Venturing into the thrilling world of rock climbing can often feel like stepping into a realm with its own unique language. Terms like ‘beta‘ and ‘crux‘ and ‘flash’, can seem like cryptic code to the uninitiated. Overhearing a conversation between seasoned climbers might feel like listening to an entirely different language!
But don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through this jargon jungle. In this article, we’re zeroing in on what is a flash in climbing. We’ll explain what a flash is, offer practical tips on how to enhance your flashing skills and highlight some of the most formidable flashes recorded in climbing history. So, prepare yourself – we’re about to make climbing chatter a lot more understandable!
What Does Flash Mean?
When you hear a climber say flash they are probably not referring to a lightbulb, superhero, or indecent exposure. The flash climbing term very particular meaning: it’s the act of conquering a climb on the very first attempt. If you’re acquainted with the term ‘onsighting’, you’ll find that ‘flashing’ lives in the same neighborhood.
Here’s the twist though – while both ‘flashing’ and ‘onsighting‘ celebrate the victory of a first-time ascent, they play by slightly different rules. Onsighting is like diving into unknown waters: no prior information, no foreknowledge of the route or problem. On the other hand, when you flash a climb, you might have seen someone else tackle it, perhaps you’ve watched a video or someone has whispered the beta into your ear before you made your attempt.
This might sound like a small difference, but in reality, it’s like comparing an open-book exam to a closed-book one. Onsighting is the equivalent of relying purely on your raw skills and intuition, similar to the closed-book exam scenario. Flashing, however, engages your memory and visualization skills much like an open-book test, where prior knowledge aids in problem-solving.
Naturally, the open-book test comes with its advantages, and so does flashing in climbing. It’s no surprise then, that the tougher climbing grades are more frequently flashed rather than onsighted.
How to Flash at Your Limit
You can be a great rock climber when it comes to working rock climbs (redpointing, projecting) and a terrible flash climber. It is truly a skill of its own with special strategies and techniques that come into play.
Some climbers that excel at the discipline have flashed at or very close to their limits/highest grades. For others, there is a wide gap. Roughly three grades is a typical difference between an average climber’s hardest project and hardest flash.
Want to improve your flash game in climbing? Here are a few tips that will take your flashing to the next level.
Gather as much information as you can before attempting the climb. This is your advantage in flashing over onsighting; utilize it! Watch videos, read about the climb, and ask questions from people that have done or tried it. This is the data collection phase.
Make a Plan
After collecting all the data you can in regard to the climb, make a game plan. You may have seen or heard of multiple different betas. At this point, you’ll want to commit to one (or a combination of them) that best suits your body size, climbing style, and strengths.
Visualize, Visualize, Visualize
Now is your chance to practice the climb off the wall. Multiple scientific studies on visualization have shown that mentally rehearing physical activities can improve motor skills when it comes time for the real deal. Close your eyes, calm your mind, and imagine, as vividly as possible, exactly how it will feel when you are on the climb.
Go through all the moves, imagine the details on the holds, the texture of the rock – the more details you can conjure the better. If you want, you can even go full Adam Ondra mode and lie on the ground and move your body as you visualize. If you do this effectively, it will almost feel like you’ve already tried the climb when you pull on; and no, it’s not cheating.
Watch Adam’s visualization of Silence.
Once it’s time to pull onto the wall, you will need to put all this together. Oftentimes the pressure we put on ourselves can be overwhelming. Do your best to release any expectations, still your mind, and focus on the task at hand. Conjure a mental state of both confidence and relaxation.
Some like to do some deep breaths or meditation before pulling on. Others like to move around and get psyched up. Find what works for you. Regardless of this, when you start climbing there’s only one thing left to do– try really hard!
What Happens When You Fail a Flash Attempt?
You curl up in a ball on the ground, have a little cry, and try again.
You’ve probably heard Adam Ondra saying that as a kid he didn’t bother climbing a route again if he didn’t flash it. While this strategy might seem like a unique form of climbing snobbery, it certainly worked wonders for Ondra, rocketing him to the upper echelon of the climbing community.
If your flash attempts meet more rock than success, don’t wave the white flag. Get back on that route and show it who’s boss. Sure, you might miss out on the exhilarating high-five moment that a successful flash provides, but nailing it on the second or third go is still worthy of a victory dance. So keep your chin up, and keep climbing!
The World’s Hardest Flash
If you thought flashing a V6 boulder was a huge achievement for you, wait until you hear about the world’s hardest flashes!
2018 shines bright as the year when Adam Ondra vaulted into a league of his own by flashing a remarkable 9a+/5.15a, a feat never accomplished before. This wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment achievement but rather the culmination of years of meticulous planning, tireless practice, and unyielding determination.
Ondra didn’t randomly choose his battlefield. He meticulously curated a list of 5.15s that he believed were ripe for flashing, and then embarked on a global quest, pit-stopping at various climbing hotspots to try his luck.
This journey was punctuated by numerous trials and tribulations. Each attempt, a high-stakes gamble, involved extensive travel and rigorous preparation, making the setbacks all the more disheartening. Yet, Ondra remained undeterred.
After countless hours spent committing every nook and cranny of the route to memory and visualizing each potential foothold and handgrip, Ondra’s moment of triumph finally arrived. The venue was Super Crackinette, a formidable 9a+ located in Saint-Léger, France. When speaking about why he was drawn to flash climbing, Ondra said the following:
’’Typically in sport climbing you spend days months even years practicing the moves over and over until it becomes this choreographed dance; but on a flash, there’s no rehearsal. You’re just going up there trying to figure it out on the fly – it’s a totally fresh experience. You have to trust your instincts. You have one chance to do it perfectly – it’s the pinnacle of what it means to climb well. For me trying a root flash is probably the most intense, the most mentally demanding way of climbing. All the decisions are made by intuition.’’ This made Super Crackinette the world’s hardest flash.
Watch Adam climb the hardest 9a+ flash. What a guy!
The hardest flashes in bouldering do not stand in singularity in the same way as Ondra’s 5.15 flash does. The hardest bouldering grade to ever be flashed is V14. Eight climbers have accomplished this feat: Will Bosi, Daniel Woods, Jimmy Webb, Adam Ondra, Ned Feehally, Florian Wientjes, Tomoa Narasaki, and Jakob Schubert with Catalan Witness the Fitness.
Will Bosi made history in 2022 by becoming the first climber to flash not one but two V14 boulders in the span of a single year. He did this with flashes on The Dagger V14 in Switzerland and Charizard V14 in the Czech Republic. The door is still open for who will break the barrier into flashing V15.
What Is Your Best Flash Going To Be?
Flash climbing is one of the most mentally demanding forms of climbing. It requires an impressive combination of memorization, confidence, and intuition. By working on improving our flash climbing we can often improve our overall climbing skills, as it exercises skills like commitment and execution.
Now that you know what a flash in climbing is, take inspiration from climbers flashing the world’s hardest climbs and use these tips to take your flash climbing to the next level.