There’s plenty of thought and work that goes into creating a new route or problem. Learn the process—as well as the inspiration—behind the climbs created by Mesa Rim’s setting team.


By Joseph Legotte
Photos by Jen Gold

Hardly a week goes by without someone in the gym approaching a setter and asking how we create the routes on the wall. Oftentimes they wonder if we follow a computerized layout or blueprint, or if it all just materializes out of our minds. How exactly do we do it? This article provides insight into the process so that we can give the community awesome, fun, and valuable climbs!

The Foundations

Every setter has a process that works best for him or her, but there is a general flow to how climbs are developed at Mesa Rim. Here’s a rundown of how it works:

  • Area preparation
  • Stripping and cleaning of current climbs
  • Assignments handed out
  • Volume placement/environment adjustments
  • Ideation and hold selection
  • Setting the skeleton
  • Climbing the skeleton
  • Tweaking the skeleton to suit the setter’s purpose
  • Second setter foreruns and further modifies if necessary
  • Route is double checked and finalized
  • Route is presented to the community

Collecting holds from storage


The Details

Mesa Rim is lucky to have a crew of hardworking individuals who strip the area to reset the current climbs, and wash the chalk and rubber from the holds to maintain their high quality texture. This usually happens before we arrive at 7:30 am. From there, we reference a page that holds the route assignments for that area. It consists of grades and color options for roped climbs, or grades and styles for boulders. The crew typically picks out what they feel most psyched to set; they may be steered in that direction by color choice, hold availability, wall angle or features, creative concepts they have, or a grade they feel inclined towards. Volumes are a great tool at this stage to change the wall environment and give more liberty to the variety of movements that can be utilized.   

Next is the time when the setter has the greatest creative control over the route. Hold selection and ideas for movement play a crucial role in the development of the climb. If we do not approach the blank wall with a clear intention, feasible ideas, and the proper tools, the climb has a higher likelihood of not living up to its potential.

From this point a skeleton is set. The setter creates and places holds and volumes on the wall so that his or her idea can be physically or emotionally accessible to the future climber. During this process the setter does not typically climb any part of the route, and merely checks for spacing between holds, body positionings, and gets a feel for the directionality of handholds and footholds.

The setter then climbs the skeleton to make adjustments in accordance with their ideas, the grade they were hoping to achieve, or accessibility issues for climbers of different statures. Afterwards, a second setter climbs the route to double check for things the first setter may have overlooked, achieve a difficulty consensus, and ensure the quality is on par with the needs of the user.

Securing holds to the wall

Next, the route is finalized with additional support screws; it’s also taped, tagged and presented to the community. At this point, the route or boulder is no longer a product or possession of the setter, but an element of the community at large, and a product of the people. Setters never have the same opportunity to interact with the routes in the way the community will. Climbers get the chance to discover all the intricacies we could never imagine, and experience emotions we could not find in the few hours it took to set. That is the most rewarding result of the setting process.   

Overall, setting is a long, detailed, and oftentimes complicated cerebral process that takes love, passion, skill, and dedication. Though there are many ways of designing how we set, I can wholeheartedly claim that as long as empathy and passion are included in the process, the climber will be able to feel that as a result. Many say we are artists or designers, but at the heart of it we are just a group of people who love climbing. Above all, we love sharing that with everyone at Mesa Rim; whether it is helping you become more comfortable on slab, dialing in technical elements, or finally sticking that elusive dyno, we are here to aid you in your quest as life long climbers.

For information regarding Mesa Rim’s Setting Philosophy, follow the link:


Joseph Legotte is a veritable renaissance man who strives to strengthen the community of climbers who lovingly accepted him. If he’s not setting new routes at Mesa Rim or chatting up members, you can find him baking bread, crafting cocktails, reading Harry Potter, or punting off the top of many blocs in the Buttermilks.