If you're mostly a daytime climber, you've probably seen Chris and his dedicated crew of routesetters setting — and making a general racket — at one of the gyms on any given weekday. You can barely hear him and his crew cracking jokes and making fun of each other over the noise of their drills, but be assured — most everything that comes out of their mouths to each other is some form of ball-busting, but that's how it goes. They know how to set, and how to actually make it ... fun? Chris was one of Kyle's first kids on Team Texas, and joined forces with Stan and Kyle when they first bought Summit Grapevine. He now wears many hats — owner, routesetter, and orchestrator of many things within the yoga program. He's a super busy guy, but make sure you thank him for all the work he and his crew does by setting stellar new routes and problems every week, so we never get bored!
How long have you been climbing for?
I started at Exposure (now Summit Carrollton) in '95 or '96. My brother had first tried climbing with a church group and I went with him. So we climbed at the gym once a month, when my mom would take us, and then we met Kyle and joined the team. My brother is a musician and that’s why he quit, because he had to play piano. But I stuck with it!
How did you first become involved with Team Texas, and then the gyms?
When I first joined the team, it wasn’t Team Texas. The team then was just Kyle, me, my brother, Sarah Broun, and Robert Quinlan. We didn’t have a name — we just went in and Kyle taught us how to use our feet, how to read routes, and that was it. There weren’t even any competitions. We didn’t really start doing competitions until two years later, 98 or 99. If you count '96 as being my first year, then I was on team until 2003 when I graduated high school, and I guided for the team for a few years after that.
I started working at Exposure as a routesetter around 2008, and then started with gym ownership when Kyle and Stan bought Grapevine. I had an opportunity to be partners with them, so they sold me a percentage of the company.
What's your routesetting background?
USA Climbing developed a certification system for routesetting for competitions. That was something I was always interested in, because I liked competing when I was a kid, and I liked setting for competitions because ... here is this crowd of people — these are the people that are going to compete, I am creating routes for them, and the goal is obviously to get one person to the top and split the rest of the field up. Or, at least, that’s the perfect comp route. USA Climbing has levels one through 5 certifications — I got to skip Level 1 — and I am now Level 4. You have to apply to national competitions to be able to set at them, and I just apply to every single event. But it's really competitive. So back in 2011 I did the Junior Nationals as an intern, which is really eye opening because it’s so, so hard, because of the amount of work that goes into it. It was an unpaid 100 hour week. I kept applying to events, and I was an apprentice at the Junior Nationals in 2014, after I got a last minute call to replace someone. I literally bought a ticket and flew out the next morning. Now I am a Level 4, which means I can be an assistant routesetter for any national event, and I can be headsetter at basically any event under Nationals. At these types of events you’re volunteering. There are people chomping at the bit to get your spot, so if you get the opportunity, you gotta do it.
How's your current routesetting crew?
I feel good about my current crew. I think that we have a lot of talent, a lot of potential and we’re getting better. We've started doing routesetter development days, where we go in and we just work on one move. For three hours — like we’re going to set this move and we’re going to keep working on it until we set it right. We're making sure everyone is always getting better at routesetting and making sure that we’re listening to customer feedback.
Favorite Summit memory?
So when I was a 13-year old kid climbing out of Exposure, the employees wold coax me into doing safety tests on new belayers by giving me a Gatorade. When it would be really busy, and the guys back then would say 'Hey, can you help us do safety tests?' and I was like, a little kid, and I would go 'Umm ... yeah, sure ... ' and then they’d say 'We’ll give you a Gatorade!' and then I was like 'OK! I would love that!' And then I'd do the test and then I'd get paid in a Gatorade.
What’s in store for the future of Summit?
Obviously grow, more gyms. Now that we're adding a fourth gym, it's hard to keep the setting fresh and different at so many gyms. I think the goal is not to stagnate, to keep it different, to keep it interesting. For us to progress as far as developing the craft of routesetting, each crew member has to be as versatile as any other guy, and be able to set any number of styles.
Little known facts about Chris:
He once beat Kevin Jorgeson at a World Cup, when he and Kevin were teens in 2002.
In Chris' words — "So DAWN WALL WHAT."
He's the only gym owner with a degree! It's in Spanish — so next time you see him make sure you say, "Listen, you know I can't speak Spanish," to him in a Ron Burgundy voice and see if he'll speak in Spanish to you. Or be annoyed. Whichever comes first. He also speaks some French and a little bit of Catalán — skills left over from when he lived abroad in college.
Chris once almost died while climbing with a fellow team member in Mexico. They were both pretty young, and climbing the 15-pitch sport climb Yankee Clipper in Potrero Chico. He and his friend Zach were simul-rappelling off one pitch onto the ledge below. Zach didn't have his end of the rope knotted and let it go through his Gri Gri once he reached the ledge, so Chris free-fell for about 10 feet until he landed on the ledge and kept from rolling off and falling another 500 feet to the ground. He thought Zach had just let the slack out of his Gri Gri — he didn't know he was fully off belay and basically almost died until they returned to the ground. "I actually thought, 'If I roll off this ledge, that’s gonna suck,'" Chris said, "but at least there’s a knot on the end of the rope ... which there wasn’t a knot in the end of the rope."
He broke his foot a few years ago while attempting El Cap, and took a massive whipper.
He made some first ascents at Hueco while living there for three months after high school. He became a certified Hueco Tanks Climbing Guide while living there, and continued to give the occasional tour for years after that.
Fun fact: Chris is crazy strong, and has probably climbed over 100 13s, and a few 14s.
He was featured on Rock and Ice's Weekend Whipper a couple months ago, while victory whipping off the top of the Red's Omaha Beach, 14a.
He has received shout-outs in a couple guidebooks, and developed a lot of boulder problems while living in Austin. He doesn't remember a lot of the names he gave to his problems, but apparently he had a penchant for Wes Andersen-themed titles, like "Mr. Littlejeans," and "Gypsy Cab Company." He even named his dog after Margot Tenenbaum.
Well, that sums it up! Unfortunately you won't see Chris climbing at the gyms too often, but if you do, keep in mind that he's one of those really obnoxious types of climbers who never climb, but can somehow ALWAYS pull off like, V9 off the couch. But he's been climbing a long time, and obviously has some insane, often hazardous stories to tell.
So thanks for not falling off that cliff, Chris. The gyms need you.