Setting at Craggy: Interview with Mark Croxall

MarkRoute Setting is something incredibly important to any climbing wall – it’s what you come to enjoy and the reason you keep coming back!

We caught up with Craggy Route Setting Manager, Mark Croxall, to find out a bit more about him, his style and what he feels is great about the climbing here at Craggy.

How did you get in to route setting?  At the time I started climbing, it was something that everyone had to do at indoor walls as setting for bouldering wasn’t something that was “done”.  Holds were put on to the wall and then you created problems with friends that you’d all try to climb.  During my time on the GB Bouldering Team I was given the opportunity by Craggy Island to set routes and boulders at Guildford, back in the early days, as a way to earn some extra money to fund my attendance at World Cup competitions.  When I stopped competing Internationally in 2011 I was able to make setting my main focus, working at both Craggy Guildford and Craggy Sutton.

What inspires you when setting a route?  Trying to re-create the flow that you find on the perfect route or boulder problem outside; when you never have to force a move – one move just leads into the next.

Testing at SuttonDo you have a favourite angle to set on?  From a background mostly in bouldering, I do generally prefer a steeper, more powerful style of climbing.  Although, you can’t beat a good balancy slab problem where you find yourself wondering how you’re managing to stay on!

What about hold types?  I think most Craggy regulars would spot a clear preference for slopey holds as opposed to crimpy ones.  This goes back to enjoying movement where body position and technique make success achievable rather than just pulling really hard!

Do you have a plan when you’re stood at the bottom of the wall about to set a climb?  I usually start by adding volumes to the wall to vary the terrain on which to set the climb.  The position of the volumes will usually give me the inspiration to set a particular move or sequence of moves through them and then the route can be built around this.

Do you know what the grade will be when you’re setting the route?  At Guildford I set 3 to 4 routes per line and try to get an easy, a medium and a hard grade, relatively speaking, on each line.  On the Comp Wall this will range from 5c to 8a and on a standard top-rope wall this will range from 4 to 7a with the majority of climbs in the centre being mid 5 to mid 6 in difficulty.

How do you know what grade a route is when you test it?  I test all of the routes personally as well as getting a second or third opinion from staff members or customers.  The grades are based on my 20+ years experience as a climber and discussions with customers operating closer to that difficulty of route.

BoulderingCan you ever be 100% certain of the grade?  Grading will always be a contentious subject because people are different sizes and have different strengths and weaknesses.  People prefer different rock types outside due to their skill set.  Likewise, indoor routes vary in style meaning that a climb more suited to you will feel easier than something that you feel uncomfortable on.  So, going back to the question, grading is massively subjective but the benefit of having me grade everything means that the grade of every route in the centre will at least be consistent.

Why do the grades at Craggy seem tough compared to other centres?  Certain outdoor venues are renowned for tough or soft grades depending on the level of the climbers that developed the crag.  My experience of sport grades is largely based on Peak limestone which is short and powerful in nature.  My bouldering grades are largely based on Fontainebleau which is also thought of as being hard, especially on the vertical and slabby climbs.  As an example; the Craggy Guildford Comp Wall, being 10 metres, will require much harder moves to achieve the same grade as a wall 3 times it’s height.  For instance, if we tripled the length of the wall, a 5c would become a 6a+, roughly speaking.

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