Thursday, December 23, 2010

What do you get a routesetter for Christmas?

Warning: This post contains opinions. If you're allergic to these, proceed at your own discretion.

Well I haven't done it yet, so I figured I'd do a post on holds. Since it's the holidays anyways, I figured I might as well do a "fun" post. These are some of my favorites/obsessions right now. I am not sponsored or paid by any hold companies and profit from mentioning them in no way whatsoever. But if you're looking to spend a bit of cash on your setters this holiday season, here's some good bets in my opinion. I tried to pick at least one set out of every major hold style.

Supervillains (Mega Jugs) (Teknik)
(no direct link available)
Comfort: Very good. The texture isn't super grainy, but it's got enough bite to keep you on there if you're setting a move that requires contacting an air traffic controller prior to takeoff. The edges of the jug are perfectly rounded, and despite climbing on these things all the time, I'm yet to grab one in a way that annoys my fingers (a problem I find a lot of mega jugs suffer from - the lip isn't rounded in an ergonomic way.)
Aesthetics: They are capital-b Big. About a foot by a foot. Their biggest downside is they're wall hogs. They come in a variety of (usually bright) colors and with their size they really stick out from the crowd.
Setting factors: For their size, they are super light and pretty easy to set with. The washers are low profile and don't require any special bolts or consideration. Very low-maintenance holds. Because they're so drastically incut, they do tend to collect chalk at an extremely fast rate when placed with the jug facing up.

I love love LOVE this set! I am yet to find a jug this amazingly good on any angle. They feel great, they're ultra light for their size, and they're just super comfy.

Idea: Set a sideways dyno to the supervillain with a jug on both sides. (It's shaped like an H, where the top and bottom are the jug parts. The two in the top left of the picture.) On a steep wall, this move can be set so that both hands have to make contact and compress to hold the swing. Cool.

Right now, they aren't on the web order sheet. However, I've seen them in several different gyms, so I know they're available. Maybe someone from Teknik can clear this up..?

Limestone Roof Jugs - Jugs (Atomik)
Comfort: These are extremely comfortable and that's why I love setting with them. They seem to be the right depth that they never catch my fingers in between joints. Most of them have a comfortable thumb position/catch.
Aesthetics: The dimples look pretty good. Most of the ones I've seen come in relatively basic primary colors.
Setting Factors: For the most part they have good directionality for hands, and there's at least one with two directions for easy forced matching. The amount of featuring gives the holds low directionality for foot placements.

Jugs are a pretty basic building block of routes, so what else can I really say? I love setting with these, and they just seem to stick out of a pile of holds to me, so I picked them.

Pure Slap Slopers - Slopers (E-Grips)
Comfort: Seeing as how you're always open handing them, they're pretty fun to snag. The texture can definitely be quite grainy for dynamic/slappy moves, but sometimes that's the only thing that makes the move go!
Aesthetics: These things are super flush on a smooth wall and can be quite intimidating to the climber. An entire route of these (maybe combined with some other "blob" holds) looks quite good.
Setting Factors: On a textured wall, they stick out and create crimps. In some gyms, it's almost impossible to find a placement for these that doesn't create unintentional gaps. Which sucks.

These have been one of my favorite hold sets to work with this year. They're absolutely fantastic for slabs and almost any arete / dihedral terrain. They make great palm-smears, technical feet and are really good for "I need that hold that's just barely enough..." moves.

Idea: Set a span move to a blunt arete. Place one of these pancake bad boys just around the arete, spaced so that as the climber bumps from the arete to it, their other hand comes off. (See The Groove in Progression for an idea of this move.)

Myorcan Tufa-Pinch - Pinches (E-Grips)
(see also: Mini Myorcan Tufas)
Comfort: These are quite comfortable for multiple grips per hand. In some cases the grains going against your fingers can be somewhat rough texturewise.
Aesthetics: Can be combined with the Myorcan slopers, Myorcan rail, etc and produce some really awesome looking "wrinkly" theme routes.
Setting Factors: The biggest one is about a foot and a half long or so, and definitely requires a stopper screw/hold. The smaller ones should be fine. Directionality is .. well, they're pinches. You know.

Setting this hold was a great experience - It performed very intuitively. At my USAC level 2 clinic, I was given the big Myorcan pinch and had to frog-leg hug it as a forced movement challenge. If you're looking for a fun move, that one was great, and this was the perfect hold for it. (I might write a movement analysis on that move in the future.)

Limestone Crimps - Crimps (Climbit)
(see also: Limestone Set B)
Comfort: For crimps, damn comfortable. Even hard crimping the smallest ones has never bugged me. I don't know if it's the texture or the shaping, but they just work.
Aesthetics: They're pretty small, so it means a bit less, but I think they look nice. The texture of these things is very recognizable hold to hold, so thematically they work very well.
Setting Factors: Some of them have great directionality, but others have thumb catches / two grips. A few of them have stellar directionality for both hands and feet. Additionally, they are pretty thin and I have seen them crack and break, but it took quite a while (and I'm not sure if Climb-it's material has changed since.)

As anyone who knows me (or climbs my routes) knows, I love Climb-it crimps. I think they make the best crimps on the market. I love all their crimp sets, but I think the limestone ones are a cut above.

Idea: Mess around with different levels of incut on an overhang. The directionality of some of these crimps allows you to really get a feeling for how much "give" the climber gets from different orientations and bite amounts. I think this is a really good set for that type of experiment.

Bubble Wrap Ledge Feature - Full set (E-Grips)
Comfort: These holds climb like a dream. My only niggle is that the edge on the more positive ledges can be a bit sharp on vert. (Easily remedied by not setting with them on vert!)
Aesthetics: A bubble wrap themed route is pretty easy given the number of sets available. I think there's two features, pinches, two sets of ledges, and one or two sets of feet. They look great and just feel right when combined.
Setting Factors: The two big features are definite candidates for irritating spin issues, so if you don't use screws, you will have to occupy some wall space for two stopper holds.

Love 'em. A brilliant idea well executed.

Idea: Once you tire of the fun aspect of the bubble wrap, if you want to get really devious, start setting with the ledges and big ledge turned backwards on a vert arete compression problem. That big ledge turned backwards makes an eeeeevil sloper! (You do have to worry about the bolt hole, though.)

Pinchtite - Feature (Teknik)
(No direct link)
Comfort: Good! Some bugle positions can be problematic on the wrists, but it can be avoided.
Aesthetics: This thing looks neat hanging out of a roof, and it feels very natural to occupy as much surface area as possible on it with your hands.
Setting Factors: Let's be honest, it's a huge pain in the ass. The bolt is friggin' enormous, and in some cases requires a hex bolt. It also really requires a set screw. I think it's worth it.

This thing is great fun to set with. Like some of Teknik's other shapes, it's extremely imaginative. It has very low directionality but is unique enough to still create some very interesting movement. I can think of few other holds as good for giving the climber a bicycle.

Idea: Combine with other protuding holds (such as the giant crystals - who makes those again?) in a roof to create insane knee bar, bicycle and cam action. This type of route is just a standby for me, as it's always unique and interesting to take the holds away from the climber and just give them a few huge things to work with.

Halo - Huge hold (Climb-it)
Comfort: It's there. The thing is huge and flat/neutralish, so you'd be hard pressed to find a really tweaky finger position. Heel cams in the halo can be alarmingly bomber.
Aesthetics: Like all massive holds, it sticks out, but this one has always had a special effect on me. It helps that routesetters seem to go unusually far out of their way to set dynamic movement to it.
Setting factors: Yup, it's effin huge. And it's heavy. And even if it's set with the bolt at the top it usually needs a stopper. (It's also a bit of a bank-breaker.)

This thing is just a show stopper. It was awesome in Battle in the Bubble, and it's equally awesome on just about every route it winds up on (of any grade.) There's just something fascinating about it.

I .. don't really have any favorites. I have some favorite huecos, and some favorite mega jug sinker pockets, but as far as 2 and 3 finger pockets, I'm yet to be truly impressed. It's not a style thing, I love climbing on pockets.. I'm just waiting for the perfect set. (Hold companies: sure, that's a challenge.)

Runner-ups / honorable mentions:

Voodoo Scoops Yummy dual tex slopers. Dual tex done right.

So Ill "The Growth" Are you friggin' kidding me? This thing is nuts. haven't had a chance to set with it yet, it's just impressive.

Project Landslide 7XL Intimidating and perplexing on steep walls.

Project Hurricane - one of my favorite pinch holds - can you use all 3 pinches on one route?

Teknik Fatty Long Fat pinches - so damn comfortable! Some of my favorite pinches ever. They make great theme routes.

So.. what would you guys want from your gyms this season? Have you enjoyed the shapes this year, or do you want to double up some of your old standbys?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Movement Analysis: The Drive By

(While I finish up some posts in progress about the "routesetting biz", here's a post I wrote this summer. An ode to a move..)

I've been thinking a lot about the drive-by. It's been popular lately on the competition circuit:

Battle in the Bubble (3:30)
Teva Games 2009 (0:28 / deeplinked)
World Cup Vail 2010 (4:45)

Recently, I set a route up the front 45' of our boulder that featured a big drive-by lunge at a jug. It was a fun experiment at setting that move. First, I'll talk about the technical, boring aspects of the move. So if you're just interesting in learning how to set it quickly, head on down for the skinny.

Much like a standard dyno, the gist of the move is basically two steps: one, to force the climber to create momentum in one direction, and then two, to have them cancel it out when they hit the target hold (i.e. hold the swing.) What separates a drive-by from a stock one handed dyno is the momentum goes in stages: first one direction, then upward, then arcing back in the other direction as the climber hits the apex of their move. In other words, their free hand will look sort of like a clock hand swinging around from 6 to 12. The more momentum created, the bigger the clock face, the harder the move.

Basically, you can start with a sidepull lockoff, with the other hand around center mass (i.e. not very good to pull with) and good feet directly under the climber. Then, move the target hold high enough that the climber has to release body tension and perform a bit of a pop to snag the hold. This is closer to a stand-up than a drive-by, but I think it meets the technical qualifications.

Making the sidepull (the launch hold) a worse hold, or pivoting it downwards, will increase the difficulty of the second part of the move, and make the move feel more dynamic. Because they will have less purchase on the launch hold to control their body position once they start generating momentum, they will have to rely on the target hold to regain stable positioning.

Let's say you're using a left hand side pull, to the left of the body. Moving the feet to the left and keeping them low will make the move a simple "pop" with no drive-by element. Moving the feet further to the right can make the move very desperate very fast. The climber will use their poor right hand hold to rock over their footholds, then jump straight up. Their body will naturally curve left, hopefully snagging the target hold near the apex of the jump. With a sufficiently poor launch hold, this effect can make the move more of a drive-by dyno.

By altering the other hold, the one that will be released to grab the target hold, we can also dramatically change the body type of the move. As it moves past the climber's center of mass and closer to the launch hold, it becomes harder to rock over the feet and push off to begin the move. Moving it too far the other direction makes the swinging/rotating element of the move much less significant.

One of the keys of truly forcing the move is the directional nature of the off hold. Pivoting the launch hold affects the body positions created after the move has started, but pivoting the other hold (the hand you're reaching with) has drastic effects on the "setup" body position. Making the off-hold an undercling or opposing sidepull will give the climber a multitude of body position options, and maybe even let them attempt the move with their other hand. If you make that hold a gaston, they are forced to lay back on the launch hold and their body positions are constrained.

Finally, you can alter the target jug's position to change the amount of swing. Moving the target jug just a few T-nuts horizontally past the launch hold's vertical position can often change the move from a compressed, tight foot-cut with a bit of 'oomf' to a massive screaming-banshee 90-degree one-arm swing.

Sample layout

Here's a super simple example of forcing a drive by on a semi-steep to steep wall. In this case, you climb into the move from the right. It doesn't matter what the start is, so long as the holds are either necessary feet for the drive by move, or unusable for the drive by move. Remember, you want to limit the climber's options.

(Directionality indicated by the curved side of the hold.)

Hold analysis:

- In this case, hold A is a huge jug facing right. It's crucial that hold A is a great hold, but it should be low profile - very difficult to heel hook. For instance, the top hold in this set by Voodoo. Another great candidate would be the E-grips wonder hole.

- Hold B is a shallow edge or pinch, and shouldn't have a lot of bite to it. If it's too incut, the climber will be able to get opposition purchase for a heel hook. The lunar flats by E-Grips might be a good choice. A small thumb catch on hold B helps a lot with being able to hold the swing on the big move - alternatively, leave it off if you want to force them to cut the off hand and move into a one hand swing.

- Hold C can be anything you want. Just to figure the move out, I suggest a massive jug. My favorite jugs right now are the Teknik Supervillains.

Sample movement

Movement analysis:

#1. Left hand comes in to hold A as a gaston. Feet are on start holds or around terrain.

#2. Right hand matches into hold A.

(Left foot steps high onto the right foothold.)

#3. Left hand moves to hold B.

(Swap feet and move left foot to left foothold.)

#4. ("the" move)
- Keeping the left hand/arm extended for as long as possible, the climber rocks their body over the footholds by locking off the hold A jug, creating rightward momentum.

- When they reach the apex of the rockover, the climber straightens their legs, creating upward momentum.

- Right hand departs hold A. As it extends to grab hold C, the left hand's grip on hold B is holding them into the wall, causing their momentum to shift back left.

- The right hand latches hold C and the opposition between hold B and C is used to cancel out any remaining leftward momentum.

As you can see, one single move can require several body positions to set up. In this case, you could replace hold A with a smaller hold, make the feet into crimps that were start holds, and you'd have essentially the same move. The gaston/match is just to break up potential left-right-left monotony.

Need to switch this to a traditional one-handed swing drive by? It takes about two minutes. Just use this variation on a theme:

Variation on a theme:
-Move hold A further to the right, so it's not directly over the feet anymore. This will make it hard to generate upward momentum, and easier to generate rightward momentum with a natural barn door.
-Rotate hold B to be more of a gaston. It's crucial that hold B can not be used to pull directly downwards.
-Now, move hold C right a few feet, and maybe down a bit.
-Optionally, start the problem from the left to reduce the chances of skippage.

Now, when the climber sets up, they're going to naturally want to go with their left hand, the hold that was on hold B. If hold C is further to the right than hold A, the move will most likely require a wild one handed swing.

Suggestions for playing with drive-bys:
- Move the feet and watch as the climber's amount of swing varies drastically.
- Tweak the angle of your launch and off holds, even if you like the move the way it is. The body position difference / amount of "try hard" required when you pivot your off hold 10 degrees can be quite a learning experience..
- Want to scare the crap out of your climbers? Drive by around an arete to a jug that can't be seen from the launch position!
- Mega-slow balance drive by on a slab. You definitely see the "clock hand" move if this is set correctly.

Happy setting!

If you guys like this style of post (analyzing a single move) let me know - it feels kind of dense, but I write a lot of these just for posterity and I'd be happy to post them more often.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Clinics, Getting Hired, and Staying Fresh

An unfortunate side effect of the symbiosis between climbing and routesetting is that it's hard not to drift between focusing on one or the other. I spent a good chunk of this year traveling and climbing, with most of my actual setting during that time being a week here and a week there for competitions. There's nothing wrong with setting for comps - but it's hard not to get a bit rusty when you're not setting regularly.

Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers makes the case that the primary characteristic of being an expert at something is having a considerable amount of practice. To be the foremost in your field, you have to get that experience before anyone else. The number he throws out is 10,000 hours. Do some quick math. Let's say you set 15-20ish hours a week, with a comp thrown in here or there where you maybe set 40 or more. Compromise at maybe a thousand hours a year. At an extremely busy, understaffed gym, maybe two thousand. So it's going to take you a while to reach Gladwell's benchmark, anyway.

For me, staying fresh involves thinking about setting as much as possible, especially when I'm actively climbing. How would I force that move if I was in the gym? Note where the feet are and the orientation of plumb lines on outdoor climbs. Try to see the climb as a series of physical consequences - each move's specific geometry being necessary to the foundation of the next.

Thinking is nice, but practice is what's really important. 10,000 hours of thinking won't spin a wrench. If you're free floating right now and have no gym to practice at, I suggest looking for one, and taking whatever you can get - friend's woodies and networking and helping at local gyms. If nothing else, get involved in the process - I pounded a thousand T-nuts for a local gym a couple months ago. Another great way to get some practice in are USAC clinics.

A subject that seems to come up a lot among setters is whether the USAC clinics are worth the cost. My opinion is that any time you get to set unrestrained on fresh terrain for two full days, get feedback from folks like Molly Beard and Chris Danielson who already have their 10,000 hours, meet other local setters and network, and generally just enjoy yourself - why would you turn that down? The cost is a fraction of what you'd pay in almost any other profession for the luxury of having expert feedback for two days.

Now that I'm back in society from my travels, I've been trying to brush up on my setting as much as possible while I look for a new gym to practice at. To compensate, I've been spending a lot of time trying to analyze indoor routesetting: both the physical act of setting and what it reduces to, and practical ways to become more efficient at it. So as I dissect my journal scribbles, there might be a lot more theory posts showing up, as well as one super secret, super mega routesetting info project.

In the mean time, I have some other new topics to cover: looking for a routesetting job in a new town, preparing for clinics and staying in shape for setting - I haven't practiced jumaring in several months and the clinic is sure to involve a lot of it. (Here's a hint: It'll be a bicep-thrashin' good time.)

Until next time, happy setting. It's indoor season!