Women in Routesetting

Routesetting is essential to gym climbing, and has become quite an art, as discussed by Morgan Young and Mead McLean on our podcast. Setting is labor intensive, and much like other art forms, your worth as a setter is determined by people who view your work; its value is rather extrinsic. But, it is undeniably the best job to have in the indoor climbing industry. You get to create and climb all the time! As with many professions, however, routesetting is largely a male-dominated field. Next in my series of Women in Climbing, we have Part II, Women in Routesetting, to explore this concept. If you remember Sympathy for the Route Setter, you remember that I have been a routesetter. For this piece, we have a guest, Jerrica, who is a killer setter and has much more experience than me.

Editor’s Note: Jerrica and High-Clip have been routesetters at different gyms. This piece is a combined effort based on both setters’ experiences.

Jerrica and I have been the only women on our respective setting teams for the majority of our time setting. Men and women set rather differently, mostly because of their different sizes and climbing styles. Climbers love this variety, but as we see with many professions, sometimes people are intolerant of diverse styles. In this male-dominated field, you can imagine how this may present a challenge for women setters who naturally set differently. 

Jerrica, here are some questions for you:

  1. How has your experience been with setting from your first day setting until now?

 Everything in the beginning was very new and overwhelming at times. You’re learning a trade that, when taught, is taught very differently among different head routesetters. I’ve had the privilege of overseeing different leadership roles when it comes to setting, whether as a competition chief or just the head-routesetter put in place at that time. My biggest goal in these situations was to observe and absorb as much information as possible. As a newcomer I knew nothing about it, nothing about the industry, or none of the top names I should know. Today I would say I have a stronger understanding of the industry but, of course, there is always room for growth. Changes are constantly being made in terms of how people climb and who the climbers are that you are setting for. Different regions call for different types of strengths and weaknesses and, as a setter, we must recognize and study local climbing styles and adapt accordingly; teaching through setting possible new movements but still keeping a good recognized flow with the climber.  

  1. How have your co-workers uplifted you and helped you grow?

 When I was brought on, everyone was supportive, and Morgan Young, the head route setter at the time, introduced me to pretty much everything. In the beginning there were always frustrating days. I think the frustrations back then have changed from the frustrations today.  A great joy my coworkers and I share is setting at other events and competitions throughout the area. Something I love about setting for other competitions at other gyms is the opportunity to set with other setters from other gyms. The beauty of setting with people you don’t normally set with is that you are exposed to other setting styles and other forms of constructive criticism. Constantly reaching out, asking questions, and getting pointers from setters around the world can uplift you and add to your repertoire of setting ideas and creativity.  Hearing how another gym and their team works can provide a lot of insight into how your gym, and even you’re setting, can function.    

  1. How do you get past feeling discouraged (if you have felt this way)? 

This happens to me more days than not, and I’m still learning how to navigate this. I’m just now putting pieces together and realizing where I can effectively learn to grow from it. Usually it will be a conversation that has to happen with the way things are being communicated and how they come across to the other person. Listening to music helps. There have been full weeks in the past where I would just dread the day because I thought that everything I put on the wall would be trash. I then started to force myself to start understanding why something isn’t working and being able to explain why and being able to ask questions. 

  1. How has routesetting affected your climbing?

It taught me that precision in body position matters more than I previously believed. I watch climbers and dissect movement down to precisely where a person’s foot should be in order to succeed in a certain move. I think climbing is beautiful and I myself am a slow and methodical climber. That feeling of dancing on the wall with different movements excites me and I am in love with the process of learning more about efficient movement . 

  1. If you could change something about your career as a setter, what would it be? 

Making it more sustainable. Weighing out the physical needs of the job and the stress it can put on the body. Before I was a setter, I was teaching yoga, and I found that over time I was doing less yoga for myself because the setting job was so demanding on the body. At the end of the day I would feel exhausted and drained, knowing I would have to get up the next day and do it all over again. It was tough, and I was pushing my body to an extreme that needed an occasional break. I unexpectedly got a break when I broke my foot while longboarding during my off-time. I was forced to give setting a break which gave me a long period of time to heal my body. Another topic I sometimes think about would be how I communicate with my coworkers. There has been so much I have learned from my coworkers and how their setting styles differ from mine. One of my biggest goals going forward is to openly utilize the input from my coworkers and to combine it with my experience in yoga and movement in order to continue to grow as a setter!

  1. What advice would you give a current or perspective setter? 

Be open to criticism. There have been times where I put a boulder on the wall and by the end of the tweaking process it’s a completely new boulder. This could be for several reasons, one being too many cooks in the kitchen, but also it really just could have been a terrible route. Understanding what changes were being made and why will be key to your growth.  Be versatile in your position, things are constantly changing and the gym is constantly growing so be adaptive and understanding. Take care of your body.   

7. What is your ideal route/what should a climber expect on a Jerrica route?

Technical, slow movement.

Me, too, Jerrica. Go team technical!

Jerrica (Guest Writer)
High-Clip (Co-writer)

2 Replies to “Women in Routesetting”

  1. So glad I found your blog. I’ve not climbed in many many years. Lots of worn out cartilage et cetera fun stuff to show for years of free climbing.

    Then I decided to keep calm and climb indoors where it was safe. A climbing partner was also on the quit while you’re ahead bandwagon, quit and took up golf. What happened to her was that she was on a golf course one day and she fell out of her cart and the cart fell on top of her and she broke her leg. It was so embarrassing. Of course I laughed my face off.

    Embarrassing for me was that the owner of the gym that I went to, in Nagoya, did not believe for one second that I never climbed before. For the life of me I couldn’t get up the wall. There’s something about having permission to go up a thing that makes my brain shut off.

    So I gave up on that. I envy people who can climb in gyms. I feel so comfortable outdoors on actual rough surfaces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man! Outdoors is the best hands-down. Whenever it’s safe by you, I hope you can give the gym another shot! Maybe you’ll get psyched on it or you’ll be able to get back outside 🎉
      Thanks for joining theDIHEDRAL community!! We’re so psyched to have you. Keep crushing in whatever way you can! 💪

      Liked by 1 person

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