Wild Walls climbing gym is popular with GU students for its $5 Friday deal. Spokane connoisseurs and rock climbing advocates may have also heard of the great bouldering opportunities at Bloc Yard.
But have you ever gone into a climbing gym and wondered how the holds really ended up there? Well, it turns out there’s a lot more work involved in the process than one would expect.
A route is a path by which a climber can reach the top of the mountain, rock or wall. When an old route is ready to be stripped and replaced, a couple of the setters will step up to unscrew the holds.
“It’s usually two people and stripping a section of the wall usually takes us about an hour. Then, another hour to wash all the holds and clean them up and get them ready for the next day,” Adam Cook, a Wild Walls employee, said.
Cleaning holds is simple — Cook uses a power washer to spray the holds.
The sections that are stripped are determined by whatever has been in the gym the longest. At Wild Walls, resetting has a turnaround time of a couple of months, while Bloc Yard resets roughly every six weeks.
Once the wall is empty, making a setter’s dreams come to fruition takes patience.
“In terms of creativity and problem-solving, thinking about creating different moves that are unlike other routes in the gym and will somebody who is shorter than me be able to pull this move,” Zoe Fry, a Wild Walls employee and GU student, said. “Adapting the route to check those boxes – that creative element of it is something that I’ve taken away and then communicating with others and learning to take constructive criticism.”
With 30 to 40 holds – including foot chips – a new route for top roping takes roughly two-and-a-half to four hours. Top roping, or belaying, is a climb that uses a rope attached to the top of the wall. Lead climbing is also an option for these walls.
Meanwhile, Cook noted that boulder climbing, a type of free form climbing performed without ropes or harnesses, typically doesn’t take as long to set.
“We will set a bunch of different boulder problems and then all together, climb them and just improve them as we’re going. So, boulder setting is kind of an all-day thing,” Cook said.
At Wild Walls, the routes are decided prior to setting by the head route setter. The team will go around the neighboring walls to evaluate what grade of climbs and hold types they need and report back to the head.
A grade is the difficulty of a climb, rated from V0 and above. Hold types include crimps, slopers, jugs and many more.
“[Setters] are able to set routes that are harder grades because they’re kind of replicating a harder grade from an outside route,” Fry said.
Grades are determined subjectively. Experienced climbing employees will forerun a climb and give commentary regarding its difficulty to the setter.
When they seem to come to a consensus about an average, the route is graded.
“Some routes you’ll get in here, you might think are super hard and other ones you might think are really easy. It’s never an exact science,” Cook said.
Similarly, Bloc Yard employees forerun their climbs together and tweak them to better fit the grade.
Here, their goal is to integrate at least one of each grade onto a wall. A piece of paper illustrates ideas of V0 through at least a V9 and the setters attempt to recreate them.
“Sometimes the wall dictates what your lowest difficulty is, but other than that we try and hit at least one grade,” Jacob Ayers, a Bloc Yard employee and Great Northern University student, said. “If you’re setting in the cave, you’re not likely to get a V0.”
Setting at the gym is fun, but it can also be frustrating. Fry and Ayers both reported feeling discouraged when other employees would forerun a route and received plentiful feedback.
Although, they noted they both felt pushed and were learning new techniques from the feedback received. Their encouraging and positive work environments has also helped uplift and provide support in these processes.
“The community element of grading has helped me in acknowledging and understanding somebody else’s opinion,” Ayers said. “Realizing that we’re coming at it from two different angles for the same goal and that tension is usually good for the gym.”
Students working at the gyms seem to agree that work can be flexible and understanding when it comes to their school schedules. The hands-on aspect and time commitment setting takes, however, can make it hard to squeeze in time to finish homework and other responsibilities.
Wild Walls employs quite a few students, especially from GU. Fry said working with other students is fun because they are understanding of the work to academic load balance.
Additionally, she felt management was understanding and encouraging of employees' outside endeavors. Their organization and structure of the setting team allows Fry to reach out for support when she felt like she has too much homework without worrying about the team.
“Because our setting team is just nine of us, it’s pretty easy to coordinate with others on different times to come in and help with different aspects of the job,” Fry said. “So I would say it’s very accommodating.”
Bloc Yard also tries to adapt to their employees outside commitments. Ayers said that prior to each semester, his manager asks for a copy of his school schedule, as well as preferences about when he would like to work. From there, the pair can revise his schedule based on how the semester is going.
Bloc Yard is located at 233 E. Lyons Ave. and Wild Walls is located at 202 W. Second Ave. More information regarding Bloc Yard can be found at blocyardgym.com and Wild Walls at wildwalls.com. Fry urges climbers to try different grades and to test their limits, as you never know what you may accomplish with a little experimentation.