The world of climbing is full of jargon that is unintelligible to the casual observer.
If you’re new to climbing, you might find yourself hearing plenty of words that have no meaning to normal people. While there is plenty of jargon for all aspects of climbing, there are a few words that specifically refer to successfully completing rock climbs. In the world of climbing, not all ascents are created equally, and there are a few words (on-sight, flash, and redpoint) that specify under what circumstances a climber successfully led a climbing route.
In the world of climbing, specifically sport climbing, the words “on-sight”, “redpoint”, and “flash” all refer to successfully lead climbing a route; conversely, if you follow a lead climber while you’re on top-rope than you’ve “top-roped” a route. See details below:
This is when climbers, without any previous advice or information from their friends or fellow climbers, lead climb to the top of a route on their first attempt. The purest form of on-sighting occurs when you know literally nothing about a route, and this usually happens either by choosing a route at random, climbing the wrong route by mistake, or putting up the first ascent of a route that’s never been climbed before. In this day and age, a true on-sight rarely occurs because so much information is available regarding routes via guide books and websites.
You might occasionally hear climbers debate what constitutes a true on–sight. For example, if you know that the route you’re attempting is a 5.7, does that constitute enough beta to disqualify the climb from the “on-sight” status? We consider these types of debates to be a bit extreme. In our opinion, if you climb a route that you know little to nothing about you can likely consider it an on-sight climb.
To “flash” a route is to climb to the top on the first attempt; however, it technically implies that you have some pre-existing knowledge regarding the climbing route. Route information can come from a variety of sources; for example, maybe your climbing partner gave you advice before you began the route, you read up on the route via a guidebook, or you simply watched a climber ahead of you to learn from their mistakes. Regardless of where your information came from, flashing a route is still usually an impressive
This is when you successfully climb a route after having practiced it beforehand. “Practice” can come in many forms, including previously attempting and failing on a route or top-roping the route before attempting a lead climb. You might hear climbers refer to climbing near their redpoint. This generally means that a climber is attempting a route that’s near the upper threshold of their climbing ability.
Get a Grip on the Terms
You might be wondering, why is it important to know all this climber terminology? At the end of the day, it’s really not all that important. As long as you’re enjoying rock climbing, and you’re making it to the top of your chosen routes, that’s really all that matters. However, understanding climber terminology will help you blend in with the climbing culture, and will keep you from being confused when other climbers are throwing around jargon that you’re unfamiliar with. Also, you wouldn’t want to accidentally tell someone that you on-sighted a route when in reality you redpointed it; such misunderstandings happen, but you don’t want people to think that you’re intentionally misleading them regarding your climbing ability.
As a final quick review: on-sighting a route occurs when you lead climb a route without any previous practice or information regarding the climb, flashing occurs when you have some information but still climb to the top of a route on your first attempt, and redpointing a route refers to successfully climbing a route that you’ve had practice on before – most usually this is referring to a route that pushed your climbing ability to the max. Generally, especially in regards to on-sighting and flashing routes, this terminology implies that you cleanly lead the routes – taking zero falls or hangs in the process.