loves the outdoor climbing, but back home between semesters she really enjoys the TR routesetting at Gravity Vault because it's more sustained and interesting than lots of the indoor routes in Colorado. And she said she feels it's because in Colorado indoors there's such an emphasis on Leading -- so the routes are less sustained: "Like this 12 would be a 13 in Colorado.

Ken
Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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