Onsight Climbing Techniques
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
Onsighting is the ability to successfully send a route on your first try without any beta. Onsighting a difficult route, one that is near your limit, is the goal of a lot of sport climbers and it’s not easy feat. Everything that you put into your climbing, the culmination of all your training, comes to the surface on an onsight attempt. Your failures, your successes, and everything you have learned along the way, aid in your ability to accurately read the route and execute moves efficiently. Even if you’ve done everything possible to prepare (stuck to a great training plan, committed to a healthy diet, given yourself ample rest), a number of things can go awry. You do not see a vital hold. You over-grip, get nervous, or read a move wrong. You give up.
Onsight Techniques for Sport Climbing
Onsight climbing is sport climbing at its best. It is perfection. While experience plays the largest role in your ability to onsight a climb, there are some crucial things you can focus on in training, and in sending, that will help improve your onsight ability.
Let’s talk first about reading a route. Being able to stand on the ground and visualize every hand and foot placement is key for onsighting a climb. Here are our top 3 tips for reading a route:
Check out the chalk marks on the rock. You want to keep an eye out for chalked holds and tick marks. Tick marks are USUALLY for specific pieces of beta used by the climber who ticked it. You don’t know how tall or strong that climber is so it’s best to take those with a grain of salt and focus on the chalked holds that look like they are in sequence. Take a look at how far away the holds are from each other and the direction each hold is facing. Sometimes the sequence might not be so obvious in which case you should take a look at tip number 2.
Spend more time visually searching for holds in areas where the sequence is not as obvious. When you’re mapping the sequence and you can’t tell what the next move is going to be, know that it will be even more difficult to tell when you’re sweating and pumping out on the wall. Anything and everything is fair game outdoors though. Spend the time on the ground working through those parts of the climb in your mind with a couple different betas. “Okay, it looks like I can drop knee there but if that foot is garbage I’ll have to reach left hand…”
Look for rests. If you see any obvious jugs along the route, make a mental note of its location with respect to bolts so you can take full advantage of the rest when it arrives. Resting efficiently is crucial for the onsight.
*Disclaimer: Even with all of this knowledge from the ground, in order to onsight the climb you will often have to be spontaneous in switching up what you think the beta might be. You will have to think on the fly.
One thing that will make or break your onsight is whether or not you have enough energy to finish the route! It can be frustrating. You get to the last clip, you know you’ve completed the hardest part of the route, but your overgripping or lack of rest left you too tired for the send. Take a look at our tips for energy conservation:
Quit fidgeting. Seriously. You don’t need chalk every other move. You don’t need to brush your hair out of your face. You definitely don’t need to take off your shirt mid-route. Any move you make during the onsight attempt should help you move up the wall in one way or another.
Move smoothly. Make a conscious effort to keep tight to the wall and keep your feet on the holds. Thudding up the wall and cutting feet every 3rd move, while necessary on occasion, is the best way to get rid of all that extra energy you were saving.
Enough overgripping already. You are going for an onsight, so this is not your first time on lead. You know your belay partner will catch you and that the rope will hold. You also know that the worst thing that happens if you fall above your clip is you take a fun whip. So ease up on the grip, and have some fun with it.
Just go for it. . . in a controlled manner of course. Hesitation is often the downfall of a climber trying an onsight attempt. The climbers who succeed tend to think and make decisions quickly and act on those decisions with control. If you cross your hands or mess up your footwork, you need to come up with an alternate plan in a split second, commit to it, and execute. Being decisive and just going for it is largely aided by confidence.
Onsight climbing is the first step in projecting. You onsight? Congrats, you’re done projecting! You fall? Congrats, now you have a project! Always remember why you’re climbing: because you love it. Take these tips to the crag and see how they help! Let us know your tip for onsighting in the comments!
If you're curious about projecting, read these practical tips from Kristi Buckley.