Rock climbing has been an ever-evolving sport. Long gone are the simple days of static-rope leading with a bowline knot tied around your waist. The recent years have shown amazing technological advances in climbing protection which in turn has helped push the limits of our physical abilities. We now climb harder now than ever before. Why is that? Enter the redpoint.

Redpoint /ˈrɛdpɔɪnt/:  to free-climb a route, while lead climbing, after having practiced the route beforehand (either by hangdogging or top roping)

This is where (other than bouldering) you push your limits and send the hardest you can send. However, there is more to redpointing than just throwing yourself at a route over and over again until you send. I have some tips and tactics to share that might give you the extra edge you need. So if you’re looking how to redpoint your next project, you’ve come to the right place.

Justin Wallace climbing Zorro (11c) in Lander, WY

Lander, WY and a Petzl Clinic

Early July this year (2018) Lauren, Achilles, and I meandered our way up from San Diego to Lander Wyoming for the 25th annual International Climbers Festival. We spent a week surrounded by beautiful blue skies, like-minded people, and perfect sending temps. I couldn’t have asked for more. During that week, we also took the time to advance our skills as climbers with some clinics. I took a couple (including redpointing) and Lauren took a woman’s specific headspace and movement clinic.  

Charlie Odette (a 62 year-old man who STILL crushes 5.14) and his lovely wife, Maggie, took the time (thanks to Petzl) to run a clinic specifically on redpointing. I was lucky enough to attend said clinic and glean some solid of information from them. They focused on exactly what you would think they would. Choosing a route to redpoint, learning the route, training for it, and of course executing the redpoint.

Charlie Odette (Chuck for short) proving that age is just a number
Charlie Odette (Chuck for short) proving that age is just a number

Choosing a Route to Redpoint

There is more to choosing your redpoint project then just picking out a hard climb. One of the best tips (and you would think its common sense) that I got from Chuck was to “Train your weakness and climb your strengths.” So, if you have mega endurance and hate crimping then maybe choose a nice long overhung route for your project. (Think Red River Gorge) But if you climb like a mountain goat on slab, then maybe push yourself on some low angle granite. Regardless of your strength, aim for a full number grade above your onsight level.

After choosing a few climbs that fit your strengths you should test them out. Rig up a couple TR’s, hangdog, or stick clip your way up your chosen few and give the moves a couple goes. This is just a preliminary look, you don’t need to get too in depth. Balance whichever one appears the easiest to whichever is the most fun. (The more fun a route is, the more you’ll want to be on it and the higher your stoke will be).

Now that you’ve got the climb in mind, it’s time to start learning everything you can about it.

Learning the Route 

Step one is research. If you’re attempting the redpoint on a well-known route then chances are most of the legwork has been taken care of for you. Check your resources (Mountain Project, YouTube, SuperTopo, etc…) and see what the masses are saying. Remember though, its just research, not your beta. Just because Jimmy four toes does a drop knee gaston on the crux doesn’t mean you have to as well.

The next step to learning to the route is getting yourself a belayer that is stoked to help. You can be on the rope for hours and an impatient belayer will just make you rush the process. Once you’ve settled on which friend will have to endure with you, its time to suss the route. 

William Nicewonger hanging out on a climb in Thailand

Most people start with the crux. However, it’s important to check out the ENTIRE route. Feel the holds, try some moves, see how they link together. Make some tics, erase some tics, take your time and don’t forget about hanging draws (direction) and clipping stances.  Start with individual moves. After you have an idea of what moves are required, start looking into linking them. Then linking sequences.

Identify rests! This is going beyond just finding a big hold and milking it. Maybe you can implement a heel somewhere for a tricky rest or find a hidden kneebar. The more energy you can gain during a climb the better. If you’re having trouble identifying good rests, trying climbing it with a heart rate monitor. You can tell what rests are actually reducing your heart rate and benefitting you.

Specific Training for Your Project

This is where the fun starts! And by fun, I mean the weeks (or longer) of pure frustration and pain. As climbers, we all like to suffer a bit, so what may be horrible to some is usually fun to us. However, It goes beyond just throwing yourself at your proj and hangboarding for hours on end. You need to memorize the climb, find your faults, and give yourself mini-goals to keep the stoke up.

Take a page Fred Beckey’s book and write down your beta. Draw a map or directions that show you exactly what move to do and when. Memorize it. Visualize it. Speaking of visualizing, you can take some pointers from Adam Ondra on that. He might look like a total goof training for a redpoint or flash attempt, but hey, he’s the best climber in the world for a reason.

Justin Wallace leading Zorro (11c) in Lander, WY

Climbing is extremely introspective. Knowing yourself is imperative for climbing at your peek. Knowing your fears and mitigating them so you can focus on climbing is often times overlooked by people. Don’t like a certain clipping stance? Find a belayer that you have faith in and train with them for that clip. Can’t dedicate on a slippery foot over a run-out? Again, communicate that with your belayer. Make a plan. Maybe even practice that specific fall. We can’t forget the mental training as well as physical!

Can’t hit the redpoint? Go for a lowpoint!

Lowpoint /lohpɔɪnt/: the lowest part of the climb that you can successfully reach the chains from.

This helps you learn the top moves in the right mental and physical state (tired and pumped out of your gourd). After you identify your lowpoint, you can slowly start lowering it by a move or two. Then lower it by a sequence or two. Slowly but surely you’ll find yourself going for the send.

Time to Climb Hard. Executing the Redpoint

Stack the odds in your favor! It goes without saying that you want every possible variable on your side. Time of day, humidity, temperature, mental state, muscle fatigue, shoes, weight etc… Any and all. Make sure you have the greatest chances possible.

Do a couple of easy climbs to warm the muscles up and prevent a flash pump. Then go for a hard climb (7/10 on the “try hard” scale) and climb until you fall. Immediately after, eat something high in fat and sugar. Stretch out a bit and wait 30 minutes to an hour or until you feel ready. When you’re ready, go ahead and tie-in and do whatever pre-climb ritual you and your partner might have (super important to me).

Justin Wallace on a redpoint attempt of Heart of Darkness (11a) in Joshua Tree

Don’t forget that climbing is a mental battle. Before starting the climb, after you’re tied in, start your conscious breathing. In and out, slow, controlled, using the diaphragm. Relax.

When you climb, climb as you have never before. Give every single move 100% of your focus and intention. Don’t worry about the risks, you already covered and mitigated all of those. There is nothing left but to fire off the muscle memory. When achieved, it will be one of the greatest feelings ever. Every move will feel easy as you fall into a meditative state and flow up the rock.

Falling is not Failure

You might still punt. That’s fine. Just because you fall doesn’t mean you failed. Take it, learn from it, and add it to your repertoire of beta. This is redpointing. You are going to fall a lot. Even if you were to fall two thousand times in the same spot, it’s not failure. It’s not failure until you give up and tell yourself that you can never do it. But as rock climbers, we are a tenacious hard-headed group of masochists that never quit, so I wouldn’t really worry about failing.

Poom taking a nice whipper after a dyno
Poom Wattanapan taking the whip on Incinerator (12a) 

3 thoughts on “Climb Harder: How to Redpoint Smarter

  1. Wow, I had never heard of the low point concept before. That’s super cool. Trying to work out logistically how you’d do that with the clipping, but it sounds like an awesome idea!

    Also, love your sentiment about failure. I punted a LOT last season, but I’m psyched and I’m going back for more. Can’t wait for RP season once winter is over. Thanks for the great read!

Leave a Reply