Climbing Tips: How to Read a Route

You’re staring at the holds, and don’t know where to start. Maybe this particular route is above your grade, even slightly, and you’re not even sure what to do.

Figuring out beta (the sequence intended to climb the route) is tough, and will always be tough. However, there are some tips you can use to help stream line this process and ensure you are giving it your best shot every time.

**I’ve intended these tips for indoor climbing at the gym, but many of them apply to outdoor climbing as well. They sound simple, but are quite easily overlooked.

  1. Locate all the holds. This sounds stupid, but some may be hidden or not easy to see (ie. under a volume, hard to spot amongst a group of other holds).
  2. Figure out your starting position. Look at the angle of the holds, and determine where you want your body facing. If you can’t decide, look at the next hold(s). You should be able to determine which hands you need for the next holds, and work back to the start.
  3. Mentally climb the route. If you’ve seen Adam Ondra lying on the floor visualizing climbing his routes (try hard sounds and all), you should do a toned down standing version of this. From your starting position, imagine you are climbing the route. Work through each move and figure out where it makes sense to have your hands and feet.
  4. Work the route backwards. If you spot the crux, and you know that sequence, work each move backwards so you know where you want your hands from the start. This is useful especially if the beta is hard to read and you have an especially difficult/complicated crux.
  5. Check for hidden toe-hooks or knee bars. Sometimes this isn’t as easy to spot on the initial read.
  6. Look for chalk on holds (or lack there of). Holds with chalk should tell you where you should grab them, and holds with no chalk (and possibly rubber!) are obviously meant for feet.
  7. Look for uncapped bolt holes that could serve as a thumb catch on a tricky hold.
  8. Remember that the start could begin by facing out with your back to the wall, especially in the case of volumes. This doesn’t come up often, but it will definitely throw you off if you don’t consider it.
  9. When going through the sequence, make sure you plan both hands and feet placement.
  10. Assess the number of moves and possible rest holds. Determine if you want to clip a chalk bag to yourself if you’re bouldering.
  11. If the “aretes” are not taped out and close to your route, remember to at least consider it as part of your beta sequence. It is most likely a part of your route in this case.
  12. If you’re in a competition format, assess how many times you will attempt it in your 5 minutes allotted. Save your energy and give it a few really good goes, or quit when you feel yourself draining of energy and you need to reserve some for the next routes.

I hope these tips help you next time you are trying to figure out your beta. They aren’t magical in the sense that the beta will magically appear, but they are useful when you’re stuck or don’t know where to start.

Have any other tips to add? Comment below! 🙂

Climb on xx


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