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To many, onsighting represents the pinnacle of climbing mastery. An onsight ascent is one in which you lead a climb successfully without prior rehearsal on the route, or specific information about the climbing. On an onsight, you won’t know anything beyond what you can presume from the ground. An onsight is the purest form of ascent, with no stylistic compromises — no hangdogging, rehearsing, or borrowing beta. Onsight climbing transcends the sub-disciplines of climbing. Be they trads, rads, or pebble-wrestlers, all climbers respect the onsight ascent because it is the ultimate test of climber versus the rock.
In many ways, onsight climbing demands the most from the climber, and the most preparation because you must react to the situation as it unfolds in real time. Without prior knowledge of the route ahead, you must immediately execute whichever to-be-determined movement skills are required for the ascent, so whatever skills you need, you must carry with you — hanging from the rope to acquire new ones is not an option. As such, to succeed on difficult onsights, you must cultivate a broad set of climbing skills and the ability to deploy them at a moment’s notice.
Obtaining the physical fitness and broad repertoire of skills is one challenge to mastering onsight climbing. The other, more elusive skill is developing the ideal state of mental arousal needed for difficult onsights. This preferred state is a mix of calm relaxation and heightened awareness that allows you to control the unconscious workings of your body and absorb a mass of information from the environment. It enables you to retrieve any skill that might be required or to generate a sudden herculean effort.
Physical Training for Onsight Climbing
Onsight climbing will generally involve these physical variations:
• Slower pace
• Larger holds
• Climbing more statically
• Longer duration
• Recovering from difficult climbing at poor rests
• Downclimbing difficult moves
The right fitness for these challenges can be developed through training exercises that are already part of the Rock Prodigy program. Most of these traits relate to local forearm endurance, and thus are best trained through the same exercises used to develop forearm endurance for redpoint climbing, with slight adjustments to better suit the unique demands of onsight climbing. As a matter of necessity, the lion’s share of climbing during an onsight attempt will take place below the maximum steady state (MSS), with only short, infrequent bursts above it to surpass crux moves. Therefore, the ultimate physical training for onsight climbing is Base-Fitness Training, where many of the necessary skills can be developed concurrently.
However, there is much more to onsight climbing than physical fitness. If you have decent redpointing fitness, onsigthing is primarily a mental test. Forearm endurance can easily be undermined by a poor attitude, leading to poor breathing, tunnel vision, misread sequences, inefficient movement, over-gripping, and eventually, pumping out. A well-trained climber who panics on a climb, stops breathing, and over-grips will fail every time. Fortunately, you can develop the skills to avoid these common pitfalls through a number of specific exercises.
Learn more in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Topics on Onsight climbing performance include:
• Skill Development for onsight climbing
• Physical training variations for onsight climbing
• Technique drills to boost your onsighting
• Mental preparation for onsighting
• Confronting and overcoming falling anxiety
• How to develop a strategy for every onsight attempt
• Route reconnaissance and reading the moves during an onsight
• Expert tips for performing during an onsight
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