Routesetter Kat Gentry is back in action this summer, setting boulder problems and routes at Touchstone Climbing Gyms around the Bay Area. Kat grew up at the gym, first as a competitive youth climber and then as a routesetter. We caught up with Kat to talk about how her routesetting style has changed, her climbing projects, and her advice to gyms who are looking to add more women to their routesetting team.
When I started setting at Touchstone Climbing, I had never touched a drill and I didn’t even know what a T-nut was, or how to use a jumar to jug up a rope. There is still a lot left for me to learn about setting, but over that first year I went from struggling through work days and doubting if I’d ever get the hang of setting to being confident in my setting capabilities and consistently proud of my work.
My first three months of setting consisted of me somehow chuffing my way through the work day and then going home and crashing on the couch from being so exhausted. My parents would try to get me to move to my bedroom, but often I would wake up on the couch to my 5:30 alarm and start all over from there. At the six-month mark, I started to adjust and was able to feel comfortable and capable in my work, as well as have the energy to climb and have a life outside of work.
My whole first year pushed and expanded my comfort zone. When I reflect on the 18-year-old Kat, about to start her first full-time job as a setter on a (then) all-male crew, I am amazed and proud that I took that chance and stuck with it through the hard days. I think the biggest thing I’ve worked to overcome (and continue to work on) is my confidence in myself when I go to set something that may be challenging for me. I had to work on my head space and remind myself that I am a good setter and I am capable of setting really fun climbs. I also had to choose to keep challenging myself once I had adjusted to the full-time setting lifestyle. It’s much easier to come to work and choose to set easy climbs in your own climbing style than it is to try to set something really hard, or something in a style that is as comfortable for you.
For example, I’m a relatively unskilled slab climber, so setting slab climbs and sloper problems and hitting the right grade is hard for me. I have to show up and choose to set the slabby climb if I want to hold myself accountable to learn and grow as a setter– which I do! All in all, at the end of my first year I was extremely sad to say goodbye to the crew, the job, and the gym community here to move to Colorado for school. Luckily, it wasn’t really a ‘goodbye’- it was a ‘see you later!’
How have you changed as a routesetter?
Upon returning to Touchstone Climbing after my freshman year of college I have found myself to be more confident in my setting. Oddly enough, I started setting hard boulder problems- harder than I’d ever tried to tackle before. I’ve set a bunch of boulders at or above my climbing limit since my return and received a lot of positive feedback from members.
I’m relieved and reassured because I feel more at home sport climbing than bouldering, and it can be hard to know how a climb will turn out when it is above the grade you climb at. Whenever I get positive feedback from members I feel more confident in my setting and consequently try hard to stay creative and push my boundaries.
Another change I’ve intentionally implemented is that I try to use more large holds, features, and volumes. I am much more comfortable with small, crimpy holds and ticky-tacky movement, so I’ve challenged myself to learn how to set with large holds and volumes effectively.
Other than that, I’ve noticed that I second guess myself less and take my time more. Putting in thought and time to my climbs instead of rushing through them always shows in the final product and the feedback I receive.
How have you changed as a climber?
As a climber, I’ve gone from being injured for 6 months while setting (which sucks because you can’t forerun!), to gaining back some strength in the gym, to being super psyched on getting outside as much as possible. This summer is the first time I’ve made getting outside my top priority! I started as a gym-rat comp climbing kid, so I had to make that transition at some point.
I’ve also been multipitch climbing for the first time this summer. I hope to learn to lead on gear soon, although sport climbing will probably always be what I enjoy the most. I’m quite a scardy cat when it comes to falling or risk taking while climbing, so I think trad would be a great way to push my comfort zone and work on my lead head. A big part of what keeps me from climbing as hard as I’d like is chickening out when I think I might fall. In this way, climbing is a very mental game for me.
Although I haven’t found the time or energy to train regularly, I’ve found that climbing regularly, getting outside, setting, and eating healthfully has me climbing pretty strong and feeling good. Of course, I’d like to implement a training schedule and push myself to climb harder grades soon, especially with some projects in Tahoe I want to put down and a trip to Rifle planned in September!
I think the biggest change in my climbing style overall is that I climb smarter now than I did before. I don’t know if it’s because of all the residual injuries I have or what, but I’ve found that I’m climbing smoother and have better technique than I did back when I was comp climbing.
How has being a student affected your climbing?
I am currently a student at Colorado College, located in Colorado Springs. Adjusting from setting full-time to being a full-time student was extremely challenging for me. To be honest, my whole first year of college was a bumpy ride, and not as much fun as some people make college out to be. Although I think next year will be a lot better for me, balancing school with climbing and other activities is always challenging. The amount I climb and train is completely dependent on how hard my courses are at any given time. There is a gym right by my school where I usually sport climb and train during the week.
We also have a small on-campus gym that I’ve started setting at, but the sport walls are only four draws high and the holds suck compared to the ones I set with at Touchstone! I can usually get outside one day on the weekends, but not every weekend. Luckily, my school gives us a 4 ½ day break every month, so I get to go climbing with friends during those. This past year I got to climb at the Hueco Rock Rodeo- it was so much fun! Overall it’s been really hard for me to have moved to CO psyched to climb only to find myself too busy to get outside as much as I’d like. I also haven’t managed to retain any sort of regular training due to having such a busy schedule. I need to learn to study more efficiently and prioritize climbing a bit more in the coming school year. What advice would you give to gyms who want to increase the number of female routesetters on their crew?
Oh man this is a tough one! First of all, I just want to say that it is SO extremely important to increase the number of female routesetters and headsetters out there. Everyone in the climbing and setting community benefits when there is a more even balance of men and women setting. If you only have men on your setting crew, but half the members climbing at your gym are women, you have routes that cater to only 50% of your clients’ body types! I think male and female setters can work together to create climbs that are comfortable and accessible to both men and women, and that this is the way that setting should be. I have also found that working on a crew with more women tends to harbor a more collaborative environment.
It is more difficult when we start to ask HOW to get more women into such a male-dominant, strength-dependent, bro’d-out field. It’s not that women aren’t capable of being skilled and valuable setters, but that many women think they aren’t up to the task or are intimidated by how male-dominated the field is. I still have to remind myself of my value as a setter and sometimes convince myself I am capable when I think I’m not. The best piece of advice I can come up with here is to seek out women to hire as setters. I would not have applied for the routesetting job if I hadn’t heard that Touchstone was
looking to hire female setters. I don’t feel great about hiring a person solely because of their gender, but in this scenario, I think it will do more good than harm to look for women who are interested and make it so that the high demand for female routesetters is common knowledge. What can people expect when they jump on one of your routes?
Underclings, crimps, crosses, heel hooks, and reachy or dynamic moves that are still accessible to those with a five-foot ape span (aka: me). You can also expect route-like boulder problems. I prefer setting and climbing on a rope, and a lot of my problems turn out to require some amount of endurance! Sometimes when I set a long problem my coworkers joke that it’s a 5.13a instead of a V8. I try to keep my style fresh and fun when I can. Out of the last two most memorable problems I set at Dogpatch one had a double knee bar and the other had a full on bat hang over the lip of the roof! Do you have any goals or trips coming up? Climbing or non-climbing.
I don’t have that many weekends left in the Bay (☹), but I really hope to send Warp Factor (13a) in Tahoe before the summer is over. I figure I should reserve two weekends for that. I’ve been spending soooo much time in Tuolumne that I haven’t been out to Tahoe all summer, even though it’s one of my favorite places to sport climb! Other than that, I would like to send Endless Bummer (13b) at Mickey’s Beach soon, too. It’s a little harder for me so that might take more time. It’s such a beautiful line in such a beautiful location that I am okay with going back as many times as I need! (Except for the poison oak infested approach…) It’s also right by my favorite beach, where I usually get ice cream and jump in the water after a day of climbing.
I have a trip planned to Rifle, CO for my first break of my Sophomore year during this September. I have been wanting to get out there ever since I moved to CO, but I haven’t had the chance before. It sounds like it’ll be perfect for me- super long, overhanging sport climbing as far as the eye can see! I also can’t wait for Bishop season! Last winter I slipped off the finish jug of Fly Boy (V8) four times in a row! Hopefully if it’s any less icy I’ll get it this time around. Aside from specific climbs and places, my climbing goal right now is to send 5.13a and V8 outside.
Anything else you’d like to get out into the Touchstone world?
Yes! Member interactions mean the world to me. We are setting for you guys! So don’t be shy! At least for me, comments and criticisms are welcome. It’s better to hear it straight from you guys in a constructive way than to overhear members saying stuff to friends at the gym about the setting. When I hear members talk to their friends about the setting, my ears perk up and I can’t help but eavesdrop. But my intentions are good, because knowing what the members think also lets me know how to keep them happy.
There is nothing that helped me through my first year of setting more than positive feedback from members who took the time to tell me they liked my setting, or a specific route or move that I set. That being said, whining and complaining without any constructive criticism does nothing for me. Please keep in mind that setting is a really difficult job and we work very hard with what we have to provide quality climbs! Setters may seem intimidating sometimes but I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t like a friendly chat with members. Next time you see me at the gym, come say hi!