Where Does The Climbing 'Boom' Leave The Art Of Route Setting?

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Barely a month goes by without an announcement for another climbing or bouldering wall opening its doors. Many towns and cities that only a few years ago hosted a solitary climbing wall, now have 3, 4 or 5 dedicated bouldering walls, along with a roped climbing wall or two. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, the boom is by no means over. Indoor climbing has slowly morphed into its own sport with recent estimates stating that 59% of the 1 million people climbing in the UK are climbing exclusively indoors. Whether this increase in numbers goes on to effect local crags is yet to be seen, one thing we can be sure of is that the indoor climbing scene will continue to grow for some years to come.


With the rapid increase in the number of climbing walls, customers are now often in a position where they can choose between a number of local climbing walls, attending only the one they like best. What is it that sets these walls apart? The coffee is definitely better at some walls, the music worse at others, but the reality is that the level of enjoyment and satisfaction a customer gets from climbing the centres problems is the deciding factor. The enjoyment of the climbing is a result of a number of factors; wall design, hold choice and number of problems available, but the kingpin to all of this is the route setting. Good route setting will create engaging, enjoyable challenges for the climbers and whilst good wall design and hold selection help this, the route setting is the deciding factor upon the quality of the climbs. Because of the competition between walls and the newer phenomenon of customers having a number of local walls to choose from, route setting is starting to be truly valued and seen, as it should be, as the product that each climbing wall is selling. In areas with a higher density of climbing walls such as London, this shift in attitude came some time ago. A standard route setting day was reduced from 15-20 boulders to 8-10, giving route setters the opportunity to spend more time perfecting each and every climb. This, along with the increased emphasis put on purchasing the best holds available, goes some way to explain why many of the London walls have gained reputations as some of the best climbing facilities in the country, despite the relative lack of local outdoor climbing venues.


Professional setters working at Yonder, London. Image by Andy Donohoe

With each new climbing wall that opens there is the inevitable need for more route setters and with the number of top quality route setters limited, each one often having to be booked 6 months in advance, climbing walls must find other ways to fill this need. Often this is done by creating an in-house route setting team, sometimes led by a head route setter. These team members, often with little or no experience, can be thrown in at the deep end, learning as they go or following in the steps of their head route setter. Options for training or up-skilling setters are limited and there are no obvious pathways for those aspiring to work in the route setting industry. Groups such as the Route Setting Association provide some really great, informative courses that provide important safety information for both boulder and roped setting, but training in the creative, movement based side of the route setting art is basically non-existent. It is this need that we aim to fill with the Impact route setting courses that we provide.


The concept behind Impact’s courses has three main aims:


1) To allow people with an interest in route setting to develop skills in a safe environment under the guidance of experienced professionals. Impact also allows people that may not otherwise have opportunities to route set to take their first steps into the route setting world.

2) To allow climbing walls to train and up-skill their in-house setting teams. This training translates to an increase in the quality of setting that the team can produce and in turn adds value to the centre.

3) To allow professional and in-house setters to gain knowledge on areas of setting they may not otherwise experience. These include; knowledge on specifics of setting in commercial environments, setting for juniors and running competitions.


Impact's 'Introduction to Route Setting' course at Yonder, London. Photo by Andy Donohoe

With the current climbing boom, the route setting industry is being left behind. With numerous new walls being opened every year, it’s critical that the route setting industry adapts to accommodate training new setters. This is vital in ensuring standards for both safety and quality stay high, as well as staying in line with the progression of the indoor climbing scene globally. Our vision at Impact is to provide professional courses for both climbers with an interest in route setting and industry professionals looking to improve their setting and add value to the walls they work at. We believe that high quality training is an essential step towards ensuring that route setting can be a highly skilled profession that continues to add value to the indoor climbing scene.


If you're interested in finding out more about Impact route setting courses or to book onto a course, please visit our website at https://www.impactroutesetting.co.uk/


EMAIL: info@impactroutesetting.co.uk       TEL: 07715346034      JOIN THE TEAM

© 2019 by IMPACT ROUTE SETTING.  Photography credit Andy Donohoe

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