Help grow the archive! drop a knowledge bomb here.

What Is Onsight Climbing?

LAST UPDATED: 30th July 2023

Has there ever been a moment when you try something for the first time? This doesn’t necessarily have to be something to do with climbing – it could be a new hobby, a game you have never played before, or a skill you never knew you had. Whatever the case, you’re probably familiar with how good it feels when that “something” comes naturally; when there is a click in your brain and you just get it. 

At a deeper level, this phenomenon demonstrates that you’re kinesthetically connected to an activity. With work, this natural ability can develop into expertise, even mastery.

What Does Onsight In Climbing Mean?

Now, to put this in climbing terms. There is no better feeling than when you walk up to a route you have never seen, climbed, or even contemplated before and send it on the spot. This is called onsight climbing and is one of the most sought-after accomplishments in the climbing world. Why? Because regardless of the level you are climbing at, it reflects a certain degree of fluency.

The Unspoken Rules of Onsight Climbing

Strapping into your harness, tying in your figure-eight knot, you might feel the anticipation bubble up inside you. Onsighting, it’s a bit like stepping into the unknown, venturing into uncharted territory, one hand and foot placement at a time. But, before you embark on this thrilling adventure, you have to understand the cardinal rules that set onsight climbing apart from other forms of climbing.

In onsighting, there’s no place for spoilers! This climbing challenge hinges on no prior knowledge about the route. This means, whether you’ve personally attempted the route before or received some beta, that’s a big no-no.

climbing onsighting route

Your climbing buddy who has already tackled the route can’t spill the beans. No tips, no tricks, and certainly no step-by-step guidance. Forget about scouring the internet for videos of other climbers conquering the same route – that’s off-limits too. It’s all about stepping onto the rock face, just you, your gear, and your instinct (although you are allowed a little peak from the ground before you start!).

And here’s another rule to remember: an onsight ascent demands a clean climb. This means no falls, no takes, and no resting on your gear. 

But what if you stumble, slip, or take a wrong turn? Well, that’s all part of the game of onsighting. If you fall or rest on your gear, it doesn’t count as an onsight.

Onsight vs Flash

What about an Onsight vs Flash? Well, both terms have similar meanings, but with one major difference. An “onsight” climb, as we’ve discussed, is a first-attempt, successful climb where the climber has no prior information about the route.

A “flash,” on the other hand, is also a successful send on your first attempt, but with one key difference: the climber has some prior knowledge about the route. This could come from observing other climbers, reading route descriptions, watching ascent videos, or receiving beta about challenging sequences or crucial holds.

Adam Ondra flashing Super Crackinette
Adam Ondra making history once again by climbing the world’s hardest flash ©Bernardo Gimenez

With a flash, you acquire as much knowledge as you can before a climb. When it’s time to make your ascend, you already know each and every handhold, foothold, resting position, and crux.

Currently, the hardest flash in the world is Adam Ondra’s ascent of Super Crackinette 9a+.

Onsight vs Redpoint

By now we all know what onsighting is. But, just to add on to the endless list of climbing jargon, a ‘redpoint’ ascent is the complete successful climb of a route after previous attempts. In a redpoint climb, the climber has usually tried the route several times, learned the intricacies, figured out the best sequences, and might have even fallen or rested on the route during these attempts.

Seb Bouin DNA First Ascent
Seb Bouin Redpointing DNA ©Lena Drapella

The term ‘redpoint’ originated from the German climbing tradition where climbers would put a red dot on their climbing guides once they completed a climb without any falls or rests after multiple attempts.

With redpointing, the climber is allowed to use any information they have previously gathered about the route, whether from their own attempts or other climbers. The challenge here lies not in the unknown, but in perfecting the execution. It’s about overcoming previous failures, refining techniques, and improving endurance to achieve that flawless ascent.

Tips For Onsighting a Climb

Successful onsighting is a blend of mental strength, physical prowess, and a dash of creativity. Here are a few tips to help you unlock the onsighting achievement:

  • Route Reading: Study the route carefully from the ground. Visualize the path you’ll take, identify potential resting points, and anticipate tricky sections.
  • Think of Your Next Move: Take a second to look for your next foothold, handhold, or body position.
  • Pace Yourself: It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Climbing too fast can lead to fatigue and mistakes. Take your time and breathe.
  • Trust Your Instincts: Climbing is as much about the mind as it is about the body. Trust your gut feelings when choosing your path.
  • Stay Positive: Maintain a positive mindset. You might encounter unexpected challenges, but remember, it’s all part of the game. Keep smiling and keep climbing.

Hardest Onsight Climb

The hardest onsight climb grade by a male climber is a 9a and has been achieved by two people; Alex Megos and Adam Ondra. Not surprising, right?

Alex Megos has onsighted two 9a routes; Estado Critico in 2013 and TCT in 2017. He was only 17 years old when he did his first onsight. Adam Ondra has three onsights under his belt; Cabane au Canada in 2013, Il Domani in 2014 and Water World in 2022.

Janja Garnbret onsighting 8c
Janja becoming the first female climber to onsight an 8c ©Toni Mas Buchaca

Janja Garnbret, the comp Queen, surprised all of us in 2021 by becoming the only female climber to have onsighted a 8c route, Fish Eye. She is currently the only female to have achieved this. 

Watch Adam onsight his third 9a.

What Are You Going To Onsight Next?

In a world full of climbing lingo, it is easy to misunderstand some of the terminology. Being armed with knowledge will certainly save tongue lashings from the crusty old climbers. So before you go out and tell people you’ve onsighted a route, make sure you know exactly what onsighting means.

Without any prior knowledge of the route, it’s just you in your flow state sharing an intimate and spontaneous dialogue with the rock.


Born and raised in Northern Vermont, Zak's parents were hardcore adventurers, and the appearance of a child in their lives did not slow them down much. Each summer, they would toss him and an assortment of gear in the truck and gun it for the American West. After his first year at college, Zak applied for a job in Yosemite National Park, and for the next decade, he worked seasonally in Yosemite and on the Sierra Eastside, doing whatever he could to be close to those mountains. Currently, Zak lives on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, piecing together a living as a climbing guide, bartender and writer.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top