Can you onsight a boulder problem? The answer may shock you!

Okay. Will the answer shock me?

Answer: Probably not but it depends.

Let’s get into it!! The meat and potatoes

Okay, here’s the thing you puny pebble wrestlers, you can onsight your problems. But I think that there is really a bunch of people who are saying onsight when they mean flash or when they mean red point. So, if you don’t know what redpoint means then let’s do this!

Redpoint: Second try, no matter what. Every try after you first go is your Redpoint go.

Pinkpoint: to redpoint with trad gear placed.

Flash: First try, no matter what. You can ask whoever you want, you can even look at a video or clean the holds or get your buddy to tick all the holds for you. Anything goes.

Onsight: First try, no knowledge. This means you cannot see the route in its complete form until you get onto the climb, you cannot see someone do or fail at it, you cannot touch the holds, you cannot watch a video of the route, you cannot have tick marks, you cannot have someone telling you what to do or what to grab.

Now a buddy of mine, let’s call him Alex, has recently told me the truth about bouldering: it is a contrived sport that is based on doing a series of difficult moves in order. In such one could come to the likely conclusion that if bouldering is only to do hard moves, who really cares about onsighting? Well, you shouldn’t, because that’s not the point of bouldering. Onsight bouldering is like redpoint Alpine climbing. No one goes up on an alpine climb “to take a burn on it.”

Alright, so we’ve already determined what bouldering is (kind of) and why onsight is pretty dumb in the ethology of bouldering. So, can we onsight boulder?

Probably not.

Why I say this is because since bouldering is to do all the moves in a certain order and to complete this puzzle, you need to know stuff like where the top is and how to get there to keep the grade constant.

Okay, let’s pretend no one cares about grades and the top is easily defined. Then, surely onsight is possible right?

Probably not.

Again, I believe that too much information is divulged when bouldering to the point that most of all bouldering in the world is void of onsight type climbing.

Let’s back it up to roped climbing

Now in the best of worlds, a roped onsight would go something like this: you would arrive with your friend at the base of a climb, put a standard rack on your gear loops, look up, drop gear if need be or supplement, and then go for it not knowing anything. However, in roped climbing we have come to a consensus that knowing the grade, having the draws placed for us and having chalk all over this rig is fine because it doesn’t detract that much from the spirit of onsight.

So, if you had rapped into this climb with your friend, and saw where every hold was and took time to memorize the route (without touching it), would that be an onsight? I think not. Why? too much information about the climb was divulged by you simply rapping and memorizing sequences. So, what’s the difference in case A. and case B.? The ability to know everything about a route (especially the crux) as you are going into it. 

Back to bouldering

Now, bouldering is weird because you have many routes. Some are pretty much climbs that haven’t been bolted yet, others have a very weird nature to them. Take this one:

Get it da.... er guy
Get it da…. er guy

Martini Roof! What a problem. Impossible to onsight unless there is some real restraint from the climber. Since the route is completely view-able from the ground, it is impossible to say that someone would not have all the information before leaving the ground (unless they walked in to the first hold and were only told what the last hold was). Second, martini roof is incredibly contrived, as it doesn’t follow a natural line but a line that is pretty cool. It starts on a hold and ends on a hold. Not like a route.

What I’m basically saying is two fold: you have too much information that I would consider unfair if you were to scan around the route (similar to rapping the line if this were a rock climb) and you have to know where it starts and ends and which way it goes, it follows a progression.

Many, many, many boulders are like this and I think that makes bouldering what it is: a game of true strength and beta. What isn’t it? A one day onsight everything adventure. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the game who says they onsight bouldering routes. Most people say flashed. Why? The point isn’t to onsight, and you always seem to do something that would be a step above and beyond. Did you ask that guy if the last hold was a jug? did you touch the second hold? did you pull up and then put your butt back on the pad?

Alright. That’s that. let’s move on.


1. do you hate bouldering?


That’s it!



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