Route Setting With Kat Gentry

A junior from Berkeley, Calif., Kat Gentry is a route setter at Colorado College’s Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym. She has been climbing for about eight years and has competed at events such as the 2012 Touchstone Series and the USAC Regionals Competition in California in 2011. She took first place at both competitions. Kat prefers to climb outside and usually does so on weekends when she can find the time. Even with a busy schedule, she climbs about four days a week at either the CityROCK Climbing Center or the Springs Climbing Center. 

Photo courtesy of Kat Genrty

Carol Newton: How did you become a route setter at the gym? What motivated you to do it?

Kat Gentry: Before coming to Colorado College, I had experience climbing, so when I came here I began going to open sets [sessions] to try creating some of the routes I was climbing. After doing that for many weeks of my freshman year, I applied for the job; so most of my setting experience comes from my experience at CC.

CN: What is involved in route setting?

KG: Technically all you do as a route setter is screw holds into the wall, but saying that is like saying all you do as a painter is put paint on a canvas. What’s more important is arranging the holds in a way that is conducive to people climbing, in a way that is interesting for the people climbing it. It’s not very interesting for the setter or the climber to put up something that climbs like a ladder. Usually when I set, I try to come up with an interesting move or sequence of moves, that you can only really understand once you’re actually climbing it. Another challenge for the route setter is making sure the moves are pretty intuitive and not awkward, or in other words, that it climbs smoothly.

CN: Does the school or climbing gym have certain rules or standards that route setters are expected to follow? What determines what routes are made, and is there a feedback system? 

KG: We try to encourage setters to talk to each other about the positive and negative aspects of their respective routes, as well as taking into account the feedback from the gym monitors who spend more of their time watching people actually climb the routes than the setters do.

CN: Does this system work? Do climbers seem to be happy with the routes?     

KG: While in the past we’ve tried to start a feedback system from the gym-goers themselves, it’s unfortunately not something that has caught on. The gap of communication between the setters and the people who climb in the gym is certainly a problem, and figuring out a solution would, I think, help a lot with ensuring that the people who come to the gym are happy with the routes.

CN: How often do you change the routes?

KG: We try to put up new routes in one fourth of the climbing gym every week.

CN: Do you take suggestions for new routes from climbers at the gym? What considerations do you take into account? 

KG: The biggest things to take into account are the people who are going to be climbing the route, so the expectation for setters is that every route will appeal to a large audience. Obviously some climbers have more experience and are on a more advanced level, so not everyone will be able to climb everything. However, things like height and wingspan are really important to take into account, as well as whether or not the climb is safe. It’s always a bummer when you can’t climb something because it’s too reachy, or too scary, even though you have the skill set and strength to do it.

CN: If someone were to get involved in climbing and was interested in route setting, how would they go about doing this? Could they become a route setter in the gym?

KG: Anyone can become a route setter. All it takes is applying for the job whenever there is an opening. It helps to beef up your application by getting some actual experience setting, which you can do by going to open set [every Tuesday from 1-4pm]. You don’t need any experience to go to open set, and we run you through how setting is done when you are there. Then you can try it out yourself. Anyone can come into open set and volunteer their own time—and if you are formally hired, then it is a paid position.

CN: What is your favorite style of climbing, indoors and/or outdoors?

KG: When I’m climbing outside, I like crack climbing. In a gym, I like setting and climbing routes that are like a puzzle or that force you to use your body in a way that you wouldn’t expect.

Kat is currently pursuing an IDM major (Psychoanalysis, Art, and Creativity) and a Philosophy minor. When not climbing, Kat loves writing short stories and poetry, creating art, making music with friends, going out and dancing, and generally just being outside—whether that be hiking, walking, running, or, of course, climbing.

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