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Routesetting: Jamie Emerson & Jackie Hueftle

Jamie Emerson talks with with Stephanie Marvez and Mercedes Pollmeier about what it takes to set for the women’s ABS Nationals, World Cup, female competition, and the need for female setters, and Jackie Hueftle shares her expertise in setting and how to get started as a female routesetter. Also check out the Women’s Edition of DeadPoint Magazine


It Goes Like This

Routesetting is one of the most important jobs in the gym, because a gym’s setters are what make its product, that is, the setters train the climbers by teaching them new movements and challenging them with powerful or technical sequences. The setters also must make the gym a fun place to train, because nobody likes climbing on painful and awkward sequences that make them feel in danger of injuring themselves.

If you are a woman looking to get into routesetting, don’t be intimidated!  Women are just as capable of setting good routes as men are.  Technical aspects of the craft, like tightening holds safely, tool using, hold and bolt selection, t-nut repair, wall maintenance, and rope and ladder work, can be learned and good technique can overcome strength differences for all except the carrying of the tallest ladders.

What about forerunning strength?  It is much more important to set good movement than to set hard movement, especially because there are certainly other setters at your gym who are setting the hardest of the hard (and perhaps avoid setting anything but).  Whether you are setting routes or boulder problems, if your movement, i.e. flow, is good, there will be other climbers at your level in the gym who will benefit from your work.

How To Get Started

If you want to get started route setting there are a few avenues you can explore.  One simple way to experiment with manipulating movement is to create new sequences with the existing holds and problems on the wall.  Pick holds from different problems and link them.  Skip holds or add them.  Try tweaking an easy problem by climbing it without certain feet or by using slightly different feet from nearby problems. Get your friends to do the same and climb each other’s problems to figure out what does and doesn’t work.

To add your own holds to the wall depends on your situation.  If you have a home wall you need no permission, but to set at your local gym may be quite a difficult endeavor.  Start by asking at the gym to figure out what their setting situation is. Some gyms will let anyone set and others offer trades where you set for your membership.  Still others will have a setting program or head setter who may or may not need/want additional help.  Some setters will take on apprentice setters or host setting clinics where new setters can learn from the gym’s setters or a third party setter (like a USA Climbing instructor).  In many cases, before you actually get to set you will have to prove your interest by helping in other ways, like hold washing, wall stripping, organization, clean-up, or volunteering to help with any necessary tasks at comps.  Volunteering is often hard work, but gaining experience is important, and if you are working for free you should still be able to learn valuable skills from the setters around you.

Routesetting is a job but it is also a form of training for climbing. Besides getting to experiment constantly with movement, you also increase your comfort in the gym and knowledge of holds while doing a physical job that culminates with a session of climbing (forerunning). Often the setters are some of the strongest climbers in the gym, and it’s kind of a chicken and egg situation–they may set because they are strong, and keep getting stronger because they set.  At the Spot, for example, every setter climbs at least 4+ spot (on our 1-5+ spot scale) and several of our male setters compete and make finals in national pro competitions.  However, it wasn’t always this way.  One of our female setters actually began setting long before she could climb 4 spots.  She was interested in setting, expressed interest, was laughed at, but showed up when the boys were setting and kept showing up until they let her begin to twist wrenches. Over time she learned to consistently set sequences that couldn’t be skipped through and weren’t painful or awkward, and at the same time she gained several grades of climbing ability.  Now she is a valuable member of the setting squad, and a favorite setter of many Spot members.  So remember, if you set good sequences, no matter how hard they are, they will be good for your gym and its climbers.  Don’t let your perceptions of your current climbing ability stand in your way.  Not all good setters are strong climbers, and not all strong climbers are good setters.  As long as you are willing to work hard you can enjoy your work and be a benefit to your gym.

Setting at a national level is another matter entirely, but it consists of many of the same steps as setting locally.  You have to be willing to work hard and learn from other setters while coming up with unique sequences that are fun, challenging, and safe.  USA Climbing has a program in place of clinics, internships, apprenticeships, and assistantships that lead to National level certification, but before even beginning a process like that it is necessary to get as much setting experience as you possibly can, any way that you can.  So get out there and make up some sequences, ask around, and see what you can accomplish!

~ Jackie Hueftle is a setter at the Spot gym and has set for multiple
National and Professional competitions.


One Response to “Routesetting: Jamie Emerson & Jackie Hueftle”

  1. May 14th, 2011 at 5:40 am

    Girl Beta and some setting advice + general life updates « The Spot Route Setting Blog says:

    [...] 1. Me.  I just got back from Europe.  I am JET LAGGED.  But I am looking forward to setting on Tuesday!  In other news, recently I was asked to give some advice on how women can get into routesetting for a new website called GIRL BETA.  The site was started by my friend Mercedes Pollmeier and the content is focused on empowering the female climbing community through videos, commentary, training advice, and other resources.  Click the logo to see the site, and if you’re interested in my 2 cents, there’s a permalink to it HERE. [...]

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