Sunday, January 22, 2017

To redpoint or onsight, that is the question

What do you like better, onsighting or redpointing?  It is something we don’t usually think of or put effort categorizing ourselves in but it does find its way into conversations specially between new found climbing buddies. Elaborate answers get interesting especially at the end of the climbing day when everyone sits around for beer. Juvenile as it sounds, the slight push of the question, a couple of beers, and a savvy way of dishing out the question might find you within a lively worthwhile ‘get-to-know’ experience between you and your new buddies.      

Enrique Caballero on an onsighting spree on the "Partymeile" wall in Thakhek
I would like to share little bits of my personal takes on both and my own preference. Sadly I’ve no bottle of beer in hand and so I urge you to get your own, drink one bottle, get another one before reading further, and then gulp swigs at a time at the end of every sentence you read from this point on.

Thai National Sport Climbing team member, Mean, finishing her own project on the "Partymeile"
It is important to understand that whatever answer one gives this question does not give heavy meaning to one’s definition of one’s self. Or does it? Just kidding. After two beers, we don’t do psychological profiling of the people we just drank with, right? Or do you? Anyways, before going further let me just enlighten some of you to what “onsighting” and “redpointing” is in case you end up in such a conversation and prevent you from turning the whole thing academic as to answering “What is onsighting and redpointing?” 

Kat prepping for a hard redpoint with a proper warm-up on the "Partymeile" wall.
Onsighting is climbing and finishing a route or boulder problem in one push on the first try with no falling off, beta or prior information about the crux, the moves or any kind of advice on how to solve it. What if you’ve seen someone climbing it even if you just happen to glance upon it and saw someone on it? Sorry, then you would’ve lost your chance for an onsight. You can turn around and pretend you didn’t see or run off to some other crag and hope no one saw you looking at it. What if you just overheard people talking of the moves? Again, sorry, you just blew your onsight attempt. How about obvious chalk marks and rubber marks? Hmm, see, it gets even more complicated.

Onsighting needs rests. Sometimes it's a bonus when rests are immediately after a hard crux. 
Your next option is for a “flash,” that is climbing on the route and finishing it in one go on the first try but already with prior knowledge of the moves. Quite strict ‘ey? Well, it gets blurry still, but to keep it simple, onsighting is really pure. It is a climb untarnished by any kind of influence. It maybe like meeting someone who catches your full romantic attention for the very first time and trying to get to know them just with your own ‘techniques or styles’ with no clues whatsoever, no spying, no gossip, no nothing and end up with a homerun. How pure the pursuit becomes will be entirely up to you. The less clues you have the closer your attempt will be to the purest meaning of “onsighting.” The more clues you have the closer your attempt will be to a “flash.”

Enrico flashing "Small World" at the great roof of Thakhek.

Redpointing is climbing and finishing a route or boulder problem in one push but only after your first attempt fails. It could be your second, third, tenth, or even more than your hundredth attempt. The point being you finished it and it’s all that matters. It has a far simpler definition. You can exhaust all manner of research on it or learn from all your previous attempts so that you solve the puzzle. In the end it will still be you who executes what you know.

Enrique checking out "The Jungle King" 

Onsighting and redpointing each have their own endearing points to which we can find ourselves attached to. Some will say they equally like both. Don’t give up easily on the pursuit of the argument. For the sake of good beer and longer conversations there is should be no neutral ground. There will always be a direction to which everyone would naturally lean towards.

Flo on his project. "Dans Dyno"

(This is the part where you should have consumed almost two bottles of beer. I would be utterly disappointed if you haven’t already by now.)

Both onsighting and redpointing have equally appealing characteristics but in the end we find ourselves enjoying the process of one more over the other. I myself lean towards the latter. It is not to say that I do not like onsighting because I do but simply, my mind rests easy on redpointing.

When a project turns into a redpoint.
Redpointing allows me to casually discover my weaknesses. It is climbing where mistakes are easily forgiven. Once you fall off a route, you can immediately try again. It also allows me to climb things that are far from my limits and push myself over them. Personal barriers are challenged but attachment to the final outcome fall second to the overall process of getting there. Redpointing allows me to let my fingers bite down as hard as they could to the point of bleeding, to let them heal, and to wait long for the body to recover before trying again.
Lena warming up on the crazy 3D climbing in Thakhek's great roof.
Onsighting on the other hand is a far less forgiving type of climbing. You get one go, one try, and one crucial mistake for your attempt. After which it won’t be the same, no second chances. It does provide the chance to engage in intense focus and calm. It demands all the ounce of pragmatism in your mind and body as you literally inch closer to every hold on a route. The experience isn’t like any other. Every inch gained along the way feels like a milestone in itself. An onsight is a once in a lifetime offer and for that it has a special premium that is unexplainably gratifying.

When your projects destroy you there's still onsighting but on far lower limits. Photo by Scott Hailstone.
I enjoy redpointing more than onsighting. I like the casual nature of redpoints and the feeling of being not too attached to the outcome. I want to feel a special relationship to a route and go through the process of destroying my body on it, understanding what needs to be done, calming myself, and finally climbing and finishing it when the right time comes.

In the end both redpointing and onsighting requires 120% effort all the time. It’s all about setting a goal and going for it. There will be slight differences to strategies but in the bigger picture we all somehow have to move on. If not, it will be like reading the same page of a book over and over. The learning comes to a halt, and we begin failing to accept new things as we go our way.

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