Working the route in sport climbing

Working the route in sport climbing

Practice makes perfect! Today's hardest routes have only been climbed after extensive practice of the individual moves. The route becomes a purely gymnastic challenge like the parallel bars or the rings. To many this is the ultimate style of climbing where the mind and body can be pushed to the absolute limit.

Practice improves performance. This is the whole principle of redpointing. The more you practice, or work the route, the better you will climb and so you will be able to tackle harder routes. Though the redpoint is the ultimate goal, working the route is often fun and makes for excellent training. Identifying the easiest sequences and linking them together is an absorbing physical and mental challenge without the stress of the big link. Many people never get round to the redpoint.


'Dogging' means hanging on all the bolts and checking out the moves - derived from the old colloquial expression 'hang-dogging'

Key considerations

Is the route worth an on-sight attempt? Be realistic, although it is often worth a shot, you may use up all your energy on a failed attempt. It may be better to go straight into working, or 'dogging' the route and aim for a quick redpoint. ('Dogging' means hanging on all the bolts and checking out the moves - derived from the old colloquial expression 'hang-dogging').

If you did fail on the on-sight, don't just lower off, but use the opportunity to maximise your chances of success for your next attempt. Sit on the rope for a few minutes to recover and run through the route up to the point you fell. You will know how close you were, if you were miles away it's probably best to lower off and work the route later when you are fresh. If you were close, then you will be aiming for a redpoint next go.

How was the climbing up to the point you fell? Go back and look at any bits you sketched. Be efficient and concentrate only on the hard sections, but make sure all the moves are climbed. You will be disappointed if you fail on the easy looking top section because you missed the hidden jug!

If you did fail on the on-sight, don't just lower off, but use the opportunity to maximise your chances of success for your next attempt

Conserve your energy

When working a route, don't be tempted to 'dog it to death', that is, staying up there for hours checking every possible sequence. Rest frequently on the rope and come down after half an hour otherwise you will burn out for the day.

Work sections with a bolt clipped above you so you can see every hold available. If it is hard to get between the bolts use aid or a stick (See Cheating / Equipping). Don't be embarrassed about this, it's the redpoint that matters. Be imaginative and don't be tempted to stick to the 'approved sequence'. Rest on the rope and think about the actual geometrics of the moves. It may not be obvious but sometimes using the tiny smear may be much easier than using the big foothold.

Look for clues

Chalk left by previous climbers is the most obvious clue. A spot of chalk at a pinch grip hold may show where to put your thumb. Polished edges are a sure sign of footholds, and look for boot rubber (blackened areas of the rock) that may indicate crucial toe and heel hooks.

Break it up

Having managed all the moves, the route can be divided into sections. Aim to climb each one like a mini route, this will also help you psychologically on the redpoint. Use rests or clipping points as natural dividers for each section. (See also Resting, Equipping, Preparing for the redpoint).

The belayer

A good belayer helps greatly. If you drop ten feet every time you sit on the rope you are going to waste a lot of energy. Yell 'Take!' just before you fall so the belayer knows to pull in the slack.

Plan your strategy

Don't despair if you don't get it straight away
FallingAs individual sections are joined in 'links', and the redpoint is starting to look 'on', you need a strategy for the most rapid success. Some people begin redpointing early and fall way below thecomplete 'chain' but continue hammering away and gradually gaining higher levels. Others work 'top down', aiming for links after the first few bolts all the way to the top. This gives you a taste of what it will be like climbing the last few moves when really tired. The type of route will dictate your best strategy. For bouldery routes it is probably worth throwing a redpoint in even before you are ready - you never know! This also helps to become familiar with the psyching up process as this is another skill in its own right.

If, after an eternity, you are still not rattling the chains, don't despair. Assuming you have not chosen a route way above your league, there may still be a path to success. Analyse everything, do this at home or driving to the crag or on the way home after a failed attempt. You will be amazed at the refinements you can make even after many days on the route. 

Search advice