Routesetting: Creating the boulder problems

Written by:
Alex Agnoli
Ever wondered how the boulders magically appear on the climbing wall? The answer is routesetting.

Anyone can grab a drill and start bolting holds onto the climbing wall. However, it takes someone with a good understanding of climbing movement, hold types and the physical demands of climbing to set a good boulder.

The climbing centre is split into different sections. Each section gets reset in order according to the routesetting schedule. At The Font, we aim to get the entire centre reset every 7 weeks with a new set happening every Wednesday!

First things first, the old set needs to be taken off the wall. The holds are usually taken off the climbing wall the day before the set so that all the holds can be cleaned and dried to be used the following day. Instead of just leaving the wall blank, some climbing centres may decide to put one climb on the wall for one night only! These are usually very creative climbs that you wouldn’t normally be able to have on a normal set.

The following day the setting team arrive. There are two types of setters usually, an in-house routesetter is someone that works for the climbing wall and sets only for that wall. In-house routesetters tend to be an apprentice who is learning how to set. The second are freelance routesetters, they will typically go to lots of different climbing walls to set and have more experience than in-house routesetters.

A typical setting day starts at around 8am. The team will get all the holds out of the setting cupboard and set up a cordon around the section of wall so that they can work safely throughout the day. At The Font where we have coloured circuits, we typically tend to set the harder climbs first (V6+) and then work our way down to the easiest climbs! This is so we have more space to use for the harder climbs and therefore it allows for much more creativity. All the climbs are set around 2pm and then the real fun begins… time for testing!

The testing phase of a setting day is the most physical. Everyone warms up together and begins climbing all the boulders that have just been set, starting from the easiest and working up to the harder climbs, just like a regular climbing session. During this part of the set is when we check whether all the climbs are in grade, are comfortable to climb and work as intended. If a climb is too easy/hard, uncomfortable or doesn’t work as intended by the setter, we make small changes called “tweaks”. Tweaking a boulder is very common and can range from changing the angle of a hold to make it slightly more friendly, all the way to completely changing the hold and putting something else on the wall. The end result is always the most important and therefore tweaking a boulder should never be seen as a bad thing.

After everyone is happy with the set and all changes have been made and cleared by the lead setter, we can pack everything away and open the set for everyone to enjoy!

Written by:
Alex Agnoli
Routesetter & Content Editor, The Font
Published on:
October 28, 2022