What’s in a Name?

One of the little perks of routesetting is naming your route. It is a lot of work to set a route and getting to add that extra bit of personality is a subtle reward to the setter. Sometimes you set a route with a name in mind. Sometimes the name comes to you during the setting process. Some of the current inspirations for our route names:


ISIS (Panopticon; Wavering Radiant; Oceanic; Way Through Woven Branches)

Cave Singers

Nothin’ But Sunshine

Doomtree (Boltcutter; No Kings)


Pulp Fiction (Royale w/ Cheese; Big Kahuna Burger)

Futurama (Mobile Oppression Palance; Citizen Snips; Everyone Loves Hypnotoad)

Breaking Bad (Los Pollos Hermanos; Blue Sky; Heisenberg)

Indiana Jones (X Never, Ever Marks the Spot; We Are History, Dr. Jones)

Baseball (probably mostly only my routes…)

Joltin’ Joe; Mickey Mantle; The Mendoza Line; Purple Mondaze; The Enigmatic Bruce Chen

Magic, the Gathering  (probably mostly only Ben’s routes…)

Black Lotus; Gravetiller Wurm; Demonic Tutor; Mind Grind; Door to Nothingness


willful suspension of disbelief

willful suspension of disbelief…according to wikipedia, this can be “seen as the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises.” you might now be asking yourself, “what does this have to do with anything here in the gym” or “how does this even remotely relate to climbing?”

it might take a little bit, but i can explain. the short, vague, non-helpful explanation is that it relates to route setting.

the long explanation:

when you, our customers and members, come into the gym, you see specific features everywhere (layback crack, offwidth crack, stem chimney, pin scars, etc.) and you most definitely see routes going through and around all of these. and you probably think (sometimes) “that seems really contrived, why would i stay on these bad holds when i can reach that feature instead.”

as route setters, we of course see these same features, but we see them in a different way. we don’t necessarily see them as continuous. in other words, we block out the other parts of the feature in order to achieve the particular flow or movement for our climb. if we didn’t look at the features this way, we would be limited with what we could set and would always have to be hyper-cognizant of the proximity to said features. for example, in the front canyon at the north gym we have a really good layback crack; at the south gym right by the front desk we have a splitter crack. if the climbs we set near these always had all features on from bottom to top, it has the potential to be essentially the same climb every time. we would be doing you a disservice by allowing this to happen. we want to mix things up and keep you on your toes (no pun intended).

so it takes a willful suspension of disbelief in order to see the routes in the same way we do. using your imagination and “pretending” that only the specific taped-off portions of a feature exist, not the full thing, is necessary at times. our hope is that it yields more interesting climbs with more satisfying movement and body positions. of course, nobody is going to stop you from climbing straight up the crack. but honestly, how many times could you continuously climb it before you got a little bored 🙂

Choose Your Own (Spinner) Adventure

What is a spinner?

1) Someone who would rather be inside riding a bicycle that doesn’t go anywhere.

2) Someone who ‘cuts wax‘ on the turntables.

3) A hold that has, for various reasons, worked itself loose and rotates freely on the wall. (See also: loose rock)

4) A bolt that has been cross-threaded in the t-nut and, as a result, is somewhat to extremely difficult to remove.

While I cannot speak to the first two examples (I prefer an out of doors bicycle), I have a good deal of expertise in the latter two. I can tell you that example three, the loose hold, is remedied by a simple turn of a wrench to re-tighten the bolt, and is no big deal. Example four, however, can be a nightmare…

To set the scene, it’s 8:15AM on a Friday and you are a highly paid, highly regarded routesetter. You are hanging from a rope thirty-some feet off the ground, lowering yourself with a gri-gri and stopping every few feet to remove holds from the route you are stripping with your impact driver. You reach precariously to your left to remove a green Teknik Hooded Fang, but the bolt won’t budge. You think maybe the battery for your impact is dying so you whip out your faithful hand wrench and give it a go. The bolt still won’t budge. You give it everything you’ve got and hear the dry, sickening crunch of the t-nut ripping free of its plywood shackles and you know you have a spinner.

There are now two options for how to proceed. If you choose to fix the spinner from the climber’s side of the wall, go on to Option One. If you choose to fix the spinner from behind the wall, skip ahead to Option Two.

Option One: You have chosen to remain on the safe, free, and well-lit climber’s side of the wall. You holler for someone (probably Keith…) to toss you the breaker bar and pry bar while another, less fortunate individual makes their way to the backside of the wall to assist you. When you have wedged the pry bar between the hold and the wall and your teammate behind the wall gives the signal, you crank down on the breaker bar while applying tension to the pry bar. With decent leverage and a good bit of luck, the cross-threaded bolt turns, slowly at first, until all the threads have worked their way out of the barrel of the t-nut. The hold pops free, accompanied by the cheerful shouting of your teammate behind the wall. From the safety of your rope or ladder you drop the newly removed hold and climb/lower yourself to the ground. Congratulations are in store; you’ve done it!

Option Two: You have chosen to venture back to the creepy, dusty, dark depths behind the climbing wall. You grab a headlamp, vice grips, bolt, screwdriver, and work gloves from the shelf in the setting closet. You then squeeze through several narrow passages, each brief contact with the wall setting loose clouds of settled chalk dust. When you’ve arrived in the general location of the spinner you scramble/climb/sketch your way up the back of the wall, calling for your partner to spin the hold in question so that you might see which t-nut of the thousands is the one you’re looking for. Once you’ve located the guilty party you enter some sort of anchored stance (I prefer the kneebar-the-2x4s technique myself) and apply the vice grips, parallel with the wall, to the t-nut flange. Hint: if the t-nut is sunk into the wall, use the screwdriver to chisel away enough plywood to get the vice grips on the t-nut. When the vice grips have been locked down on the t-nut flange, you screw the bolt you brought into a nearby empty t-nut. You shout “go for it” to your teammate and wipe sweat from your brow with your shirt sleeve, which only smears the copious amounts of dust and grime already on your skin deeper into your pores. When your teammate cranks down on the breaker bar, the t-nut turns until the vice grips come down on the bolt you screwed in, which locks everything in place and lets torque do its thing. The t-nut flange bends and little metal filings seep out of the barrel of the t-nut. Muffled cursing is heard from the other side of the wall until the bolt finally pops free of the t-nut. Success! You carefully scamper back the way you came, hoping that you won’t have to do that again anytime soon.

hard or easy for the grade?

what makes a route hard or easy for its specified grade? how can one route rated 5.10d (just as an example) be so much easier or harder than another route also rated 5.10d?

unfortunately, the answer is not simple.  many factors contribute to a route’s difficulty, and many of these factors can combine in odd and unique ways.  let’s list some of these factors:

  1. hold size: obviously, the smaller the hold, whether for hand or foot, the harder it will be to use.
  2. hold type: jugs, crimps, slopers, pinches
  3. hold orientation: in order of easiest to use…straight down pull, side pull, undercling, gaston (reverse side pull).
  4. wall angle: this one is subjective.  the angle can range from slab (less than vertical), to vertical, to overhanging, and depending on your specific physical strengths and weaknesses, any of these could be harder than the other.
  5. distance between holds: the farther apart they are, typically the harder the move.

once you start looking at combinations of these factors, things get complicated.  so when evaluating the grade of a route, it is extremely important to think about and consider all of these factors, especially as they relate to what your own strengths and weaknesses are.  i will use myself as an example.

i am not a very good ‘technical’ climber.  when things get less vertical and the holds get small, i tend to climb quite poorly.  i started climbing at the red river gorge, in southeastern kentucky.  for those of you that have climbed there, ‘technical’ is not really the name of the game.  techniques such as ‘grip it and rip it’ or ‘yank and yard’ are much more suitable.  so when more than that is required, things get difficult for me.  but i know this about myself.

so, in rifle, where the lines are steep and powerful, i have redpointed 5.13c.  in shelf, however, where the lines are vertical or slabby, and the holds are thin, requiring delicate balance and movement, i have only redpointed 5.12b.  quite a disparity! but i adjust my expectations accordingly.  in rifle, if i don’t on-sight or flash 5.12a, i’m upset.  but when in shelf, i shift my expectations, and am happy just to do 5.12a.  and believe me, it doesn’t happen often! to be such a talented climber as to be good at all styles, i believe, is a bit of a rare thing, especially as the climbing gets more difficult and the grades increase.

“how does this relate to what happens at the gym,” you might ask.  well first and foremost, it is important to remember that grades are very subjective.  there are so many climbers of differing sizes and strengths.  if the routes in the gym were to stay up for a really long time, we would eventually get a true consensus on what the grade actually is.  much like long-standing routes outside, that have become ‘benchmark’ routes of their respective grades.  but, we don’t have that luxury inside.  you, our customers, would get bored with the routes and all the holds would be really greasy.  plus, we (the routesetters) would be out of jobs!

the second thing to take away from this is that with many different setters, we have many different setting styles.  sometimes there are very straight-forward climbs, and sometimes there are more technical and devious climbs.  sometimes you’re making big moves on big holds, other times you might have to trust bad foot smears with small hand holds.  one setter’s style might be typically hard for you, while another setter’s style might just suit you to a ‘t’.  different strokes for different folks.

the third thing to take away from this is that if a route isn’t ‘straight-forward,’ perhaps it can teach you something.  i think this point is extremely important.  this is up for debate, but i believe that by the time you hit 5.12c, perhaps 5.12d, you have seen all the different types of moves you will encounter while climbing.  as the grades get harder, you will see more difficult combinations of these moves, and the holds will most likely get smaller and/or farther apart.  to me, this means that even if you have redpointed up to 5.12a or 5.12b, you can probably still learn a thing or two (or more).

with that in mind, some routes that we set might have movement that is either completely foreign to you or seems to be really difficult for your typical style of climbing.  it doesn’t necessarily mean that the route is harder than the suggested grade.  it could be perfectly reasonable movement for the grade, and this could be an opportunity for you to get introduced to it.  these situations can prove that grading something at or above ones limit is really difficult.  realize that as you get more acquainted with a certain grade (read: climb that grade A LOT), you can more accurately assess the grades around it.  this, of course, takes time.  and if you think about it in simple terms, who is more ‘qualified’ to comment on something graded 5.10d: someone who has climbed over 100 5.10d’s in different areas and gyms *or* someone who has climbed 5 5.10d’s at one area or gym.

so before you mark a certain grade on the customer rating sheets, think about all of the factors touched on above.  doing so can help the grades in the gym be a little bit more consistent.  of course, we (as setters) aren’t perfect.  but we don’t miss and/or sandbag our grades ALL the time…

behind the wrenches: tools of the trade

Most jobs require some sort of specialized equipment to complete; be it heavy machinery or a pen and notepad. Just as Jedi’s have their lightsabers and Indiana Jones has his bullwhip, so do the course setters of ROCK’n & JAM’n have their own specialized (or jerry-rigged, in most cases) equipment. Here are a few of the tools that see everyday use on the walls:

The Impact Driver
This is our weapon of choice, the one tool above all others that makes our job tolerable. Between twelve and eighteen volts, the standard issue impact driver, when paired with 5/16 and 7/32 hex-head bits, places and removes holds from the wall with tremendous speed and noise. Additionally, a screwdriver bit can be fitted to aide in placing set screws and foot jibs.

The Hand Wrench
Not as clumsy or random as an impact driver; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age. The trusted backup, and sometimes necessary for holds with deeply recessed bolt holes. On occasion, a setter will set analog or ‘go hardman’ (see upcoming lexicon appendix for definition) and eschew an impact for the quiet professionalism of the hand wrench.

The Breaker Bar
For those holds that don’t want to come off the wall, be they spinners or just plain stubborn. The breaker bar adds a good deal of torque to the standard hand wrench.

The Pry Bar
Used in conjunction with the breaker bar to remove spinners. As the name implies, one simply places the end of the pry bar behind the hold and pries on the other end while turning the breaker bar. This procedure helps keep the cross-threaded t-nut from spinning while being worked on.

The Vice Grips
When fixing spinners, one setter is on the front side of the wall with the breaker bar, another setter is behind the wall with the vice grips firmly locked on the flange of the offending t-nut. We employ several different styles and sizes of vice grips for different spinner scenarios.

The Thread Tap

A bit of preventative maintenance, the thread tap is used to clean out t-nuts, thus reducing the risk of cross-threading.

The Angle Grinder

Occasionally, a bolt will be so cross threaded in a t-nut that attempts to remove it with the breaker bar do nothing but fuse the bolt’s threads to the barrel of the t-nut. Enter the angle grinder. Bathed in the shower of sparks and debris kicked up by the grinder’s rotating, circular blade, a setter cuts through the barrel of the t-nut from behind the wall and removes the spinner from the wall. Eye protection is a must!

The Sawzall

Used for the same purpose as the angle grinder, the sawzall is employed when the fused t-nut can only be accessed from the front side of the wall.

The Hold Washer

To the uneducated eye, this may look like a standard industrial dishwasher. To the educated eye, it may look like a CMA L1-X standard industrial dishwasher. But to the course setter’s eye, it is the hold washer, that great metal box that transformers ugly, dirty holds into beautiful, clean holds in a matter of minutes. Just add vinegar.

Five Questions: Rylan M.

1) Do you own a harness?

I get asked that a lot, for some reason. Yes, I own a harness. It’s in mint condition.

2) What is the most frustrating aspect of routesetting?

Naming three months worth of routes after Futurama characters and quotations that no one picked up one. That and fixing spinners. And waking up at six in the morning to drive through DTC traffic. 

3) How’s the fantasy team doing this season? What’s your team called?

It’s still early, but I remain optimistic. Maybe I should have drafted Jered Weaver over Tim Lincecum, but that’s just nitpicking at this point.  Either way, the Cornwood Fancymen should rake in the points this year. 

4) Why twobills?

Twobills is a nickname I picked up on a climbing trip. Basically, my entire net worth was represented by two bills in my wallet. They were not big bills…

5) Beatles or Stones?

Beatles. No contest. Exile on Main Street and Let It Bleed are phenomenal albums, but the Stones really watered down their catalogue over the years, to the point that I think they’re this weird parody of themselves. And no one will ever write a better song than Eleanor Rigby. 

behind the wrenches: lexicon

This installment of BTW will focus on the lexicon of the setting world. While the climbing lifestyle has a deep pool of jargon and slang, routesetting has is its own sub-genere of unique terminology and archaic vocabulary. It would be impossible to catalog the entire lexicon of RJ routesetting in one post, but here is a brief introductory course to get you up to speed.


noun: 1) Lucas ‘LaMarcus‘ Arnold

verb: 1) to remove a cross threaded hold from the wall with great vengeance and furious anger. “Hey, Chris, can you get a hammer and lamarcus that spinner off the wall?” 2) to vanish like a ghost at the end of the day. “Man, Jamie sure lamarcused out of there yesterday. I never saw him leave!”


noun: 1) a route or boulder problem. “Check out this rig. Purple holds and orange tape. So dank.”


noun: 1) a loose hold that is stuck on the wall. Happens most frequently when a bolt is cross-threaded and the t-nut rips out of the plywood. “So, who wants to go behind the wall and help me with this spinner?” 2) the misunderstood art of routesetting. “Bro, do you spin?” “Yeah, I spin.”

be*hind the wall

noun: 1) a dark, dangerous, dusty place no one should ever have to see; like that cave in Empire Strikes Back where Luke battles Darth Vader only to discover he was battling his own internal darkness. “I went behind the wall to tighten a bolt hanger today…” “Do you want to talk about it?” “No. No, I don’t.”

dirt/dirty/the dirt

noun: 1) the best route in the gym. “That yellow 5.10 is the dirt, homie!”

verb: 1) to set a route of extremely high quality. “What it do, Corey? You setting dirt today?”

adjective: 1) when a route or move or sequence (or anything, really) is particularly engaging. “Listen to these dirty beats, bro. Skrillix is the best.”

See also: sick, the gnar.

add a foot

verb: while forerunning, an admission of defeat. “Take here, Jamie, I need to add a foot.”


verb: 1) to approach a hold or section of a route from an awkward position. “Ugh, I was all undercrunked up in that dihedral. It was the worst.” 2) to grab the bottom or underside of a hold. “Undercrunk your right hand, step through, then fire to the lip.”

fresh shapes

noun: 1) brand new holds. “Did you see that box of fresh shapes in the hold closet? I’m gonna set the dirt today, fellas!”

set*ting  tu*nic

noun: 1) a stylish blazer worn to and from morning setting sessions during the colder months. “Did you see LaMarcus’s setting tunic? The one with the embroidered crest? He’s so baller!”

rai*ning  de*struc*tion

verb: 1) the act of dropping many large holds or features from high on the wall. “Yo, check yourself, I’m raining destruction here.”


noun: 1) old busted jug; the opposite of fresh shapes. “I’m setting the 5.5 today, where’s the bucket of O.B.J.s?

drop my lad*der

verb: 1) to retract an extension ladder when the setter using it transitions to setting on a rope. “Hey, Keith, be a dear and drop my ladder for me, yeah? I’m roping up now.”

the pro*gram

noun: 1) two up, two over; the time tested method for setting easy routes. “Nah, I’ll be done quick. I’m using the program on this 5.7.”

go*ing  an*a*log

verb: 1) to set without the use of an impact driver. “Crap, I left my impact at the south gym. Guess I’m going analog today.”


adverb: when a move is too hard for the climber. “Rylan, that all-points-off dyno is too reachy. You should add a foot.”