This previous weekend, I had the opportunity to help set for the first “Onsite” style competition at our climbing gym.  We were all little wary about this format because none of us had every set a competition like this, so we did an in-house only comp hoping to iron out the details.  It actually went great (see the photos) but I figured I’d use this opening as an excuse to talk about the climbing gym we have here in Charleston, WV.
Just a side note.  I remember 10 years ago I was doing a comp at the Cleveland Rock gym.  I was getting ready to take a run at the “hard” wall for the comp, looked around and realized that every single person was wearing Anasazi Velcros.  It was the comp and everyone wore his or her “best” pair of shoes.  During the men’s finals, in isolation at our comp on Sunday, 3 of the 4 of us had our brand newest pair of Tenaya Oasi on.  Most of the time, the climbers in the gym just wear their “crappy” pair to beat up, but when it came down to some serious climbing, we all turned to the Oasi.  I remember that the mantra while growing up was that “5.10” made the best shoes period, but honestly, I really think that Tenaya is one of the best shoe companies on the market and the Oasi is THE pair to have for bouldering (though I like the Tarifa for vert climbing.)
As per setting, we don’t have a “head route setter” per say at our gym, but rather a few frequent setters.  Our gym is not a commercial style “show” gym like Earthtreks or Crimpers Climbing Gym.  The dynamic of the climbers here in Charleston, WV is that we are all (at least when the gym opened) outdoor route climbers who need a good place to train. 
Enter David Statler.  He and his wife Julia about 3 years ago decided that they were sick of their basement training center and decided to open a bouldering gym for the purpose of training.  Being a fellow Engineer, David and I have been analyzing different gyms and different gym models.  We’ve narrow the type of gyms (at least serious gyms) down to two distinct types:
  • 1.     Show Gym:  This is the commercial style gyms that you see.  When you walk in POW.  Monochromatic setting.  Huge, open areas, with very little route density.  Often these gyms will only have one or two problems that overlap.  These gyms bring in big money and bring in big numbers.  They focus on the aesthetics of climbing and the problems tend to be very well thought out and all excellent in quality.  These gyms see a lot of turn-over and have a high rate of “unique” visitors (first and last time visitors.)
Crimpers Climbing Gym in Christiansburg, VA – One of my favorite gyms!!!
  • 2.     Training Gym:  These are the gyms that are smaller with much tighter route density.  At first glance, they can seem like a crap hole or a hodge podge of routes (LOTS OF TAPE) up every single wall.  You will often see a very serious and dedicated “training” section with folks who are actually using it.   This is the type of gym where the “unique” visitor number is quite low compared to return and frequent users.
The Mushroom Wall at the Energy Rock Gym.  We normally have 8-10 problems up this but these are our “Comp” Problems.
If you look behind David, you can see what our walls usually look like.
I’m not saying there is anything wrong with either gym, it’s just the “style” of gym and I LOVE show gyms…they are incredible.  But being a climber hoping to push it to the next level, I love having our gym “The Energy Rock Gym” to train at.
Interestingly enough, at our gym over the past several years, we started as just a core group of people who have been climbing for 5+ years.  Now, we’ve grown our own local climbers who started climbing because of the gym.  These climbers are now a dedicated group at our gym.  We still have very little “unique” visitors though that number is growing.  The nicest part about having the small “training” gym is that frequent climbers are basically given free range to set and set-up the gym for their personal training programs.
All of us at the gym have made major gains in our climbing because of the gym.  Folks who were barely climbing 5.11 two years ago are now climbing 5.13!  Having a training resource has been huge!

The best part about setting for our Competition was that we knew who was going to climb and could set very specifically for those folks.  Competitors were given 4 minutes to climb as many “holds” high as they could on a problem they have never seen before.  Instead of our common settings with a  1/3 to 2/3 height crux and easier or consistent finish, we set with increasing difficulty.  Very few of the problems in the competition were completed, though I was happy to hear that instead of the competitors complaining that the problems were “too hard” or “too reachy” they said “OK I need to get stronger so I can climb this problem!”  Mission success!
Here are some photos from the comp: