Meet Mike Bockino – The Front’s World-Class Route Setting Boss

Meet Mike Bockino – The Front’s World-Class Route Setting Boss

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On March 25, 2019
  • Comments

Mike Bockino is joining us for April’s Member Meetup on Tuesday, April 16th. He’ll be sharing a behind the scenes look into setting routes both in our gym and on the National Competition circuit.

Mike is originally from the town of Moscow in northern Idaho and discovered climbing the spring of 1999 in Mazama, WA when his sister Nancy, an accomplished rock and ski guide in the Tetons, took him climbing for the first time. As a little brother trying to keep up with his rad big sister, he jumped right in and twenty years later, he’s now one of the top route setters in the country. Mike’s also an accomplished climber, with ascents up to V13 and 5.14c. We’re lucky to have someone so experienced and passionate on our team, and that’s a huge bonus for all of our members!

Here’s a short interview with Mike to get you prepped for the member meetup on April 16th! If you can’t make it to the meetup, feel free hit him up in the gym, he’s always down to talk shop about setting and climbing.

How did you get into setting? What was your path to becoming the Director of Route Setting at The Front?

In the summer of 2000 I was riding my bike eight miles to Pullman, Washington just across the border to climb at the gym there (we didn’t have a gym in Moscow yet).  I showed up one day and the gym was “closed” as they were setting.  I begged them to let me climb and I put up a couple of likely the worst boulders on the planet.  Over the years I ended up setting at the college gym I attended there – I set for all of the events there as well as some in the surrounding area.  I built houses and route set off and on for the next seven or eight years, and finally settled in SLC in the winter of 2010.  That’s when I began to volunteer set at The Front SLC, when it was still just bouldering.  Six months later we moved to Boise and I started managing The Front’s gym there for the next few years (that gym is now closed). I moved back to SLC in 2013 and we started building our setting program and today we have one of the best setting teams in the country.  

Any big career highlights as a climber and/or route setter?  

Well, I did do the 2nd ascent of some obscure 60m route in Oregon that hadn’t been repeated in 22 years that nobody has ever heard of :). As a route setter, I’d say big highlights are being the National Chief Route Setter for youth bouldering in 2019, and this summer I will set a bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado.

Tell us a little more about your involvement in the national comp scene.

I’m a National Chief Route Setter (meaning I can be in charge of any national level events), a USA Climbing clinic instructor (I teach route setting clinics to people getting into it and progressing through the steps to become national crew setters), and  I’m part of the soon-to-be competition task force for USAC that will decide how to bring the US into alignment with the IFSC ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

What do you love about climbing and route setting in particular?

I love being outside and doing whatever you want really.  Alpine bouldering will always be my favorite discipline.  It’s wild and there are consequences to what you do.  Being at 11,000 feet scrubbing projects and building landings is a great feeling.  I also really love the freedom of gym bouldering.  There is something to be said about trying the ultimate hardest moves you can do with little to no repercussions if you fall.

As for route setting…I love working hard, and really enjoy watching people try things that I’ve set, seeing how they move intuitively (a lot of the time it’s the opposite way that you think it will be), screwing holds to other holds, and having fun.  I also really like telling people who ask that most of route setting is guesswork and seeing the reaction that they have when they realize that you are serious.  Even at the highest level, it’s still guessing.  

As head route setter for both The Front and in the national comp circuit, what role do you play in defining how people move and climb?

I guess I would answer that by explaining the differences in commercial and competition route setting. Commercial route setting is all about the user, and their experience. Emphasis is generally placed on them having a good experience and wanting to come back.

Competition setting is all about dividing the field into their respective places, and with that comes much less of an emphasis on the user experience. For sure we want the athletes to “enjoy” the climbs, but the main focus isn’t that they are comfortable. We set things for competition that are uncomfortable, irreversible, and complex to challenge them mentally and physically.

After all that, one thing I would say is that after every major competition, at least one person comes in and is psyched to try and recreate some move of some boulder they saw in the event. In general, if we want to set with more crimps, then people in the gym will climb more on crimps. Same goes for other styles of holds, movements etc. I guess I don’t really feel like I personally have much of an influence until after the fact, when they realize that they were deficient in x, and go home and train that, only to find out that next years nationals have a whole different feel.

Can you describe the process that goes into setting new boulders or routes? 

Our process is a lot less romantic than most people think…you put holds up in a way that you want the route/boulder to climb, and then you test it (fore running) and make sure that it works for the grade that it is supposed to be and that the moves/style/holds are appropriate for the grade.

What kinds of challenges do you and your team experience when setting new routes?  

Honestly, the biggest challenge we face is overall fatigue.  The general challenge of the physical workload is obvious (it’s a ton of climbing, lifting heavy shit, etc), but the constant motivation to set something fun and creative is also a challenge.

Indoor climbing styles have been changing over the last few years…what’s driving that, where is it going, and how are we seeing this in our gym?  

Trends fluctuate for sure, big holds are cool right now, fiberglass, volumes, etc.  The style is something that is unique to each gym, like a crag or bouldering area.

What can Front members expect and look for in our gym?

​Expect to be challenged.  We want to challenge you to the edge, and leave you wanting to come back to try that one that got away.

Anything else you want to share?  ​

My favorite color is red.
Married.  No kids.  just a dog.

Come meet Mike and ask him questions during the free Member Meetup on April 16th from 7:30-8:30pm! Get climbing beta, ask about route setting, give general feedback about the setting in our gym… Whatever your heart desires! Plus, there will be free chips and salsa as well as $2 tacos and beers. Learn more on our meetup website page or RSVP on Facebook.