Meet your Routesetter / Coach: Ellis Whitson, Summit routesetter and coach for Team Texas

I know you guys have definitely seen him around, since between coaching and routesetting, Ellis is basically at one gym or another ALL THE TIME. He's a busy guy for sure, but always worth chatting with for a moment, even if it's to just get some beta from him. He's one of those guys whose beta always works, even when you insist it won't. HE ALWAYS KNOW BETTER! That's probably why he's a coach, but whatever. There's a lot to this guy, so check out this post to learn up on this multi-talented Baltimore-native, also the owner of the über goofy super-mutt with the best underbite, who can sometimes seen on the patio at Summit Carrollton. How long have you been working at Summit for?

About 1,000.

But seriously, a little over 2 years. I first started working here because I have known Kyle (Clinkscales) for a couple years. I was a coach before of a competitive climbing team, and he offered me a job in the summer of 2013. I went on a short trip with Team Texas and then about a week later moved to Dallas.

How did you start climbing?

I climbed for the first time when I was actually 11 or 12 through Boy Scouts. We went outside and inside and climbed and rappelled and stuff. Right before I turned 18, I decided I wanted to do it again and I went climbing, and from there was pretty much hooked. I started climbing all the time from then on out. So now it's has been a little over 10 years.

What is your coaching background?

I've been coaching for about 9 years. I started coaching pretty soon after I started climbing, within two years. It started as more just like, instructional-based stuff. It wasn’t really coaching the way I coach now. It was more just instructing skills and fundamentals and stuff like that to adults and kids. I have coached in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and little bit in Gunnison, CO. I have guest-coached at a few random places, like Ohio, Boston and North Carolina.

What is your routesetting experience?

Routesetting was basically the same as coaching — I started doing it pretty early on in my climbing career. Because I was at the gym all the time, I started setting and making up stuff for myself and just had fun. Then I started setting with the local routesetters at Earth Treks (gym in Maryland). I did it for fun I did it for free, but eventually I got a full-time gig coaching and setting for them. I also was the head routesetter at the climbing gym in Harker Heights for a bit.

How does being a coach affect your routesetting?

I think being a coach informs my routesetting, because I set with a different purpose than if I was just a routesetter. I think it personally broadens my customer base, and who I am aiming and gearing my product towards. A lot of the time, I try to find inspiration or a muse in routesetting — I have a certain user group in mind. I am attempting to create a teachable climb. For me, it’s more engaging and purposeful.

Favorite climbing area?

The Fortress of Solitude in Colorado.

Does Superman live there?

He does and you have to fight him to gain entrance to the rock climbing. He guards it.

Did you fight him?

I did.

Did you win?

Well, I am made of kryptonite. So I f#$*ed him up.

Favorite climb?

Probably Super Charger, 13d at the Red River Gorge.

Favorite Summit memory?

I would say setting and preparing for our comps, in general, are great memories for me. Ryan Sewell was still setting with us, and the very first season after I moved here, we did so many comps. We did our three Summit Series comps, we did USA Climbing's Youth Regionals that year, we did a Valentine's Day comp, we did a spring comp, and we did USAC's rope Regionals. In a matter of 10 months, we did like, 8 comps. It was crazy and a ton of work, but we had a really good crew and it was a lot of fun. We set an entire ABS onsight Regionals competition — which was 6 boulder problems for 10 different categories of climbers —and it got cancelled the day of the comp because of this giant ice storm that knocked out power to EVERYTHING. So we basically worked for an entire week … and set this comp for no one. After we heard the news we walked out of the gym at noon and were just like, "Well, our weekend is over ..."

Little know facts about Ellis:

He has lived in some pretty random spots. And not like Beaver Creek, Montana random. More like, sometimes-not-even-living-in-a-house random. After he first moved to Texas, he lived out back of Summit Grapevine in Kyle's old camper before he found a real spot to live. Ellis says, "It was my man cave. Or my only cave, really. My mandatory living cave."

He also lived out of his car for quite a long time, touring the country and climbing and being the true personification of the climbing dirtbag. If you've ever seen that beat up old maroon Tacoma (the one mauled with stickers and now permanently donated to Summit Carrollton's parking lot), then know that Ellis lived out of the back of that thing in Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and the deserts of California.

He's also held some pretty random jobs, too. He had a brief stint working for AmeriCorps, doing things like reforesting damaged areas and doing invasive species removal, as well as working on a boat in the Chesapeake bay for a few weeks planting sea grass. He has also been a kayak instructor.

Speaking of boats, Ellis used to be quite the sailor. He sailed for three or four years when he was in middle school. Literally. He just sailed straight. For three years. Kidding, but he can legitimately sail a boat like a majestic but overly-polite pirate.

Probably the COOLEST fact of all is that Ellis used to be in a freakin' HEAVY METAL BAND. For about 7 years he was the drummer of Eternal Winter, and he and the band toured the east coast destroying ears and melting faces.

Ellis is the one on the right with the epic green wool cape (which he still owns.) Also of note: the fact that Ellis' hair used to be down to his waist. You know, for the sake of metal.
Ellis is the one on the right with the epic green wool cape (which he still owns.) Also of note: the fact that Ellis' hair used to be down to his waist. You know, for the sake of metal.

Alright, so there it is! I just wrote the book on Ellis Whitson, and thanks for reading. Make sure to thank him next time you see him for all the setting he does, and he totally loves talking about his Eternal Winter days, so please ask him about it constantly.

Do it.