I started volunteering at the local YMCA to route set at their climbing gym in the summer of 2012. Since then I have become increasingly interested and aware of the many subtleties of creating routes. The thought for today and this post is randomness. Every route set in a gym is set by a person for a person while there are no such routes outside. Every line outside is just there. It may be climbable or not. Maybe you can aid it, maybe some day it will be freed. Maybe after a few dozen moves is just goes blank.
I think part of the fun of being outside is finding lines. Your eyes are drawn to a feature and you start trying to figure out how you’d climb it. The holds and the feet might be ‘oriented’ in really weird ways, because that’s how nature did it. But that weirdness can be inspiring, it can motivate innovation and creative climbing, it can help us grow.
So how to simulate this in a gym? A few months ago I wanted a slopey traverse to work on and so used a set of Nicros slopes (couldn’t find them on the website) and placed them a couple of bolt holds apart (which on the Y’s walls keeps them from being too close while at the same time keeping them within the span of the shorter folk). I declared the route “Chameleon” and allowed any feet. The route description warned that each week I would spin the holds to a new orientation.
This has worked quite well. Some weeks it’s in the V0-V1 range and some weeks it’s in the V4-V5 range. It has bred a lot of group sessions on the problem and folks keep coming back to it because it changes. They understand the rules of the game, they like the traverse, and look forward to the differences each week brings. In fact, I think it’s time to shuffle the holds around as well. The route will have the same holds, just in a different order. I am actually trying to prevent myself from thinking about any preference. Really the idea is just to pile up the holds and then grab and bolt. It doesn’t have to be convenient or premeditated, rather I want to see what problems occur as a result of the placement more than as a result of my planning.
This leads me to another idea I think I’ll put into production soon. Why not reset an entire wall (our walls are only about 30 feet high, so I might reset a 10-15 foot section) with a particular type of hold (so that the holds have a consistent feel to them). The goal would be to just “put them up” and then look for lines! I’m thinking about simulated first ascents.