The spider monkey

Noah Aigner has been the head route setter at the Student Recreation Center climbing wall for more than two years.

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Noah Aigner ascends a few feet up the climbing wall and begins working his feet out to the right. Steadily, deliberately, he rotates, his hands planted as his legs pass directly over his head, from hold to hold, and back around to the starting position. He’s known as the spider monkey.

Aigner, 23, a political science major, is the head route setter at the Student Recreation Center (SRC) climbing wall. He said he began picking up shifts at the wall nearly four years ago for extra hours. Soon, however, it became much more than a paycheck.

“While working here I realized this is what I want to do,” Aigner said. “I love climbing; I love the community and doing the work. For the first time I was able to see a direct path for my life beyond college. I had struggled with motivation a lot — it was a liberating epiphany for me.”

Through research Aigner learned his dream was accessible. Inspired, he began working toward the head route setter position and achieved his goal in about a year. He has been the head setter for more than two years.

“Setting is a freestyle with no restriction,” Aigner said. “I personally try to set weird moves that we haven’t had on the wall before because I get tired of seeing the same things over and over again.”

Aigner said they change about six routes three times a week to give patrons a chance to master routes while also providing new ones. He said each session takes about four hours and is done either in the morning or evening.

“Each set has a color to keep you on track, the numbered cards denote level of difficulty,” Aigner said. “The higher the number, the harder the route.”

The setters name their routes, allowing them to further personalize their creations. To list a few: “Where Are My Feet,” “Show Them the Ropes,” and “ROTMF” which stands for “Route of Too Much Fun.”

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Aigner said he and many other setters find inspiration for setting in routes they’ve climbed outside. His face lit up as he described his current favorite route.

“There’s this decent-sized black hold in the middle that you stick your toes in and hang by your feet,” he said. “You’re hanging upside down and then you walk your arms in a circle, then you come back to it with your hands. It’s challenging but fun.”

Rock climbing has become a way of life for Aigner. When he’s not creating new sets for patrons, Aigner works on his own climbing techniques. From a distance, he seems like any other enthusiastic climber and staff member, but as soon as he touches the wall it’s easy to see his level of mastery.

“I started rock climbing shortly before I began working here,” Aigner said, “but it’s not only about climbing new sets and setting, it’s also about growing and witnessing growth, it’s about the art in creating a set and having freedom in movement.”

Aigner said the SRC has three paid route setters, about 15 volunteer setters, and welcomes new participants. Aigner said after he graduates at the end of the semester his goal is to manage and set routes at a commercial rock climbing gym.

“A lot of commercial gyms stick with their paid setters,” Challenge Program Coordinator Mandy Schenkemeyer said, “but we want people to advance their climbing technique and be able to learn how to set.”

Setting helps the climber gain skills needed to better understand a route, Schenkemeyer said, which leads to better climbing technique.

“That’s what the Rec is about,” Aigner added. “Always offering our members their desired level of mental and physical growth and development.”