Morpho moves

Mirthe van Liere

Routesetter Michiel Hennevelt has returned from the Swiss mountains of Chironico, treating us to another column. This time, our favorite critic will attempt to put an end to all discussion about reachy moves and complaining shorties.

Imagine the following situation: you are the chief setter of a bouldering national championship. After the competition, a climber approaches you, dissatisfied with their own results and not having enjoyed the competition.

“The problems were far too difficult for me personally, even though the other climbers didn’t seem to have too much difficulty with them”, this climber complains.
“Perhaps you should have trained harder”, could be a logical reaction from your end.
“Oh I trained as hard as the other competitors, my results just aren’t as good.”
“How come?”
“Talent just isn’t part of my genes, I can’t help that! I’d appreciate it if you could take this into account next time.”

This may strike you as an absurd conversation, but for most routesetters this is business as usual. Just replace the word “talent” with “length”.

Climbing competitions can’t possibly be a level playing field, which some people just don’t seem to understand. No two individuals have the exact same genes, therefore one of them will always have to train harder to reach the same results, whether this is because of their different length or other factors. Still, the argument of length just keeps popping up in the climbing world. How come? Do these critics’ points have any validity in them?

Timo Tak

Answering the first question is the easy part. When failing to finish a route or a boulder problem, climbers will reflect on why they couldn’t make it. Problem solving is a major element of climbing, and for a problem to be solved you’ll first need to analyze what exactly the problem is. A fair amount of honesty and self knowledge is required to be able to find this problem within yourself, instead of attributing it to factors you cannot control or influence. “Bad conditions”, “bad setting” and “I’m too short to do this” are some easy ways out of actually solving the problem. This way, you can be excused from trying to climb the route or boulder again, since you can’t help it that you didn’t make it to the top before. In all honesty, I’m yet to meet the first climber who hasn’t succumbed to the seduction of using this reasoning – myself included.

Naturally, every climber will complain once in a while, which is just fine. Whether or not a routesetter should actually listen to these complaints is another question. Morpho moves can be placed within two different categories. The first type of morpho moves are those that are simply impossible to execute for climbers who lack a certain body length or arm span. My verdict on these moves is quite simple: a setter should not incorporate such moves in their boulders or routes. However, most reachy moves do not fall into this category.

Instead, these moves should be placed in a second category: moves that could be harder or easier depending on certain body shapes and ratios. This is a more broad definition than would normally be considered morpho moves, but it is also more accurate: tall climbers are actually at a disadvantage in some cases. Put quite simply, category two moves are all moves not part of category one. Body ratios influence the way you navigate your body through moves at all levels. The movement is different for every single person, as is the strength required to do this. The larger the discrepancy in strength required for different body shapes, the more length-sensitive the move is. The exact discrepancy depends on the nature of the move.


So much for theory, let’s take a look at how this translates into practice. Earlier this year, we reported that female competitors of a national bouldering competition in Holland thought the problems of the particular competition were very length-dependent. In one of these boulder problems, the competitors had to jam their foot in between two volumes, as can be seen in the photo above. When setting moves like this one, the danger of creating a category one move is extremely large. If a climber cannot reach for the next hold with their foot still jammed, they simply cannot make the move. In this particular case, it turned out that the move being morpho was a misconception. Dutch top climber Vera Zijlstra solved the problem using an elegant dynamic hop. This goes to show that the concept of morpho moves is often misunderstood, especially by climbers who have no experience setting problems themselves.

Returning to the question I posed earlier: complaints about category one moves are definitely justified, provided the move is actually impossible for climbers with a certain body ratio. Setters are generally perfectly able to avoid setting such moves. Should a setter accidentally create a true category one move then climbers are entirely right to point this out to the setter of course.

The discussion is more interesting for category two moves. The issue with complaining about these moves is that climbers are too quick to point to factors that lie outside of their control. The emphasis is put on their lack of length, while this is just one of many aspects in the multifaceted sport of climbing. Why not consider how climbers’ direct competitors solve the problem? If setters would take all these complaints into consideration, an entire array of possible moves to use when setting is lost. If the arguments to back up these complaints are questionable, losing this part of their repertoire is an incredible waste. Variation is one of the main goals for any good setter. In the end, competitions are won by the strongest and best climbers, not the tallest climbers. Even though the fact that a shorter climber may have to train harder to be the best may feel unfair, it shouldn’t be considered a hurdle impossible to conquer.

Text: Michiel Hennevelt (translation by Bram Berkien)
Photos: Tim van der Linden (NKBV), Koen de Greef (cover).


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Bram Berkien

Mede-oprichter van Siked! Verzorgt fotografie en een artikel hier en daar. Daarnaast ook zelfstandig werkzaam als active lifestyle fotograaf. Na een begin als boulderaar kan hij nu ook de lokroep van het sportklimmen niet weerstaan.