Behind the colorful arrangement of problems and routes in climbing gyms, there is the setter’s eye.He’s the guy who decides which moves are needed to reach the top.A discreet and often invisible creative presence, he choreographs the vertical realm.Baptiste Cherbilly, aged 23, devises these sequences of motion by colors.Wielding a drill in chalk palmed hand, he crafts a kind of sport-dance with his fingertips.

There’s something painterly about him. He steps back from the wall, considers the big picture, runs his hands over it. And returns to his rough draft, pulls a face, tilts his head, then steps close and places his hands on the big shapes, gauges the distance of the dyno. And shakes his head. You could swap his drill for a brush; the pieces of colored resin for a palette of oil paints. Like on a giant canvas, Baptiste draws mountains, with stylized summits and snow-clad routes, fixing a final hold to hang from at the peak. Each day at the Cortigrimpe gym in Annecy, in the French Alps, he maps out ephemeral paths and the sequences of moves they entail. “I love route setting. It’s never the same, it asks questions of you. And it’s creative.”

Jérémy Bernard - Compo

For this boulder, explains Baptiste, he “wanted to interpret the words Rise Up – expressing lightness, physical and spiritual elevation, plus the idea of committing and vertigo as well. The climber leaves the rain falling from a little blue cloud – which symbolizes the worries of daily life – by leaping from the ground (“this dynamic foot throw is the key movement in the problem”). This requires a degree of commitment: propel the foot but also the whole body towards the next hold, which your toetips connect with. Not easy. And original too. “I’m keen on the idea of committing, especially in the gym… Indoors, you can scare yourself!” Baptiste tests it several times, to his satisfaction. He takes a bit of time to correctly position the small holds that will be used by the hands, fine-tuning their direction, screwing and unscrewing. “There we go – it’s not any harder, but it’s a little bit scarier… .” He climbs it again and exclaims, “It’s a goer!»

« with each problem, there’s a secret you have to find, some little thing. The climber must work out what I meant»
An excellent climber, this Parisian found the mountains to be the perfect escape route from his high-school problems. “I did very little climbing when I was younger, my main sports were skiing, running, orienteering and cycling.” He got into climbing seriously after a six-month rehab following a serious ski-touring accident. That was four years ago. “Climbing was my way back into sport… and I really threw myself into it!”
After the initial leap into the void, you must climb the wall and get into position for the concluding dyno. The leap is perilous. Local member Dylan tests it first – successfully. Baptiste is impressed, but he still reduces the distance of the dyno, which he feels is a tad too risky. “The idea is to finish hanging from a hold, feeling nice and light – as if free from gravity.” This kind of creative problem is a special kind of exercise for Baptiste; day to day, his primary role is making sure he offers his regulars sufficient variety in terms of technicality, difficulty and style.
«I LIKE EXPRESSING lightness, physical and spiritual elevation, plus the idea of committing and vertigo as well»
Jérémy Bernard - Millet BC1

Come back in two months’ time, and all the problems will have changed! “We offer movements that are enjoyable and drive progress, because the gym is a tool for improving,” he says. For competitions, the job’s different: the setters more readily tap their inspiration, and the result more strongly reflects their own personal style. Once content, after many bouncy strides to and fro over the crash pads, and pulling plenty of satisfied or dissatisfied faces, Baptiste decides he has finished. “You see,” he explains, folding his arms, drill dangling at his hip and hands whitened, “with each problem, there’s a secret you have to find, some little thing. The climber must work out what I meant.” Over to you…

Texts & pictures
Guillaume Desmurs