About a week ago I set my first route in the gym.  It all started when I was talking with a girlfriend about how most of the routes are set by taller guys which can make certain moves a lot more challenging for me.  She suggested that we ask the manager if we could set a route.  Turns out the he was more than happy to have us come to the gym on a weekend and teach us.

Ready to get started!

We both showed up at the gym on Sunday morning at 10am.  The first thing we had to do was take down all the holds on the wall.  The wall had several routes and bouldering problems on it so it took a while to get all the holds & tape down.  The way we did this was by tying into the rope and then setting a gri-gri up to belay ourselves.  Then you attach your tools – a bucket for the holds, allen keys holstered in an ATC, and a drill to take out screws.  This was by far the most tiring and physical part of the day.  We had to get creative in helping each other out when we needed to remove holds that were way off to one side or another.  It was hard to trust the system at first, but by the end we were quite efficient at getting up and down the wall as well as raising & lowering buckets of holds.

Wall is almost cleared.

Beginning of the route

Once the wall was cleared, Simon (the manager) gave us a crash course on choosing holds & bolts, when to use a drill to secure holds, and setting routes that would be appropriate for a majority of people. Then off we went!  For the lower half of the wall (up to the bouldering line) it was fairly easy to reach things or use a ladder. We laid holds out on the floor and went back and forth between picking holds, bolting them, and trying the resulting move.  Once we got too high for the ladders it became exponentially harder.  We had to visualize the moves we wanted from the ground, choose all the holds & matching bolts in advance, get up the wall, haul up the bucket of holds, and then put them up in our sequence.  Well, that was what was supposed to happen.  Part of the problem is that it’s not easy visualizing moves and corresponding holds.  Also, once you’re up the wall with a full bucket hanging off your belay loop, it’s hard to try a move or look through the bucket for a specific hold.  It doesn’t help matters if you keep forgetting things on the ground!

Rating TBD

In total, it took about 7 hrs to take everything down and put up our routes.  This also included a lot of time for instruction.  Now that I know what I’m doing, I think I’d be a lot faster especially if I was working on a wall that was already cleared.  For the most part I’m really happy with my route!  Some of the feedback Simon gave me was that the route became less interesting at the end.  By the end of the route I was pretty tired and wasn’t putting as much thought into things as I had earlier.  I also learned how to force a sequence of moves through the position of each hold.  Now when I climb, I’m much more aware of the position of each hold and how this reveals the intended moves.

Over it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to trying this out again minus the marathon time commitment!

Leave a comment


  1. This is fascinating! At 5’5″, I always find there’s at least one route where I can’t make the final move simply because I’m too short (and I never get any sympathy from any of my male, taller climbing partners). It’s great to hear that your gym were open to the idea of you route-setting, and helped you to learn how to get started; maybe I’ll suggest it to my own local climbing wall? One thing I do think is interesting is the use of tape to mark out routes; over here in the UK, pretty much all of the walls I’ve climbed at use holds of the same colour for a route, rather than tape – when I climbed indoors in Canada, I found it really hard to get used to not being able to tell from above whether I could use a bolt on for my foot, as I couldn’t see the tape!

  2. That’s interesting that you guys don’t use tape. I do find myself getting mixed up sometimes when I’m climbing the “green tape” route and there’s green holds that aren’t part of it. My brain sees green and I want to grab it!

    You should definitely ask about route-setting. It’s a really fun experience, especially if you can share it with a friend! I’ve also had the same problem as you in regards to height. I’ve blamed not finishing a route on the fact I can’t reach something – not sure if that’s always been the case though ;)


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