Standing at 5’2″ with a -1″ ape index
Route Setting Initials: LC
Lily began climbing in 2009 at Carderock MD. The slick slabby polished river granite of extraordinarily sandbagged 5.9s sucked her into the sport. Since then she’s traveled around to play on rocks with friends and climbed a thing or two. She is completing her last year of college to be an industrial strength designer. You will most likely spot Lily chasing down her dog Yuki who keeps stealing socks.
What is your favorite climbing area?
New River Gorge, WV
What do you like most about the DBC?
The setting and the community of good folk.
Lily Cornett is a rock star climber and routesetter. Read on to learn more about her approach to setting at the DBC, her passion for industrial design, as well as her thoughts on women in climbing. Be sure to stop by and say hi next time you see her around the gym!
How did you originally get into climbing?
I was 20 and was working at REI, and one of my co-workers was like ‘hey, do you want to go climbing?’ and I was like ‘sure’. So we went to Carderock and did some slab climbing on some 5.9 top-ropes, by the river, on this very polished granite. And then I was hooked.
How did you end up in Colorado?
I was in school in Maryland and I was looking to switch to a four-year university – I was at community college. My little brother wanted to go to CU Boulder and he moved out here, and then we kind of had a sibling migration. I moved out here with 2 of my brothers. The first year I lived out here I lived in Boulder, and I started working at the climbing gym there.
How did you get into routesetting?
When I moved to Boulder I was looking for a job, and coincidentally The Spot was hiring coaches at the time. I didn’t have any previous experience with any climbing industry-related things before that, except for having worked at REI and giving some talks on local climbing areas, but I started out coaching at The Spot. Jackie Hueftle is the head routesetter there, and so I asked if I could come in and watch them setting. So I would come in, and eventually I would be asked to pick out holds, and then eventually I became an intern, and my job was to wash all the holds before I could set. So I would go in there in the morning, and I would wash climbing holds as fast as I could so I could get the time to set at least one boulder.
How did you get involved with the DBC?
I moved to Denver in 2015, and I emailed Thomas asking if I could do some routesetting, because I wanted to try to stay in practice, and at that time I had stopped setting at The Spot because I was here in Denver working and in school. I started setting here for 6 hours a month then. And eventually, in January of 2017 when they were hiring routesetters, I applied and then I started setting on a regular basis.
Tell us about your interest in industrial design?
Currently I’m in school. I study product design at Metro State University. Industrial design is the major for how to make things, like product design. For my senior project I’ll be working on trying to see if there’s a way to design climbing holds for blind people to find routes through sound. Going forward, I definitely want to get into more accessibility design.
It would be kind of a lofty dream, but it would be fun to do routesetting tools, because there’s plenty of opportunity for new tools to exist out there, like better volumes.
Does industrial design tie into your routesetting work?
Absolutely. I very much enjoy the nature of industrial design because it allows me to work with my hands. As much time as I sit in front of a computer, doing computer modeling or doing Photoshop or Illustrator or doing graphics for the product, I also spend equally as much time in a studio actually making things with my hands, building things. We’re designing actual products, we can’t just design it on a piece of paper and make a pretty picture, you actually have to build a prototype and test it out. And routesetting is the same way, where I get to work with my hands and be creative and literally test out ideas that were in my head, on the wall. So it’s a very physical, hands-on way of creating.
Can you tell us a little bit about the routesetting process at the DBC?
One of the biggest draws is that we reset very frequently. We reset an entire section every week. On Sunday night Ty and I get together and we take all the holds off the wall, take all the tape off the wall, clear all the bolts, and then we have the best hold washers in the entire country come in and wash the larger holds outside and the smaller holds inside, and put them back in the holds closet. Monday morning we start setting at 7:00 a.m. TJ actually comes in at like 6:00.
We start with a single color and we fill in with that color of holds on the wall. Then we switch to another color and we proceed through each line of colors, and on Wednesday we meet again and we set another line of colors. And then on Thursday, we strip and reset a section at the south location and repeat the process from there.
How do you know if what you’re setting is a good route or not?
There’s kind of a funny email I got one time that was like: ‘how to interpret feedback for routesetting’…If someone says that your route was their favorite route, it’s probably because they flashed it, and if they don’t like it, it’s because they couldn’t do it or something. But the reality is, you don’t want to create mindless routes that are simply a test of physical abilities. I think that a route should be very challenging for your brain, because when we boulder we’re problem-solving, and we’re utilizing a lot of power to problem-solve, but ultimately, I think the fun in bouldering is not knowing the beta and going through and learning the beta.
What are some of your favorite things about working at the gym?
My favorite thing about working at the climbing gym is really my co-workers. At the DBC, we have a very healthy family of employees here. We all get along very well and we like to hang out with each other outside of work. It’s really nice to be friends with your co-workers. So, one of the best things about the DBC is the community, which includes the community of climbers and the people who work here.
Also, I like that you can bring your dog here, because I like to bring my dog with me to work, and she can go lay down and get a bunch of love while I’m working.
As a routesetter here, I appreciate that the DBC looks for quality over quantity. So I don’t have this pressure to set as fast as possible. I get some time to be creative, and I also enjoy that we really work hard at making the best possible boulders, even in the forerunning time. So we spend ample time tweaking and improving the routes to make them great.
What are some of your favorite places to climb outside the gym?
I haven’t been there recently, but Rifle, Colorado. I like to climb in Clear Creek, I like Joe’s Valley, and I like the Virgin River Gorge. I’d like to go back to the Red and the New River Gorge, but I have not yet. Maybe this winter!
Do you listen to music when you set?
I do, I usually just listen to whatever playlist I’m listening to. Sometimes I listen to podcasts when I set. When I do tend to listen to music on bluetooth headphones, it’s like endurance training, so I’m just climbing for an extended period of time and staying on the wall, for that I tend to listen to more music.
Favorite crag snacks?
I like tea, that’s a boring answer. I like coffee, also a boring answer. I tend to be the kind of person that if I do have the time, I will pack a giant tupperware filled with a delicious, healthy lunch. So I like boiled eggs, avocados, lots of nuts, fruits, you can get these fruit bowls at Whole Foods that are pretty sweet. Peanut M&Ms and sugar free Red Bulls are my go-to snack at the gym, absolutely. But for outside, I’d say beer and maybe some salmon with rice and vegetables, that’s pretty solid. Instead of eating bars, I like to bring an actual good-sized meal with me and take time to sit and eat lunch.
Let’s talk about being a woman in the climbing world.
As much as I don’t think it should be an issue and we should be equal. I do encounter sexism when I climb. I’m not saying here at the DBC, but we are in a male-dominated sport, where there’s significantly more men who climb than women. One of the things I was talking to a girl about recently is how men will come up and offer beta when they’re trying rock climbs, but you notice that those same men would never offer beta to a male counterpart. Granted, it may be that this man is just trying to make conversation with a woman, so he’s approaching her and maybe thinking, “oh, I’ll give her beta as my way of starting a conversation with this chick I want to talk to,” but also, it is kind of sexist to think that you should offer advice to some girl climbing just because she’s a girl. Or also making comments about whether she’s physically able to do things or not do things based on being a girl. So I will say to women, I encourage you to not allow sexism to prevail, and if something happens that you think should be spoken about, instead of ignoring it, you should say something about it in order to pave the path for future female rock climbers.
What are some of your thoughts on being a female routesetter?
I’m actually disappointed when I look at all these climbing gyms around that have zero female routesetters, when maybe half of their clientele are women, or even a third of their clientele are women. I have the same problem when it comes to product design or industrial design. Half of the products in the world are used by women, but there are hardly any female designers. Why is that? Well, maybe we’re emerging from a male-dominated society. Climbing is still male-dominated, and that’s why there’s mostly male routesetters. Routesetting is still a boy’s club right now, so getting into routesetting, you’ll definitely have male cliques to overcome and connect with. And I don’t think it’s necessarily that they’re men, it’s just a routesetting clique that just also happens to be male routesetters because that’s all there is.
I would love to be just seen purely as a routesetter.
What would you say to men in the climbing world?
Just be a little conscious when you’re interacting with women. I’m not trying to say that you’re all sexist, because you aren’t and many of you are very respectful and we can all coexist in this space, but just keep in mind that sometimes people are unconsciously sexist and that slips out. That can be discouraging for women climbers, and it’s hard enough sometimes to be getting into this sport.
I would love to hear your thoughts about routesetting and women in climbing. Come talk to me next time you’re in!