Unicorns of the Setting World

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Photo: Crux Crush
Photo: Crux Crush
Photo: Crux Crush

More gyms across the country have women on their setting staff including The Spot, Seattle Bouldering Project, Mesa Rim, Vertical World, Aiguille Rock Gym and many others.   At last years ABS Youth National Championship Nicole Girder was awarded her USAC Level 3 certification becoming the third female National setter.

But when compared to male setters, females still are not well represented in the routesetting world.  One way to change that is to have good female role models, and one great example is Molly Beard from Portland, Oregon.  Molly has been setting National level competitions for over 18 years and is currently the Head Setter at Club Sport, Level 5 National Chief Setter and USA Climbing Routesetting Certified Instructor. Her routes are the perfect example of what a technically perfect climber and consummate professional can put on the wall.

Crux Crush has a great new interview with Molly talking about being a freelance setter, keeping things fresh and the difference between indoor climbing and outdoor climbing.  Here’s a taste of the interview:

CXC: Your job seems very unique to us, especially for a female. What got you into route setting in the first place?

MB: I did some competing on my own and then began coaching a youth team in 1995. It was really obvious when the setting was good (as in equitable for tall or small, not bottlenecky, etc.) and when it was not. I got curious about how to set hard things that my tiny kids could reach, and so started to work on that concept by making routes for my team for practices. Near this time Tony Yaniro was in Portland going to school, and he hosted a setting clinic at one of the gyms. I was too poor to be able to attend, but asked him if we could trade: I would set for him for free at an upcoming Youth Regional Championship, if he would teach me. He agreed. I got completely worked, wrecked and schooled, and after sleeping a few days, was beyond psyched to learn more. I am constantly and profoundly grateful that he agreed to mentor me.

CXC: What has it meant to be a full-time freelance route setter? 

MB: It meant I had to learn how to promote myself, which was hard to do! I really do not like talking about myself – doing a good job is what is important, and should speak for itself. But that is not how the modern world works. It also meant that I had to be willing to take risks in order to find work. Cold-calling gyms for work is pretty intimidating, but I had to learn to not take ‘no’ personally. It is very interesting being the sole female in a job like mine. I would very much have liked to see more women by now. It is utterly baffling and worrisome that I have not.

CXC: At their inception, the purpose of climbing gyms and indoor routes were to train for and mimic climbing outside. As the sport has progressed indoor climbing has strayed from its original purpose and in some critics opinions has become a platform for showing off wacky movement by the competitors. While this type of climbing is impressive to watch it may be widening the divide between indoor and outdoor climbing. What do you think this means for the future of climbing, both indoor and out and what are your thoughts on the direction and expectations of competition climbing?

MB: I do not see this as a problem. If you look at climbing world-wide, gym climbing has already become an activity unto itself. Think about places where there is none-to-little outdoor climbing. Of course gym climbing becomes appealing. While I love to see what might be ‘new’ my ultimate goal is results. Ties suck. Bottlenecks suck. Shutting down an unusually small kid REALLY sucks. When I see these things I wince. When I am responsible for them I get angry. That said, I think comp climbing has begun to hit the ends of creativity with the current tools we have. I don’t really look at this as good or bad: it just is. It means that the tools we use will likely evolve further as people want to see more unusual things in comps, and I look forward to what that might look like! I’ll say it another way: cool moves are cool, but not at the cost of results.

Read the full interview at Crux Crush.