If you are a beginning climber stopping by at a sport climbing crag, you will most definitely be hit around the head with some of the following terms: redpoint, onsight, flash, pinkpoint, beta and maybe even greenpoint and headpoint.
Learning a new sport is hard even without all the technical jargon. So you might be asking yourself, what the heck are all these people talking about?
Not to worry further! After reading this article you will be a total expert on the term ‘Redpoint’ and so much more!
This article will zoom in on the following topics:
- History Of The Term Redpoint
- So, What is Redpoint Climbing?
- The On-sight
- The Flash
- The Redpoint and The Pinkpoint
- Less Used Terms in Free-climbing
- How Much Harder is an On-sight Compared to a Redpoint?
- The World’s Hardest Redpoint Climbs
- The World’s Hardest On-sights
History Of The Term Redpoint
If you are new to climbing, you might consider sport climbing and other forms of free climbing the normal way of things. It’s what we do in climbing gyms, it’s what we are competing over in climbing comps and it’s what blockbusters like ‘The Dawn Wall’ and ‘Free Solo‘ are focused on.
However, there was a time, not even that long ago, when climbers were proper engineers, heaving themselves up the wall with tools and using their equipment as handholds and footholds. This type of climbing is now classified as technical aid climbing.
There are loads of climbers out there (me included) who’ve never used aid climbing equipment in their lives.
Funny enough, this was considered the normal way of climbing until the 1970s.
German climber Kurt Albert revolutionized the sport in the 70s by adopting a new form of climbing after returning from a trip to Saxony, Switzerland. He would start practicing a route, climbing it without the use of the fixed pins and bolts as handholds and footholds. Whenever he was able to free climb a section, he would put a red cross over the respective bolt to indicate he didn’t need it anymore.
Once he was able to free climb an entire route, the route would get a red circle at the bottom. Once he was able to climb it bottom to top without falls the circle would be filled and become a red dot or ‘Rotpunkt’.
This new way of climbing influenced the entire climbing world and lay at the base of the free climbing movement. Later, the German ‘Rotpunkt’ translated to the English equivalent ‘Redpoint’.
Together with Kurt Albert, another German, Wolfgang Güllich, pushed the limits of redpoint climbing to new levels.
In 1985 the world’s first 5.14a (8b+) was established with ‘Punks in a gym’. Two years later the first 5.14b (8c) was climbed with ‘Wall Street’ and finally the world renowned 5.14d (9a) was redpointed with ‘Action Directe’.
The movie ‘Rotpunkt‘ strings together a beautiful recollection of this German climbing history with the phenomenon that is Alex Megos. A must see for the sport climbing lovers out there.
Funny side note:
Apparently, this red dot was inspired by the brand of water heater they used in the house where Kurt lived with his climbing buds.
So, What is Redpoint Climbing?
Disclaimer: All of the following terminology will refer to free climbing a route. Simply put, this means the climber does not pull on gear to get himself up.
When talking about a redpoint in sport climbing we immediately need to relate it to a flash or an on-sight. It is easier to understand this ‘redpoint’ term if we first take it to the purest accomplishment possible in free climbing: the On-sight.
An on-sight is defined as a clean ascent while leading a route made on the first attempt WITHOUT prior practice, advice or beta. This means no falls, no hangs and no information about the route from other climbers.
It is the purest form of ascending a route. You only get one chance of on-sighting a climb, EVER!
You are allowed to look at the route from below and ‘read the moves’ by looking at the features in the rock and chalk marks that are left on the route by previous climbers. However, you are not allowed to rappel down the route from above and check out all the moves.
Additionally, you should not have belayed another person on the route or even seen another climber attempting it.
In the climbing community debates exist about the strictness of ‘no information’ to call your climb a true on-sight. Are you allowed to know the grade? Are you allowed to know the amount of quickdraws you need? Are you allowed to look at the route in your guidebook?
In this day and age it’s near impossible to get a true on-sight under your belt in the purest sense of the term. In actual fact, it will come down on how strongly your own climbing ethics are to determine your on-sight purity.
As long as you are honest about the style of your ascent, this shouldn’t be a problem though.
Just don’t go around spraying people with information they don’t want to hear. You might be depriving them of an on-sight attempt without knowing it.
A flash is defined as a clean ascent while leading a route made on the first attempt WITH prior advice or beta. This still means no falls and no hangs while climbing the route for the first time from the ground up.
But in this case you ARE allowed to look at another climber on the route and absorb as much beta as possible, your friends can advise you on the crux, you can look at Youtube movies all you like and so on. You can prepare yourself mentally and physically before attempting to flash a route.
As discussed above however, it is mostly up to you to determine where the line lies between the on-sight and the flash. Because of the nature of a flash this goal is slightly easier to obtain than an on-sight.
However, as you will come to notice soon enough, flashing a route is still pretty impressive!
The Redpoint and The Pinkpoint
And so, we finally arrive at the redpoint.
A redpoint is defined as a clean ascent while leading a route made on a second or further attempt. Still, this means no falls and no resting on the equipment, but you are allowed to practice the route extensively before making a redpoint attempt.
It is very common in the climbing world to first try to go for the on-sight or flash and afterwards attempt a redpoint if the first attempt has failed.
Sometimes a climber will forgo an on-sight or flash attempt and immediately start working a route because he is sure the route is too hard for success on the first try. Practice can come from lead climbing or top roping a route.
While working on a route you are trying to find the most efficient way to get to the top, memorizing the moves and building up stamina. This process of working on a route is called ‘projecting’ and as long as a redpoint has not been accomplished, a climber will refer to this route as ‘a project’.
Due to the nature of the redpoint this goal is much easier to obtain than the on-sight or the flash.
Climbers will generally be redpointing routes very closely to their maximum capabilities while flashes and on-sights occur far below the maximum grade of the climber in question.
Another discussion in the climbing world revolves around the placement of quickdraws during the redpoint attempt.
A lot of the climbers out there, including professional ones, will still count a route with preplaced quickdraws as a redpoint.
The idea here is that in sport climbing the quickdraws are only there to keep you safe.
This has nothing to do with the technicality and physicality of the route. In the same frame of mind, it is okay to clip the first quickdraw from the ground with a clipstick if there’s a danger of falling off before the first bolt. However, other climbers will argue that placing the quickdraws while climbing is more strenuous and therefore a purer form of obtaining your redpoint.
In this case ascending a route cleanly while leading with preplaced quickdraws is referred to as ‘a pinkpoint’. But what if your route has fixed quickdraws in place?
Generally, the same goes here as for the on-sight/flash debacle. As long as you are honest about the style of your ascent, nobody really cares.
As you might have already noticed, the term redpointing is specifically used in sport climbing, while an on-sight and a flash are used in both sport and traditional climbing. Does redpointing not exist in traditional climbing then? The technically correct answer is: No, it doesn’t. But have a look at the term Headpointing that’s explained below.
Source: Adrian Berry and Steven Mcclure (2006). Sport Climbing +. Rockfax Ltd. ISBN 9781873341865
Less Used Terms in Free-climbing
While the on-sight, flash and redpoint are very commonly used, there are some other terms that you could come across in your climbing endeavours.
A retro flash or retro on-sight is used to indicate that you have already climbed the route before, but have completely forgotten about it. It might be you climbed a route several years before and didn’t even remember climbing it until you checked your logs.
A greenpoint is defined as cleanly leading a sport route while only using traditional gear and not using the bolts or pins on the route.
Headpointing is basically redpointing, but on a traditional route. You practice the moves and start working on the route in a top rope extensively before leading it cleanly. The idea here is that you significantly lower the chance of falling off and hurting yourself by practicing the moves and gear placements beforehand.
The difference between headpointing and redpointing lies mostly in the ethics. While redpointing is considered the normal way of pushing your own abilities, headpointing is considered cheating by some.
While the sport moves forward new concepts and terminology will keep coming up and we just love it when that happens!
In July 2020, Alex Megos ascended the world’s first ‘Brushpoint’ on Father and Son (8c) in the Frankenjura. While redpointing a route he brushed each hold directly after touching it on his way up!
How Much Harder is an On-sight Compared to a Redpoint?
Well, let’s compare!
At the time of writing, the best sport climbers in the world are able to redpoint 5.15d (9c). But when we take a look at on-sights, the hardest route that the same climbers can complete in their first ascent is 5.14d (9a). That’s a difference of no less than 4 grades!
While training for sport climbing there’s also this general rule that you should be projecting routes 4 grades higher than your on-sight/flash level. Projecting routes that don’t come naturally at first pushes your limits.
You’ll learn new moves, you’ll become accustomed to falling, you’ll train specific parts of your body and in doing so your redpoint and on-sight grade will be pushed upwards.
But why is there so much difference between a climber’s on-sight and redpoint grade? Well, imagine climbing a route for the very first time, not knowing anything about it.
It’s quite normal that you’ll make some mistakes, you might not find the right holds at first, you might be balancing your body wrong. All of these misreadings of the route will make your climbing less efficient. To be able to still pull off the on-sight ascent, you need to have some extra energy left.
If you’re looking to find climbers, head on over to our FB GROUP and drop a post with your dates!
Generally, when you are projecting a route, all the moves become dialed in. Once you go for the redpoint attempt you should be climbing the route in the most efficient way possible. A lot of the time this will be at the limit of your capabilities.
Of course, some people are better at reading routes on the go than others. On-sight and Flash climbing is not the work of miracles. Yes, there is some talent and experience involved, but there are a lot of techniques that can help you improve significantly in this area.
Besides that, efficient projecting can also be trained.
Source: Michael L. Anderson and Mark L. Anderson (2015). The Rock Climber’s Training Manual: A Guide to Continuous Improvement. Fixed Pin Publishing. ISBN 9870989515610
The World’s Hardest Redpoint Climbs
The following list was compiled at the time of writing: August 30, 2020.
- Silence 5.15d (9c) – Flatanger, Norway was climbed by Adam Ondra on September 3, 2017. The world’s first proposed 5.15d. This is an unconfirmed rating as nobody else has repeated it so far. However, Ondra described it as “much harder than anything else” he had previously done. Watch the Ondra god in action on Silence here.
- Bibliographie 5.15d (9c) – Ceüse, France was climbed by Alex Megos on August 5, 2020. The world’s second proposed 5.15d. This is also an unconfirmed rating.
- Change 5.15c (9b+) – Flatanger, Norway. First ascent by Adam Ondra on October 4, 2012.
- La Dura Dura 5.15c (9b+) – Olivia, Spain. First ascent by Adam Ondra on February 7, 2013. The route was bolted by Chris Sharma. He confirmed the grade a month later after his ascent.
- Perfecto Mundo 5.15c (9b+) – Margalef, Spain. First ascent by Alex Megos on May 9, 2018. The route was bolted by Chris Sharma and has since been repeated by Stefano Ghisolfi and Jakob Schubert who confirmed the grade.
- La Planta de Shiva 5.15b (9b) – Villanueva del Rosario, Spain was climbed by Angela Eiter on October 22, 2017. It was the world’s first female ascent of a 9b route. The route was previously climbed by Adam Ondra and Jakob Schubert who confirmed the grade.
- Ali Hulk Sit Extension Total 5.15b (9b) was climbed by Laura Rogora in July 2020.
- La Rambla Extension 5.15a (9a+) – Siuarana, Spain. Margo Hayes completed the world’s first female ascent of a 9a+ route on February 26, 2017. The grade was confirmed by many repeaters. Watch the incredible Margo Hayes in action here.
- Biographie 5.15a (9a+) – Céüse, France. Margo Hayes also completed the world’s second female ascent of a 9a+ route on September 24, 2017.
- Sweet neuf 5.15a (9a+) – Pierrot Beach, France. Anak Verhoeven was the first woman to establish a 9a+ route. She completed the first ascent in September 2017. Cédric Lachat confirmed the grade in June 2019.
The World’s Hardest On-sights
- Estado Critico 5.14d (9a) – Siurana, Spain. Alex Megos accomplished the first 9a on-sight in history on March 24, 2013. Incidentally, this ascent was an accident!
- Cabane au Canada 5.14d (9a) – Rawyl, Swiss. On-sight by Adam Ondra on July 9, 2013.
- Il Domani 5.14d (9a) – Baltzola, Spain. On-sight by Adam Ondra on May 3, 2014.
- Just Do it 5.14c (8c+) – Smith Rock, Oregon, USA. First ascent on-sight by Adam Ondra on November 12, 2018. This route gets a special mention because it is the USA’s first 8c+.
The list above is near incomprehensible for mere humans like me and probably you, if you didn’t make this list. These crazy climbers keep the drive high and allow us to dream of harder ascents. It also makes you wonder how far off the first 5.16a or 10a actually is. Hopefully this list can be updated regularly with even harder routes!
Sometimes it is hard to determine if your last feat actually was a proper on-sight or rather a flash, especially when you are new at this. And in the end, does it really matter at all?
Depending on who you ask you are allowed some information beforehand or no information at all. Some people might consider a pinkpoint from a similar value as a redpoint. The climbing community can be very strict about these rules, but you are not obliged to be.
If you are in the game of valuing your climbs by onsight, flash or redpoint definition it is most important to be upfront and clear about your accomplishment. If you really don’t care what your last attempt technically was, don’t worry about it. Just keep climbing and have fun with it!
For further reading see: “A Ridiculous Good Guide to Absolutely Everything You Need to Know About Climbing Ropes“.
Hi there! I’m Britt from Hide Outside and I couldn’t be more delighted to be guest writing for The Wandering Climber. Together with my boyfriend Jeroen we did a personal Rock Trip driving from Canada to Argentina. During that epic journey, we’ve used this website more than we can count and we are very happy to be contributing to its community now.
If you are interested in checking out our website for lesser-known climbing areas around Western USA, we have hit quite a couple of them on our route south. We can also help you with choosing your next trek or skitour in this region. Take a look at the outdoor trips section of our website for inspiration, trail descriptions, handy tips, GPS pinpoints and downloadable GPS tracks!