By Karly Rager Priest
Hey there! I’m Karly – I am a Trango athlete and a Certified Personal Trainer, and I run my own coaching business, Project Direct Coaching (@projectdirect_coaching). I work with a lot of climbers, and many, many questions come up about the jargon related to onsighting. So, I want to provide you with a breakdown of the lingo & my main tips for onsighting single- and multi-pitch routes! I hope this makes it more clear for you and gets you stoked to onsight!
Karly Rager Priest on The Great Train Robbery Extension, 5.12a.
Photo by Nate Kenney
Definitions & Nuances
Let’s start with the basics! Below are definitions that will help you navigate the lingo surrounding onsighting and sending:
Flash: Sending/Redpointing (see definition below) a route on your first attempt, but after collecting a significant amount of information about the route. This can mean watching beta videos on it, talking to people about it at the crag before your attempt, or getting a very detailed description from an online forum like Mountain Project, 8a, or The Crag.
Note: A grey area certainly exists between a flash and an onsight due to the prevalence of information on the Internet about certain climbs. Some of the information is needed for a safe experience (what gear to bring, rappels, etc.). Beta on logistics wouldn’t be considered too much information to not qualify as a onsight. Beta on movement, on the other hand, may push you into the category of flash instead of onsight. At the end of the day, it is my recommendation to find the boundaries and limitations that determine your onsight and try to climb in the style that is most fulfilling to you. Give yourself credit where credit is due, but also call it a flash when you know that is more accurate.
Onsight: Sending/Redpointing a route on your first attempt, without prior knowledge about the route.
Bouldering note: Normally you can see the entire boulder problem before trying it. Because of this, boulderers typically only use the designation of flash (see definition above) if you send on your first attempt.
Onsight Level: The grade at which you consistently onsight. This is used a lot by coaches and mentors and I do want to include it here for you. If you consistently onsight all 5.10s (say, 95% of the time), 5.10 would be your comfortable onsight level.
On-Point: This term is used when people talk about moves in isolation vs. on a redpoint attempt. This sounds like, “I can pull the moves that way in isolation, but I think I’ll use different beta on-point. It is a few more moves, but they are higher-percentage!”
Redpoint: You climb the route from bottom to top without taking a fall or weighting the rope. This term is the same as send, but it is not used for bouldering. If you are curious to where this term comes from, I recommend watching Rotpunkt to learn this history!
Pinkpoint: This is the term for sending a trad route with the gear already placed. In general, people shoot for the redpoint by placing all of their own protection as they climb. I feel the same about the term pinkpoint as I do the term ‘girlfriend boulder’, but that’s a topic for another time…
Send: You climb the route (or boulder problem) from bottom to top without taking a fall or weighting the rope.
Onsighting Tips for Single-Pitch Routes
Alright, now the good part…tips for onsighting single-pitch routes! Below are my top three tips:
Tip #1 – Attempt to identify rests and cruxes from the ground
Before pulling onto your route, take a look. Where does the crux appear to be located? Is there a particularly blank part of the wall? Is there a significant angle change? Is there somewhere that you may be able to get a no-hands rest or knee-bar? You can determine a large amount of this information on the ground, and it is in your best interest to do so. Head up the route with as many clues as possible to effectively solve the puzzle on the go!
Tip #2 – Keep your heart rate as low as possible and rest longer than you think you should at stances
This one is big. At a good rest, but you aren’t really tired? Rest anyway. At a minimum you can get your heart rate down, which is crucial for pump management. You can also take a look at what is ahead, do some preliminary route reading, and slow down your thoughts. If you do find a really good rest, I recommend spending about twice as much time here as you initially want to.
Tip #3 – Commit fully on the ground. Onsight or whip!
Full commitment. No taking. You can’t hit that low-percentage move if you don’t go for it. Tell your belayer this is your plan out loud to help you stick to it! Then, let ‘er rip!
Onsighting Tips for Multi-Pitch Routes
Things take a different flavor when you attempt to onsight multi-pitch routes. You certainly cannot see the cruxes from the ground and you are looking at stacking multiple onsights. Below are some of my top tips for onsighting multi-pitch routes:
Tip #1 – If you are in a new zone, start with some routes that are lower in grade than your single-pitch onsight level
Lowering this grade range for a few routes will allow you to get a feel for the rock in a new area, your ability to read it, and your confidence (or lack of confidence) in what the guidebook/online descriptions say. For example, if you are consistently onsighting 5.11+ single-pitch climbs, knock it back to 5.11- for a few routes to start. Take style of climb and safety into consideration as well. Then, move up accordingly!
Tip #2 – Don’t be afraid of down climbing a bit
Multi-pitch routes wander more than single-pitch lines – that’s just the nature of 500ft+ routes. Sometimes you can’t see the next anchors. Your lens needs to grow to encompass the possibility of some wandering. Sometimes, even experienced climbers get a little off route. In this case, give yourself permission to downclimb and regain an earlier stance to reassess!
Tip #3 – It ain’t over till it’s over!
Onsighted the crux pitches? Great! But you’re not there yet! The upcoming pitches may be lower in grade… but maybe they are your anti-style or difficult to read. If onsighting a multi-pitch is important for you, it is important that you don’t let your focus dip until that final anchor has your rope in it!
Should you care about onsight climbing?
You should only care about it if the style of this type of climbing is particularly rewarding to you on a personal level!
Working through onsight attempts will certainly help you with route reading and your head game under pressure. But, just like all climbing objectives, you will fare better if you do it for yourself and your own internal motivations!
Thanks for reading! Sending good vibes your way as you tie in for your next onsight attempt! If these tips were helpful – I’d love to hear about it! You can reach out to me on Instagram (@projectdirect_coaching) with any insights or successes you have. I’d love to hear about them!