Climbing Literacy: How to Read a Rock Climbing Route

Climbing Literacy: How to Read a Rock Climbing Route

Climbing, like any sport, takes a specific development of skills and training. You engage physically with your limitations before you hit the wall or rock.

You wouldn’t approach a surface if your hand was numb and you shouldn’t if your mind is blank either. While freestyling and climb-as-you-go are good ways to have fun, a serious climber needs serious mental focus.

Learning how to read a rock climbing route involves picking up some techniques and some jargon. You don’t need to spout technical jargon or quote the Yosemite Decimal System, but you want to be understood.

This guide will get you the basics to practice so you can build your techniques and shorthand.

Route Lexicon

Like most activities, breaking down a task makes it easier to understand to do. Knowing how to walk through all the steps helps you see the whole picture. This becomes doubly important when working with a partner.

Route Scouting

The skills needed at a climbing wall and a rock face differs only slightly. While the holds in a rock climbing gym may be easier to see, seeing the best ones for your level is something else.

On a rock face, you will need to separate good useful rock from a lousy rock. So in both cases, you take what looks similar and make decisions on what works for you.

You want to consider the starting point and the end point and draw a mental line between them. This line will not be the shortest but the one that best fits your climbing skill.

Hand and Foot

Next, you identify your two main holds: hand or foot.

A handhold will be more massive and have some ability to hook or grasp. Round surfaces don’t work well with human gripping capacity.

Footholds can be smaller and rounder. Feet are better at supporting a lot of weight on small surfaces because the rest of the body has mechanisms that help this.

If you hit a popular rock in the wild, it will likely have the same markings as a climbing wall. The hand holds will have some chalk residue and the footholds scuffs from shoes.

Key Holds

Next, you want to plan your key holds. These will be places you need to hit for specific purposes.

You need to spot places you can rest and areas where more significant moves are required. Ideally, you want to find rests before big moves.

Even on a small climb resting can be essential to discourage muscle pain.

Beta Ready

Once you have the route planned, you go over the information and confirm that it is possible. Many climbers refer to this as the ‘beta’ stage where you have enough information to make a trial run.

This stage gives you the ability to convey the information to others and to replan in case of a failure.

Join the Fun

If you have a passing interest in climbing as exercise or a drive to be a renowned climber, you have to start practicing. Learning how to put together a rock climbing route is only one step.

For other steps, consider scheduling a class to up your climbing acumen.