Onsight Vs. Redpoint

When you’re a beginner, climbing is climbing, but as you progress through the grades, people start keeping score.

“Bro, I just sent this epic line, it was sick!”

“Awesome, dude. Was it an onsight or a redpoint?”

Huh?

Onsight

Onsight climbing is doing a climb without any beta (information about the climb) beforehand. You rely on your skills and experience, route reading skills and your wits to get up it. You have no information besides what you can see, hence “on sight”.

photo - DMM Climbing

Alex Megos  has onsighted 9a
(DMM)

Onsighting climbs has traditionally been  the most respected form of climbing and is the format used by most climbing competitions.

Onsighting is more relevant to route climbing than bouldering for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it’s harder to claim a “pure” onsight of a boulder since you can touch many holds from the ground.

Redpoint

Adam Ondra Change

Adam Ondra on Change 9b+
(BD Equipment)

Redpointing is completing a route on lead without weighting the rope. It used to be that the climber should put draws up while they climb, but as grades have been pushed further that distinction has been lost and clipping pre-placed draws is acceptable as a redpoint.

Ethics and Gray Areas

The distinction between onsighting and redpointing seems quite clear-cut based on the above definitions, but there are actually a few gray areas which have sparked recent debate.

Downclimbing

Downclimbing on an onsight is a huge gray area in many climbers’ eyes. Downclimbing to an easier section or good rest is almost universally accepted, but what about downclimbing to a ledge?

If downclimbing to a ledge is acceptable, what about downclimbing to the ground? This is where many people draw the line and distinction between an onsight and redpoint is blurred.

Pirmin Bertle on Chromosome X+Y

Pirmin Bertle on Chromosome X+Y

Pre-Clipping draws

Tangent to the downclimbing debate, most people have strong opinions about clipping draws before the send attempt. The general consensus is that pre-clipping or stick clipping the first draw on a route with a difficult or sketchy start is ok, but anything beyond that is questionable, no matter onsight or redpoint.

Tactics

Whole books have been written on onsight and redpoint tactics so we won’t discuss them in detail. However we’ll give some general tips:

Onsight Tactics

Onsighting high grades is the holy grail of sport climbing and hard trad. It’s very difficult to onsight anywhere close to your redpoint grade, but good tactics  can make a big difference immediately and long term strategies will improve your ability in the long term.

Short term tactic – Route Reading and Planning 

Better route reading directly translates into better onsight performance. Route reading is not just memorizing the holds, but also identifying cruxes or areas with uncertain/not visible holds, making secondary plans in case things don’t go the way you expect, and planning how fast you will climb in each section.

Spending more time route reading will immediately improve your onsighting but route reading is a life long skill that can be improved in the long run.

Short term tactic – Visualization 

Technically part of route reading, but important enough to warrant it’s own pargraph. Mike Doyle says it best “Good competitors visualize from a third person angle…. Great competitors visualize from a first person angle”.

Visualize yourself climbing the route and seeing all the holds from a first person perspective. Harder than it sounds.

Short term tactic – Downclimb 

When encountering a crux section, the immediate reaction for most people is to panic, which instantly ruins a limit redpoint. Having the ability to downclimb to an easier section is an invaluable tool of onsighting.

Long term strategy – Boulder and Redpoint 

Onsighting itself can teach you tactics and route reading, but by definition a successful onsight is below your maximal ability.

To master climbing movement, learn to really climb efficiently and build up strength, copious amounts of redpointing and bouldering need to be added to the aspiring onsighter’s diet.  Redpointing lets you try new moves and really pull your hardest without the worry that falling will ruin the ascent.

Bouldering takes fear, clipping and belaying out of the equation, letting you try and learn hard movements super efficiently, and gain the kind of physical strength you’ll never be able to achieve on a rope.

Long term strategy – Climb More. A lot more.

One of the main reasons onsight ability is respected is that it reflects a wealth of climbing experience and skills. The more you climb, the better your onsight ability; there’s no shortcutting this process.

Doing a lot of climbing on varied terrain builds an arsenal of moves in your movement library . A high volume of climbing will expose you to a great variety of movement in different situation, solidifying your climbing skills on different angles and different types of rock. More volume means you build up the experience to deal with all kinds of scenarios you’ll encounter during a hard onsight.

Redpoint Tactics

Redpointing is less stressful than onsighting and emphasizes route-reading, mental game and contingency plans much less than pure physical climbing at your limit.

Novices and climbers who enjoy the glory of the onsight often usually do not have  optimal redpoint skills. To a novice, redpointing tactics seem like “cheating”, but in reality, all top climbers use these methods to send hard climbs efficiently.

Working Moves

The number one fundamental redpoint tactic is working moves instead of climbing ground up each time.

Climb or “cheat” your way up anyway possible to the moves you are having trouble with and work it while fresh to figure out optimal beta. It’s a redpoint, you don’t get extra points for climbing it ground up each attempt and you’re just wasting your own time, your belayers, and that of other people waiting to get on your line.

Working routes top-down

If at all possible, it’s actually been pointed out that working a hard route top-down is the best method. That means getting to the anchors by any means possible and then working the moves in the top section, down, preferably on top-rope.

The reasoning is:

  • You spend less time at the top of the climb than any other so are least familiar with it.
  • When you get there you’re already pumped, making everything harder.

Top down climbing is un-intuitive but for hard redpoints it’s a great tactic.

Fitness

Onsight

Climbing a route for the first time is inherently slower than one you’ve tried before. Therefore onsighting requires endurance in all its forms. Aerobic endurance is necessary to recover at rests. Power Endurance(Anaerobic endurance) is needed to get through sustained climbing.

Besides endurance, onsighting also emphasizes lock off ability. When the quality of a hold is uncertain, launching for it with total commitment can be risky. Lock off strength lets you use holds while still weighing the previous hold, giving you a few precious milliseconds to find the best way to use a hold before totally committing your weight to it. Specific lock off drills can be done to train this ability.

Finger strength is the final component of being strong for onsighting. Unlike redpoints where you can slowly optimize your climbing over many attempts, on an onsight you only have one attempt and most of the time when you grab a hold, you have to use it whether you grabbed it the best way or the worst.

Redpoint

All around fitness

Redpoints do not emphasize any particular physical aspect the way onsights do. Instead, increasing general climbing fitness helps redpoint fitness.

Route-specific fitness

For specific routes, you might tailor your physical training for that route – for instance an endurance route, a sloper-fest, etc.

Resources

This is a general overview of Redpointing vs Onsighting and by no means a complete guide. For specific tips check out the following links and resources:

Onsighting

Redpointing

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