April 13, 2017 1:14 pm

Zonal SettingSince opening in 2012, Highball has delivered a dynamic route setting program for the Bouldering Walls which has, up until now, been driven by circuit colour. This means we take down a certain colour (grade) all in one go, wash all the chalk and rubber off the holds, and then reset that circuit a couple of days later.

The whole circuit idea come from Fontainebleau in France, a mecca for bouldering outdoors and now widely considered to be one of the best outdoor bouldering places in the world (It really is amazing, no matter what grade you climb).

Originally the boulders were used by the alpinists of the time as training for climbing in the bigger ranges. They would head out and get some much needed climbing closer to home ready for their next foray into the mountains. This helped with their technique, but they also used to link problems together running between the different boulders to try to recreate a much longer climb. Over time, these boulder problems were grouped into similar grades and given a colour to identify ‘circuits’ of similar grade; an idea which was adopted by many climbing centres for their bouldering walls.

There is another approach to route setting which is ‘zonal’; setting areas of the wall in one go, rather than whole circuits. We have discussed a change from ‘circuits’ to ‘zonal’ many times; with the crew, with our guest setters (many of whom are very pro the change) and also with some of you. After much deliberation, we believe we are now at the point where the positives out way the negatives, and believe switching to ‘zonal’ will make for a much better climbing experience for everyone.


  • The bouldering walls have been divided into 4 zones (plus the comp wall).
  • Each zone has approximately 40 boulder problems – split across all the circuits
  • Each zone will be stripped and reset every 8 weeks.
  • So, roughly every fortnight, everyone will have something new to climb.



  • Circuits still exist i.e. colours will still represent certain grades
  • When each Zone is set, everybody will get something new to climb. Our guest route setters will set across the grade spectrum, so even our easier problems will be set by the best route setters in the country.
  • When we strip a zone, only 4 or 5 problems from each coloured circuit will be removed, leaving around 15 problems available to climb across the rest of the centre. This differs to ‘setting by circuit’ where some people may have nothing to climb for a few days as we’ve taken all ‘their’ colour off the wall entirely.
  • Volumes can (and will) be easily added and removed. So, not only will the problems change but, the angles of the wall will too.
  • Route setters will be responsible for setting their zone only and will not be setting over another route setters problems. This means they will not ‘inadvertently’ negatively affect a problem which was previously set by someone else e.g. by putting a big hold or volume next to a small hold.
  • Circuits will now contain different styles of setting as multiple route setters will have set 4-5 problems, however, the grading may be less consistent – see below*
  • Improves health and safety when setting and stripping – Setting zonally means we can cordon off areas and make loads of creative mess without endangering our customers.
  • It will make it easier to maintain, alter and repaint the walls, which we intend to do once we’ve got zonal setting locked in.
  • We believe it will make setting quicker and our in house setting team will be able to learn and develop their skills by working closely with our guests.


  • After being set, the new zone will probably be busier for a few days. There’s no getting away from this. We’ve spoken to other walls who set zonally and feedback is whilst this does happen, people will naturally spread themselves out.
  • Having enough holds and volumes to interchange between zones i.e making sure holds move around zones rather than always going back up in the same place (this a problem for us, not you! – see below)
  • * *Whilst hold colours will still represent a grade or grades, the consistency across the circuit may (will!) vary because they will have been set by more than one setter, although this is also a ‘Pro’ see above.



  • Zone 1: The Rab Slab, NCMC Prow, E9 Wall
  • Zone 2: The Back Wall (Opposite Rear of Boulder)
  • Zone 3: Front and Left hand side of Boulder, Beta and Tenaya walls
  • Zone 4: The Cave, Right hand side and Back of Boulder



As we are having a shake up of the setting, we thought it would be a good time to invest in some new holds and add more volumes to our stock. We have ordered 18 new volumes from to be used on the circuit walls, as well as adding another 20 or so from Rob Napier. We also took a trip to Sheffield to visit our good friends at Beta Climbing Designs to have a look at their range of holds and we have chosen a number of new sets to add to our Green and Black circuits along with a further 23 new macro holds (large holds, almost volumes) which will be divided across the (single colour) circuits.



It all kicks off week commencing 17th April with Zone 1 being first on the list. Jason Pickles will be our first guest setters to ‘av at it’, and he’ll be supported by one or two of our team. Here’s the low down on the

ZONE 1: Jason Pickles    19/20 Apr

ZONE 2: Matt Birch   10/11 May

ZONE 3: Jason Pickles   17/18 May

COMP ZONE:  25/26 May

ZONE 4:  Watch this space!




I like to warm up by climbing circuits, will there still be circuits to climb?

Yes, boulder problems will still be graded and arranged by colour, it’s just that we wont be re-setting whole circuits (one colour) in one go. One of the big pluses of zonal setting is that even when we strip a wall, each circuit will only lose around 4-5 problems. So, for example, whether you climb Greds or Reds, there’ll still be 15 Greds or Reds left to climb when the zone is stripped. Compare that to now, where if we reset reds, all the reds come down.

What do route setters think of the idea?

Overall the response has been positive. In fact, it was our guest route setters who planted the seeds of change with Jamie (Cassidy), Yann (Genoux) and Jason (Pickles) three of the primary instigators.

If its not broken why fix it?

Just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean you can’t do it better. We believe the pros far out way the cons. Moving to ‘Zonal’ is something we have been considering for nearly 2 years and apart from the obvious issue of having a busy zone for a few days, there isn’t really many more negatives, however, there are many positives, and one of the most exciting is being able to add and change the volumes every 8 weeks, changing the angles and breathing new life into the walls we know so well.

There’s also a big improvement for health and safety during stripping and setting. Despite our signage and the crews verbal reminders at reception, our lovely customers would always be attracted to the route setter and their ladder, and its not been uncommon for the odd customer to attempt to climb a problem which starts directly under said ladder….. ok that’s a slight exaggeration….. What we’re saying is zonal setting makes it easier to keep staff and customers safe.



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