When climbers go sport climbing in Quebec, they generally find established routes that have been scrubbed, stripped of loose rock, and equipped with bolts and solid anchors at the belays. But who’s responsible for all that goodness?
Cleaning, outfitting and maintaining routes is done, in the most part, by an established group of volunteer route setters who take time off work or use their vacations to scout out crags, clean potential lines and bolt routes so they can be safely climbed.
These experienced route developers are accredited by the Fédération Québécoise de la Montagne et de L’escalade (FQME). Many get supplies and materials as well as specific training that’s financed by the members of the Fédération.
They are all very experienced climbers, trailblazers and artists who can read a rock face and see its most elegant and compelling lines. They can spot potential hazards and know how to create safe climbing areas, so local climbers and visitors to the province can discover new routes and practise the sport they love with confidence – without having to stress about objective hazards, sketchy bolting or gut-churning runouts.
Prepping a route, drilling and fixing anchors is a highly technical process. It’s not something anyone can learn or master quickly. Most climbers who’ve been clipping bolts for a while have climbed examples of excellent routes as well as routes that could have been established more “thoughtfully.”
Any successful route developer should have the skills to expose the best, most beautiful, most challenging lines at a crag and to grade them accurately and consistently. Some route setters also write climbing guidebooks, so they’re the people who describe a route’s specific challenges and give climbers crucial info about the equipment and crux sections.
Route development involves more than just cleaning and bolting, so the FQME collaborates with landowners and park managers to ensure continued access to climbing areas. They fund development and provide training to make sure bolting is done in line with established security codes and environmental standards. The objective for new route development is always to do it with minimal impact on the environment, and to follow guidelines set up by internal committees of the FQME.
Climbers who are members of the FQME and opt to support the Accès Montagne level provide funding for the gear needed to establish routes, and provide support to the provincial route setters. Without the FQME and the volunteers who set routes, quality climbing wouldn’t exist the way it does currently in Quebec.
Both climbers and the FQME count on the work of volunteer route setters who clear brush, prune vegetation, scrub moss, drill rock and set out to discover interesting new walls and amazing routes to climb.