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5 Tips for Onsight Climbing

Updated: Mar 20

Rock climbing has a lot of terminology, especially regarding sending (completing) climbs. The most commonly used are ‘onsight, ‘flash,’ and ‘redpoint.’ Each has slightly different caveats despite each signifying that you completed the climb without falling. Onsighting a climb is a significant accomplishment and something to be proud of because it means you do the climb on your first go without any information about it (i.e., beta). A flash is also impressive because, again, it’s when you do the climb on your first go. Unlike onsighting a climb, you can have prior information about the beta and holds if you flash a climb. Finally, redpointing a climb is when you complete the climb. It has no special conditions other than not falling along your path to the top or weighting the rope (when sport climbing).

 

You may have heard the term onsight-comp about World Cup competitions or the Olympics, as that is the format. The athletes, other than the quick preview before the start of the round, have no prior information on the boulder or lead route. Some climbers may argue that onsighting is the most impressive type of send. Regardless, onsighting climbs, especially challenging climbs, earns you street cred in the climbing community. But that’s because it is hard to do. However, every climber deserves the encouragement to try for that onsight, so to help you earn that street cred, here are five tips for onsight climbing.


5 Pointers for Onsight Climbing


Onsight climbing


1. Accept that you’ll have to try hard.

Sometimes, a climber looks at a climb and thinks it will be challenging but doable. Then, once on the problem or route, they come to a move that feels significantly harder than anticipated. That can be a mental game killer, cause panic, over-gripping, and maybe even some fear. However, if you accept that you may have to try hard on the climb before you start, you are more mentally prepared to push through when the intensity ramps. 


2. Don’t rush

While you want to make it to the top of the climb, when you rush, you open the door to silly mistakes, such as foot slips, grabbing holds out of sequencing, and climbing strong but not smart. Each of the mistakes can end your onsight attempt. So, it’s better to take your time. Suppose you’re on ropes and get to a good rest, rest. If you’re on boulders, not rushing more so applies to when you’re reading the climb. Even though you can’t accept beta from other climbers, your onsight attempt is still legitimate if you take 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes to read the problem and figure out the sequence you want to use.


3. Breathe

It’s natural to hold your breath when trying hard. But, this is a recipe for fatigue quicker and opens the door to panic. Controlling your breath will help you stay focused, keep oxygen flowing to your muscles, and keep you from downward spiraling mentally.


4. Don’t be afraid to downclimb

If you want to onsight and realize you have likely climbed a section out of sequence, don’t be afraid to downclimb back to a good hold, rest, and retry the sequence. While this is more easily done on ropes than boulders, it may be possible to match a hold to switch the order in which you will move your hands or feet next.


5. Don’t worry about climbing “pretty.”

Your onsight attempt and potential send are unlikely to be the cleanest you’ve ever climbed. When you’re trying hard and don’t want to fall, climbing scrappy is normal. You may smear more frequently, have loud feet, overgrip, unnecessarily match holds, etc. You can return to the climb afterward and climb it more efficiently, but don’t expect every onsight to feel smooth or flowy.


Ultimately, most of these tips aim to get you out of your head and eliminate the mental challenges of sighting a climb. The physical challenges are a battle enough that you don’t want to get in your way by overthinking. Most importantly, have fun and be confident. If you follow this advice, have a good time, and believe that you are capable, your chances of successfully onsight climbing will shoot up! If you have time, please comment below if you found this article helpful, and feel free to share your onsight stories and tips!

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