When Route Setters Go Looking For Work

I get a lot of people interested in setting here at the BRC.  There’s a wide range, from people with Level 5 USAC route setting certifications to people with no experience setting, from 5.10 climbers to 5.14 climbers, gym members, local kids team members and so on.  At the moment, I’m not currently looking to add any route setters, as I have a full crew.  Living in Boulder, and route setting being a somewhat covetous position, this is often the case at many gyms.  However, here are some tips on how to get hired.

  1. Get me a professional resume.  This might seem obvious to most, but I have a lot of people interested that forego this.  If one of my setter’s decides to leave, scrolling through my stack of resumes is where I start the hiring process.  We do keep them on file… sometimes for a very long time.

       2. Climb at our gym.  This is important – not because I want some kind of loyalty or elitism, but because you need to be familiar with our routes and what we’re looking for.  I’ve been to some gyms      where their idea of difficulty is just no feet, big reaches and awkwardly hard moves.  Geographically, this seems to happen the farther you get from actual real rock.

  1. Be a route climber.    We have both bouldering and roped routes at our gym, but the solid majority of our real estate is for roped climbing.  In my experience, boulderers tend to make bad route setters, especially if they NEVER climb ropes.  Their routes will be very cruxy, lack footholds and flow, have bad clipping holds/positions, and tend to be very inconsistent.  They don’t understand how building a pump with no hard moves can make a route hard.  Since we focus on routes, you should have solid experience in that realm.
  2. Have solid route setting experience.  We don’t train route setters here, we expect you to have a solid background, whether it be from some top grade gym with lots of route setting clinics in your belt or some tiny gym in Hawaii that you traded for membership.  We don’t trade membership for setting, and I typically don’t let people set for free to learn the trade.  This takes too much time away from my setting in order to instruct, re-set the routes afterwards and then fix all the spinners/seized holds that are the result of a brand new setter using impact drivers.
  3. Possess great climbing technique on all climbing angles.  From slab to continuous 45-degree walls, you should have a full toolkit of techniques in your belt to conquer any climbing situation.  I’ve had people with little experience ask me about setting, but when I watch them climb and they can’t figure out heel hooks, toe hooks, kneebars and drop knees, and instead just try to power their way through a move, it makes me very wary of their setting ability.  I’ve also seen some really great steep climbers that couldn’t set a worthwhile slab climb.
  4. I don’t care how hard you climb.  It’s nice to know for forerunning, but I have plenty of strong setters.  I also have some setters that top out at 5.12-.  That’s okay, as long as they can find that nice “flow” on their routes.  The majority of our clients climb in the 5.10-5.11 range anyway.  It doesn’t matter to me that you can flash 5.14a.  On the flipside, if you are struggling to redpoint 5.10- in the gym, you probably don’t have the climbing ability necessary to set.
  5. If you’re short – be able to set sequences that taller people don’t just skip and ignore.  Nothing kills route flow like easily botched sequences.
  6. If you’re tall – be able to set EVERY route so that short people can climb them. 70% of our clientele are between 4’10” and 5’8″.  This includes almost all women and children, and about 1/3 of male climbers.  This is the biggest thing I struggle with when working with taller setters.
  7. Have a strong desire to work.  This is just as important as route setting ability.  If you won’t wash holds for me, help with the awful work fixing t-nuts behind the wall, show up on time and forerun routes, I don’t need you.  Route setting isn’t just the creative activity; it includes all the grunt work as well.  I don’t really care if you’re famous, climb v15 and are dating Beyoncé.  You need to be amped to help me with gym wall maintenance just as much as route setting.
  8. Take criticism well.  Newer route setters will be supplied with plenty of feedback to get them up to speed with the BRC’s routes, no matter your previous amount of experience.  I definitely will be forerunning and tweaking your routes at some point.  Deal with it well.
  9. Set FUN routes.  Sometimes we get lost in our desire to set crazy creative, super technical, über powerful or impressively thematic routes.  Sometimes difficulty trumps all for us.  What we always have to remember is that we set for clients, routes are our product and that this is a business of recreation.  We provide fun.  So if you find yourself wondering what the first and foremost ingredient in your route should be, just remember – fun trumps all.

About The Author

Brent NG
Brent NG
34 years old, born in Baltimore, lover of everything Czech, occasional runner, sometimes climber, sub-par writer, hackneyed musician, wannabe dancer, curious amalgamation of two disparate races