Breaking Boundaries: Behind the Wrench with Camielle Weetly

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An aspiring architect, Camielle Weetly found climbing and routesetting and hasn't looked back. Photo courtesy of Camielle Weetley

Behind the Wrenchis an ongoing series that interviews the “rock stars” of the climbing industry, the routesetters at the gyms. For this edition, Jackie Hueftle talks with Camielle Weetly of Touchstone Cliffs of Id about routesetting in Costa Rica, the Womxn Up Climbing Festival and breaking boundaries.

Camielle Weetly, profiled in this Behind the Wrench, routesetting at the gym
An aspiring architect, Camielle Weetly found climbing and routesetting and hasn’t looked back. Photo courtesy of Camielle Weetley

Intro and Interview by Jackie Hueftle

Name: Camielle Weetly
Home Gym: Touchstone Cliffs of Id
Location: Los Angeles, California

In 2010, her freshman year of college, aspiring architect Camielle Weetly was invited to visit a local climbing gym, Mundo Aventura, by a friend. She had no idea they even had a climbing gym in Costa Rica, but she loved climbing trees and buildings so she went along and quickly fell in love. Camielle left home, then later moved back with enough holds to build a wall in her parent’s backyard. She started setting that home wall out of necessity, unaware that she would soon become the manager of a new climbing gym, Pura Roca. At Pura Roca Camielle found both a love of rope climbing and a community of friends. In 2018 when she moved to LA to pursue AMGA guiding she also started working at her local gym, Touchstone’s Cliffs of Id, where she taught intro lessons and belayed new climbers. After few months at Touchstone she was given the opportunity to join the setting crew, and she took it. She hasn’t looked back.

I met Camielle at Touchstone’s 2019 Womxn Up event last July. It was the third annual Womxn Up and over half the crew was made up of Touchstone’s female staff setters, all of whom were fairly new to setting with one setter only a few months in and others, like Camielle, still in their first year of setting professionally. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, Womxn Up has been cancelled this year, so I reached out to Camielle to check in, revisit last year’s event, and see what setting in So Cal is like in this time of Covid.

 

JPH: Instead of designing buildings you now design routes and boulder problems. Do you think climbing derailed your original “real job” goal of being an architect?

CW: Hahaha yes, definitely. After I dropped out of college I really focused on my climbing. A couple of years later I realized that I could become a climbing instructor and guide through AMGA which was a main reason for me to move to the US.

JPH: I had a similar experience, except I had wanted to be a lawyer before I found climbing and setting. For you, do you think setting took over your desire to be a climbing guide?

CW: Mmmm not exactly. I got my AMGA Climbing Wall Instructor certification around the same time I started at Touchstone. I’d still try to get my single pitch cert, but it is financially challenging. I think for the future I see myself as a gym instructor and setter.

JPH: Who do you like teaching?

CW: Anyone!! Honestly I think it’s my favorite thing to do, especially with rope climbing. I get really stoked seeing people improve. I taught a new climber with autism, he was around 18, how to tie a figure 8 knot and we helped him complete a couple of climbs. It was incredibly rewarding!

Camielle Weetly at Womxn Up 2019
Camielle Weetly on the Golden Gate field trip from Womxn Up 2019. Photo by Jackie Hueftle

JPH: Teaching climbing is great for improving your setting to meet the needs of your gym climbers, and vice versa. It really integrates your gym community with the job setters do. Speaking of integrating the community, the Womxn Up event was designed to get more Womxn into the gym and involved in climbing. It is set entirely by womxn, for womxn. Last year there were a bunch of newer female setters from Touchstone, and you all worked super hard and did an amazing job. Setting a major event like that is fun but also is often harder, more tiring, and more work than you expect. What was that event like for you?

CW: It definitely was tiring and a little stressful as a newbie. I knew my routes were going to be tweaked by people I had just met. I found myself playing around with holds I’d never used.

There were a lot of things I enjoyed witnessing as well: how the top routesetters set for pro climbers, how they set and forerun while considering different weaknesses and strengths, and how they intentionally set a mix of styles for the comp.

I was dumbfounded seeing all the ins and outs of planning an event like this.

 

JPH: Haha it’s always more complicated than you think it’ll be. The best way to deal with it is just take things as they come, be open minded, and do your best with each task or challenge. So what was your favorite moment from Womxn Up last year?

CW: Literally just feeling cozy at home eating dinner and getting to know the other girls. But event wise, it was definitely watching Alex Puccio crush and talking to her, such a sweetie.

Some of the crew from Womxn Up 2019
Some of the crew from Womxn Up 2019. Photo by Jackie Hueftle

JPH: For your day-to-day, how does it feel to be one of few female setters on your crew?

CW: I think in general all “male jobs” are beginning to change their thoughts on having women as part of the team.

It seemed to me that the macho attitude of my team members mellowed over time. Male talk, you know. Haha. Everyone has to give and take feedback, and when you come around something unknown or unexpected like a new female setter, a complete stranger, it might be harder to know how to communicate that feedback; then, once you are friends, there just might be loving trash talk and teasing.

It’s clearly hard to break mental boundaries. Sometimes physical evidence is all you need.  All men are not necessarily stronger than all women. Everyone has their own capabilities.

 

JPH: What is the easiest part of the job for you? The hardest?

CW: Wanting to do my job just makes everything else easy. I don’t think there’s anything about my job I don’t like or have fun with, even the dirty work. It’s only when my body wants to stop and rest that things get hard.

JPH: What is the most fun thing about setting?

CW: Tweaking a climb and learning how things can be perfected. The little things can be mind blowing.

JPH: Haha true enough. I think that’s a big reason setting stays interesting. Do you think you’ll keep setting for a long time?

CW: Definitely as long as I can keep climbing, just maybe not 5 days a week once I retire.

A break from behind the wrench, Camielle Weetly climbing at the gym
Camielle Weetly hanging out in the gym. Photo courtesy of Camielle Weetly

JPH: You are not just a female setter, you are also a woman of color, making you an extra unicorny-unicorn in routesetting. Did you feel there were any extra roadblocks on your path to becoming a setter because of this, or do you feel it was helpful, or was it a non-issue?

CW: I think the roadblock I had was a mixture of where I am from, Costa Rica, and being a female mid-grade climber.

Back at home we just didn’t have enough resources to give the opportunities to all the people who’d like to routeset, and those who don’t climb hard are just usually not in a social circle that will allow you to experiment with routesetting.

Nowadays, we do want to show others that there are equal opportunities and open those doors. As a strong young woman of color, I feel like doors are opening for me. I’m hoping that this will be a chance to show that everyone is capable of accomplishing what they want in their life, that everyone can shine in their unique way.

I’m hoping that my presence in this community will be relieving and inspiring to young ones. I hope they know that they have all the chances in the world to do what they want with no fear based on their gender, race or sexuality.

 

JPH: Do you feel you experience (or have experienced) discrimination from the climbing community? Do you feel accepted?

CW: I don’t feel discriminated against; however, yes, I’ve felt out of place many times. I haven’t shared much with other climbers of color about the sensation, but it’s there.  Ten years ago when I started climbing it was very much of a bro ambience, and being a girl just made it hard to feel welcome, especially as a lesbian.

It seemed hard to make other climber friends but eventually I did! Climbing at Cliffs of Id all the time and seeing the same people helped, then going outside and meeting friends of friends or bumping into other Cliffs members outside all increased my circle of friends.

I may have been lucky though, since as long as I’ve been in the climbing community I’ve been in open minded cities.

Camielle Weetly climbing outside
Camielle Weetly sending a problem in Bishop. Photo courtesy of Camielle Weetly

JPH: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in routesetting as a profession?

CW: Try to get involved with the climbing community as much as you can. You will be begging for a chance to attend clinics or help at events, basically doing everything you can to find any place and way to start setting.

Once you are setting just play with everything possible, challenge movement with all holds, break your own climbs, have friends break your climbs.

 

JPH: We can’t talk about setting right now without talking about Covid-19. What happened to your job when the lockdown started?

CW: Over one weekend we got news that we wouldn’t be opening the gym for sometime. We couldn’t work for 2 months. I can definitely say I’ve been blessed by working with Touchstone. I know they’ll provide safety, fun, and the opportunity to work and share with the community as much as they can.

JPH: What is your job like now?

CW: It has become more challenging, and way more fun. As a full time setter I feel like I’m always improving even when I’m frustrated with my work. In regards to Covid, after re-opening our gyms we have had to be very distant from each other―we’ve been separated into smaller crews and sorted throughout our gyms. Using masks, gloves and sanitizing gear is a constant. It kinda had made forerunning funky at first but we’re good now.

 

JPH: What do you see in the future for setting since the world is now a different place?

CW: I’m hoping we can get things back to where they were, or that we can find a balance with guidelines where we can trust everyone is responsible for their health and the health of the environment we share at the gym. Otherwise, we might have to have holds that are wipeable, which sounds slippery to me.

JPH: Haha ugh.

Camielle Weetly buildering
Camielle Weetly getting some buildering in. Photo courtesy of Camielle Weetly

JPH: You’ve probably recognized by now that all setters go through phases in their setting career. What is something key you’ve learned about setting in the last year that has helped you do your job better or more efficiently?

CW: To not let the hard moments keep you down. You really go through phases, and maybe even a sad day might make your setting kinda weird. To climb well we need to be present, and that goes for routesetting as well.

But also, I’ve learned about putting up quick skeletons. They can help for so many reasons: if you’re uninspired, or if you have to put up many routes with a deadline, or maybe you’re unclear about setting a move or sequence in a certain space. Skeletons.

Also, I don’t know how much it’s a taboo to try out moves while setting, but it’s definitely needed at times.

JPH: I think trying moves is totally ok sometimes! We’re learning about movement and we should use the tools at our disposal to learn as much as possible.

 

JPH: What are you looking forward to in the future as a setter?

CW: Hopefully setting for more big comps, collaborating with new people, and as always, trying to teach people through my sets.

JPH: Thanks Camielle!

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Do you know a routesetter in the climbing industry who would be good to profile in a Behind the Wrench segment? Or, are you a routesetter and have a background that you think others would enjoy learning about? If so, please contact us and tell us about it!