Seattle Bouldering Project Sets the Route

By Allison Williams October 14, 2011 Published in the November 2011 issue of Seattle Met

Photo: Courtesy Outhause Image Workspace

SEATTLE BOULDERING PROJECT HAS 215 problems, but a rope ain’t one. You won’t find harnesses or safety lines at the Central District’s new breed of rock climbing gym, just the problems, or marked routes, lining the indoor plywood walls. Bouldering’s newfound popularity can be traced to its equipment requirements; unlike traditional rock climbing, bouldering is limited to ascending objects low enough to fall from without sustaining mortal injuries—thus the lack of ropes. At SBP’s gym, an ex-warehouse space overlooking I-90, climbers can fall no more than 10 feet, and the entire floor is soft foam that founders Andy Wyatt and Chris Potts tested thoroughly—by leaping from the gym’s towering staircase, naturally. When the facility opened in May it became the largest bouldering gym in the world, but its real calling card is its quality problems.

“It’s a really artistic process, and the route setters have this blank canvas,” says Wyatt. That’s 13,000 square feet of canvas, with each wall redesigned monthly. The professional setters attach holds—polyurethane doohickeys that simulate real-world rock features—in elaborate patterns, ranking each path by difficulty. And before they screw in a single hold, they choreograph the specific contortions that the climber’s body will make. “They have a vision,” says Wyatt.

“They get inspired by a certain type of movement and how the body is arranged on the wall.”

It’s not something you can frame, but sure, we’ll call that an art.

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