Is onsight climbing on life support?


21 January 2023

During the last few years, we have seen plenty of advancement when it comes to redpointing ability globally. In just the last three years, we saw close to 150 9a+ ascents which can be compared to only ten 9a+ ascents per year, last decade.

Ten years ago, Alex Megos onsighted Estado critico (9a) but since then only a dozen 8c's have been onsighted if we exclude Adam Ondra, who has onsighted 47 routes 8c to 9a since 2013. Global female climbing has been following a similar trend. 9a redpoints have become much more frequent but 8b, or harder, onsights are very rare.

When the 8a logbook was introduced in 2000, we wanted to motivate climbers to onsight routes, and in the scorecard you score almost three grades higher for an onsight compared to a redpoint. Our feeling has always been that onsighting, albeit not always perfectly fluid and sometimes as nerve-wracking as taking a penalty spot kick, is fundamental to enjoying climbing and a critical part of the climbing experience. The benefits of onsight climbing, especially for younger climbers, have been stated here and elsewhere so often that there's no need to go back over them. At this point, it could perhaps even be argued that younger climbers are keeping onsighting alive since onsight ability still determines who wins a lead comp. Although, even among this group, it seems like there's a trend of focusing on onsight climbing in the gym and allocating significantly more time spent at the crag to redpointing.

Another factor to consider is that, in our digital world, video is killing the onsight star. With film of so many climbs at one's fingertips, onsighting is becoming more difficult to claim and relies even more heavily on one's honesty. Yet, even if we take the digital revolution into account, flash climbing hasn't filled the gap. In the 8a database, there are only two 8c+ flashes since Ondra flashed Super Crackinette (9a+) in 2018.

In order to keep the spirit of, let's call it, first try climbing alive, we're wondering if we should re-evaluate and give even more incentive to onsighting and flashing? We look forward to your thoughts.

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