Setter Series: Imi Bagnall-Smith

Here at Impact, we understand that route setting can seem like a little bit of a 'dark art', so we're spending some time talking to route setters to find out a little bit more about their personal journey into route setting.

Up first is Imi Bagnall-Smith. Currently studying in London, Imi recently joined the in-house setting team at the LCC chain of walls. We spoke about how she got into route setting, how she's found it as a female in a male-dominated industry and any words of advice she has for all those women out there that are keen to get started with route setting.

Hi Imi, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your climbing?

I’ve been climbing for about 14 years now, and I started competing within the first year (at age 7) as part of the Westway squad. I’ve loved it since then!

I started coaching about 3 years ago now, and then started setting in the past year, so i spend most of my week thinking about climbing!

Loads of climbing experience then, you started so young. How about your route setting experience? Is it correct that you’re now one of the in-house setters at the LCC chain of walls in London?

Yes, I’ve always been interested in route setting, because being creative and coming up with moves and sequences always seemed so much fun. I started talking to the setting manager of LCC about a potential role in the year before covid kicked off and was then finally able to start training as a route setting team member once climbing gyms reopened.

It's really great to see walls putting effort into training new setters and giving these opportunities to staff. How did you find starting out in route setting? Were you nervous or apprehensive at all or did it all go quite smoothly?

I was definitely pretty nervous - I had no experience using a drill so a lot of my attention for the first couple of training days went towards trying to learn how it worked! I think a lot of things like using ladders and putting big holds or volumes up hadn’t crossed my mind, but every time I came across a new challenge everyone was very kind and helped me to learn how to do all these new things!

There's definitely a ton of things that go into route setting that aren't so obvious initially. We had the exact same experience when we started and some good guidance goes a really long way.

What sort of teams have you been working in so far? Have you got to set with many other women so far?

I mean there’s definitely more male than female setters. For my first few sets I was on with only guys, but then I got to set with one of the female LCC setters (who has unfortunately just left!), and then I was on a set with Emma Twyford, who is obviously super strong and a very experienced setter - so that was great!

LCC also ran an all-female set at Harrow for the first time right before this lockdown, so that set will still be up in April for people to come and get on!

That's really great to have an all-female set up for people to try. I'm sure that's going to be really inspiring for a lot of women across London.