How to Make Up Your Own Routes at the Climbing Gym

Juniper commented on my post the other day that she doesn’t think there are enough routes in her small gym to try out the training wheels for training workout I stole from Kris at Power Company Climbing. So for Juniper and everyone else, here’s a whole post about how I got into ‘setting’ my own routes at the gym.

Inventing or setting routes is a learned skill that gets better with practice!

Basic Method

  1. Look – Find hold(s) on the wall that you want to use! This is the fun part! Pick anything that appeals to you.
  2. Sequence – Make up a sequence that will take you from the ground to the top, using the hold you picked
  3. See  – Visualize the movement of the sequence. Decide which hands will go on which holds, think about the feet. What will your body look like at various points on the route?
  4. Climb – Climb your new route and see how it feels.
  5. Revise & Repeat – Think about what you’ve just climbed. Was something to hard or too easy, too close or to far?

When you first start, it can be hard to visualize movement accurately, or to remember all the holds you’ll need (without the visual cue of tape). This is ok! Do as much as you can. Here are some ideas that will let you practice routesetting skills and movement visualization which aren’t as memory-intensive as making up a new route from scratch.

First Steps: Modifications to Existing Routes

These are the easiest ways to make up your own routes (in order of increasing difficulty). Routesetting for yourself can be a great tool to prevent warmups and other climbs you repeat regularly from becoming stale.

  1. Track Feet – on easier routes (think warm-ups) can you use tracking feet only? Why or why not? What foot (feet) are absolutely essential?
  2. Links – take two different routes and find a way to link them together, using holds on the routes themselves or by adding extra holds.
  3. Delete – can you climb a route without using all the holds? Which ones can be removed?
  4. Replace – take a hold on an existing route, declare it off bounds, and replace it with another hold. Does it make the route easier or harder? This can help get you familiar with hold types you avoid–replace a jug with a sloper or a pinch on a warm-up, for example.

Making Up New Routes Using the Holds that are Already on the Wall 

The easiest way to start making up whole new routes is to pick a sequence of hand-holds, leaving the feet open. This way, you have fewer things to remember. To get the most out of it, it’s best to plan, visualize, and then climb, instead of adding holds one by one to the route.

Walls with high hold density tend to work best for making up problems. This is the 45deg wall at the gym where I train--it was crazy empty the day I took this picture!

Walls with high hold density tend to work best for making up problems. This is the 45deg wall at the gym where I train–it was crazy empty the day I took this picture!

Sometimes I pick a start hold and ‘build’ the sequence in my head from the ground up. Sometimes I pick a hold (often part of a route that’s too hard for me, or one that addresses a weakness (bad crimps, pinches, slopers)) and make up a way to get to it instead. Sometimes I just decide the general path I want to take, for example, all the way across the base of the 45 and then up. Or sometimes I want to find holds that put my body into a cool position. It’s up to you!

How to Make Your Routes Better

If you’ve made up routes before, but didn’t like them, keep trying! For some ideas, check out posts over at Power Company Climbing, one consisting of tips from Kris, and another which is a truly awesome interview with Chris Danielson, including his thoughts on Kris’s tips! Here are some things I do to make my own routes better…

  1. Find a friend: It’s much more fun to work on making a route with another person than by yourself. It’s more fun to discuss how a route climbs or how movement feels out loud than in your own head. 
  2. Practice: Then practice some more. This makes a huge difference in the quality of the routes you invent. If you keep at it, you will see improvement, and feel it in the way your routes climb.
  3. Break the ladder: Routes that climb like ladders–left, right, left, right, hand, foot, hand foot, all the way up are boring! Try setting routes that traverse, or set a bump move. Find ways to break the pattern, and your routes will become more interesting.
  4. Specify Feet: Take off the good ones, or allow feet only of a certain color. This requires you to keep more information about the route in your head, but will add another complex and interesting dimension to your routesetting.

 

Finally, remember that the folks that set routes work from a place of powerful passion for climbing and love of movement–which, as a climber you already have. You already have what it takes to ‘set’ your own routes.

But, I climb 3 – 4 nights a week, and EVERY time I climb I am routesetting.  No matter where I am climbing or what gym I go to, I am always creating boulders based on existing holds on the wall.  For me, this is, without question, the best way to better understand how to create movement, and also understand the movement itself better.  On your gym’s wall, or a home woodie, with enough density of holds, you can make up a dozen or more new climbs every night. — Chris Danielson, interviewed by Power Company Climbing, in a post you should go read right now

Begin Again

I need to buy a plane ticket. After a few months of Chicago winter, with ever mounting stresses and pressures at work, I should be jumping at the chance to escape on a climbing trip. Instead, I’m afraid.

I wrote before about a scary fall that happened while I was climbing in the Red this autumn. Since then, I’ve been working to regain and improve my leading confidence, but it hasn’t been an easy road. I need this trip, I need this time in the outdoors because daily life leaves me tired, stressed, and depleted. But I’m afraid, because I’m worried that I’ll want confidence and mastery that I probably won’t have on my first outdoor trip in over 3 months. I’m wanting climbing to be easy and restorative, but I’m not sure that it will be.

I’ve recently started practicing yoga. It’s been more challenging and rewarding than I thought. One of the things I’m learning in yoga is to accept what my body can do on a particular day, to not force poses I’m ready for.

Great blog post from Heidi Wirtz over at the North Face website, and some beautiful photos. Click through for the post.

I want to try to take what I’m learning in yoga and apply it to my climbing. When I get back out again, I want to be present in my body and my mind–accept what I’m ready to do and try not to force the rest. Though it’s not in my nature, I want to trick myself into becoming a beginner again.

Everyone takes time off, from the most earnest beginner ripping off skin on huge jugs, to the seasoned climbers who suffer injury or accident. Sometimes it’s work that gets in the way, sometimes it’s family, or travel.

To get started again: Let go of what was, what you used to be able to do. Accept where you are right now and be present. Do what you can one day at a time, listen to your body. Breathe in and begin again. 

Climbing-Related Things I Have Bookmarked In The Last Year [An Exhaustive List]

In case you’ve already read all the books you got for the holidays….

Climbing Community/Culture/Meta

  1. Women, First Ascents, and Competition, Article by Thomasina Pidgeon [Gripped] 
  2. LT11’s Jordan Shipman on Vision and the Lack Therof in the Climbing Industry [LT11]
  3. Ten Top Tips for Staying Alive [UKClimbing]
  4. Collette McInerney on Women Sending Hard [Five Ten]
  5. Sonnie Trotter on Dave Graham’s Secret and Hard Climbing [Sonnie Trotter]
  6. NYT Profile of Ashima Shiraishi [New York Times]
  7. It’s Not Cool to Care [The Stone Mind]
  8. Spiral of Death [Rock and Ice]
  9. Women and Development [B3 Bouldering]
  10. Climbing is (Not) the Best [The Stone Mind]
  11. Exorcising Dirtbags: Let the Right One In [Climbing Magazine]
  12. Return To Sender: Writeup of Sender Films [NatGeo]

Long Term Road Trips

  1. Getting Out of the Midwest, Trip Budgeting [MP]
  2. Western U.S. Road Trip, Planning Details and Destination Recommendations [MP]
  3. How To Budget for a Climbing Road Trip [Roll Global]
  4. Guide to Safely Sleeping In Your Vehicle for Free [Roll Global]
  5. 9 Traits of the Ideal Road Trip Companion [semi-rad]
  6. Hobobo Guide to Free Wifi [Roll Global]
  7. Steph Davis on Living in Your Car, Safety Issues [High Infatuation]
  8. Steph Davis on Food on the Road [High Infatuation]
  9. Steph Davis on Where to Sleep While Dirtbagging [High Infatuation]
  10. Steph Davis on How to Set Up Your Truck i.e. the Shelf! [High Infatuation]
  11. Simple Living Manifesto [72 Days Project]
  12. Making Your Road Trip 40% Better [semi-rad]
  13. The Ultimate Road Trip [semi-rad]
  14. Interactive Map: Breweries of the United States [Pop Chart Lab]
  15. Active Fire Mapping Program [US Forest Service]

Lifestyle/Road Trip Blogs 

  1. Mike D’s Climbing Roadtrip Blog
  2. Furgonetten
  3. Peder and Jess
  4. Dirtbag Life

Interviews 

  1. Really Great Interview with Alex Johnson [DPM]
  2. Interview with Collette McInerney on Bolting and Climbing Hard [Climb Find]
  3. Zen Quotes from Chris Sharma [Climb and More]
  4. Interview with Chris Sharma in Ceuse [Petzl]
  5. Chris Sharma Interview [UKClimbing]

Mental Aspects of Climbing

  1. Fear of Falling – Article Explaining Clip Drop Training Technique [UKClimbing]
  2. Attitude and Climbing [MP]
  3. The Rotpunkt Method [The Stone Mind]
  4. Escaping Climbing Grades [Alli Rainey]
  5. Escaping Grade Imprisonment [Alli Rainey]
  6. Mental States, Peak Performance, and Big Dreams [Alli Rainey]

Training for Climbing

  1. Climbing and Training for a Half-Marathon [MP]
  2. Exhaustive Collection of Mostly Horst-Authored Training Articles [Nicros]
  3. Upper Body Strength+Power in Climbing & Training [Alli Rainey]
  4. Hangboard Training with Ryan Palo [Metolius]
  5. Sport Climbing Training Plan, Discussion [MP]
  6. How Do I Get Better Faster? [Power Company Climbing]
  7. How to Climb Harder than Other Newbs [Power Company Climbing]
  8. Relationship Between Lock-Off Ability and Performance [Eva Lopez]
  9. Training Tuesdays: Training Program [Climb On, Sister!]
  10. Training for the Red River Gorge [MP]
  11. Pushing Through Plateaus [Alli Rainey]
  12. How I Broke Through My Biggest Climbing Plateau [The Morning Fresh]
  13. One Workout Every Climber Should Do [DPM]
  14. Training Wonks Discuss Training [MP]
  15. Spice Up Your ARC Training [Lazy H Climbing Club]
  16. Training Obsession [Will Gadd]
  17. H.I.T. Training [Cragmama]
  18. Article about Professional Climbing Coaching for Adults [Climber Magazine]

Climbing Videos 

  1. Tomorrow I Will Be Gone, Bouldering in Rocklands [Outcrop Films]   
  2. Zombie Roof Solo [Will Stanhope, filmed by Dave Pearson]
  3. Red River Gorge: Gray’s Branch [Colin Delhanty]
  4. Cell Block Six [Sean Stewart]
  5. Protips 3 Jason Kehl [Climb X Media]
  6. Protips 6 Lauren Lee [Climb X Media] 
  7. Protips Slopers [Climb X Media]
  8. Climb Like Sharma [Rock and Ice]
  9. Demon Seed [Sean Stewart]

Destination Specific Links 

  1. Ten Sleep, Wyoming [Roll Global]
  2. Ten Sleep Canyon Camping Options [MP]
  3. Climbing on Cayman Brac [JB]
  4. Fired For Sandbagging route page [MP]

Gear

  1. Blank Slate Page Where You Can Buy the Ten  Sleep Guidebook [Blank Slate]
  2. What to Put in the Ultimate Back Country First Aid Kit [Roll Global]
  3. 12 Reasons the iPhone is an Awesome Piece of Climbing Gear [Adventure Journal]
  4. 10 Cheap Substitutes for Expensive Camping Gear [Adventure Journal]
  5. Bliss Wrap [Icebreaker]
  6. Foam Mattress Topper [Walmart]

Miscellaneous

  1. Pretty Nice Climbing Photo Which I Bookmarked For Unknown Reasons [tumblr]
  2. Elvis Leg of The Climbing Soul [Tara Reynvaan]
  3. A Zen Story [Stone Mind]
  4. Making a Crimp Mug [?]
  5. Excellent RouteSetting Blog [RouteCrafting] 
  6. Dream World [The Ascent Blog]
  7. Finding the Power of the Unplugged Mind [Proactive Outside]
  8. Physiological Responses to Rock Climbing in Young Climbers [British Journal of Sports Medicine]

Have more links or better links? Did I forget to bookmark something good? Post up in the comments and let us know!

Why I Post Pictures of Women

The best thing about this post is that it’s illustrated with tons of kick-ass chicks having fun climbing. Like this lady.

Roberta Resende Loureiro on Bam Bam 7c, by flickr user Ricardo Cosme.

Or women on the rock just having fun, like this gal.

Greta, climbing in her Halloween costume. By flickr user _Tawcan.

So, why do I only mostly post pictures of girls?

It’s nice to see men doing impressive fitness things, but it doesn’t seem relevant or attainable to me. Women and men have very different physical builds and capabilities. In the same way that I can watch an olympic gymnast or a ballet dancer–and appreciate the beauty or strength of what they do without wanting to become like them–I can watch men climb and not get particularly pysched or inspired.

How many guys do you know who can bust out a pull-up at will, whether or not they’re in shape? If you’re a woman who wants to be able to do pull-ups, what’s more inspiring, this, or this?

Laura Griffiths in Stony Point, CA. Photo by flickr user Susanica.

There’s a gender disparity in the climbing media. Consider the number of ground breaking ascents (for males) that make it onto film vs. the number of ground breaking ascents (for females) that make it onto film, or the quality of the resulting films*. I’m not trying to point a finger here–on many levels, I get why this disparity exists. There are more men who climb than women. More men than women make first ascents, and most hard routes or problems women climb have pre-existing video of men doing the same climb. It’s not surprising that sometimes the ladies don’t get as much camera time as the men, especially outside.

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching climbing videos, even the one with guys. I can still observe technique and get inspired to climb harder.

But becoming inspired by a movie or a picture is about so much more than just being impressed or fascinated. It’s about feeling excited and feeling a connection, a glimmer of possibility that stays with you all day, until you hit the gym. The glimmer grows into a resolve that helps you bang out the last set of reps or make the sketchy clip or pull past the crappy hold. And for me, watching other women climb will always make a brighter, longer-lasting spark of inspiration, even if the woman in question is climbing on something that hundreds of men can do as a warm-up.

Jess at Norwa, by flickr user Daniel Pertovt.

(All images in this post are CC-liscenced images by users on flickr. The featured photographers have many other awesome climbing photos–you should check them out!)  

*I am in the process of collecting and analyzing quantitative data about the representation of men and women in the climbing media. When I wrote this post, I got curious about the disparity I perceived. This data will be posted within the next week to a special page on the blog.

Re-defining Body Image

There was a point in my life where I devoted a lot of time and energy to thinking about the way I looked. I restricted my eating, except when I ate sweets to assuage the stress of failure to change my body. I worked out with the singular goal of losing weight and becoming skinny.

And it didn’t change the way I looked.

And I didn’t lose (much) weight.

And it didn’t make me happy.

In 2010, looking more or less like I always do, despite a summer of deprivation.

Since then, I’ve grown up a little bit, and I’ve changed my body image philosophy in an important and powerful way. Instead of caring about what my body looks like, I want to care about what my body can do. My training goals are all oriented at challenging myself to get stronger in specific and achievable ways.

I want to be able to squat and dead lift my body weight. I want to push myself on lead by redpointing harder routes. I want to make it to the top of any trail I choose to hike. I want my body to be strong and capable.  Learning my limits and training myself to be stronger has given me the confidence to love my body and myself. It means that I can be impressed with what my body can do, instead of searching for its flaws in the mirror.

The beauty of training to be strong instead of working out to be skinny is that you can see your progress as you go. Each week, on at least one of my exercises, I can go for longer, lift more weight, or do more reps. The little successes in each workout keep me motivated all week long.

Don’t obsess about what you look like. Don’t wish that your body looked like someone else’s. Decide what you want to be able to do, and then train until you can do it.

The Kind of Partner I Want to Be

I want to be the partner who’s always excited about your successes, even when you use my project as your warm-up.

I want to be the partner who brings the best snacks, and the person who shares them freely.

I want to be the partner who doesn’t blame others when things go wrong.

I want to be the partner who shakes it off and says “maybe I’ll get it next time” instead of throwing a temper tantrum.

I want to be the partner who says “I got you. Rest as long as you need.”

Good climbing partners are hard to come by. Climbing with Meryl in the RRG.

I want to be the partner who bullies us into doing one more route.

I want to be the partner who encourages you to take one last try.

I want to be the partner who saves the gear if you don’t want to try again.

I want to be the partner that makes you laugh all the way down the trail and up the wall.

I want to be the partner who never takes anything for granted and never takes anything too seriously.