Beta (climbing)

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Competition bouldering climbers at the IFSC World Cup 2017 pre-inspecting the boulder problems to figure out the beta.

Beta is a climbing term that designates information about how to ascend a climbing route (e.g. "grab hold of the flake on left while moving the right foot onto the edge on the right"). Traditionally sourced in climbing guidebooks, online databases and apps now provide very detailed climbing beta (e.g. videos of climbers completing the route). The term is attributed to Texan climber Jack Mileski.

When a climber completes a route on their first attempt and without falling, it is called an onsight if they had no beta, or a flash if they had beta (a completion after several failed attempts is called a redpoint). New grade milestones in the on-sighting and flashing of routes are actively followed in the climbing media. The discovery of new beta has led to the re-grading of notable and historic climbing routes.


The complexity of beta can range from a small hint about a difficult section (i.e. referred to as "some" beta), to a step-by-step instruction of the entire climb (i.e. referred to as "the" beta).[1][2][3] Sometimes there is more than one way to climb a route and thus more than one beta; climbers can follow different route beta depending on their body shape (e.g. whether they have a long or short reach), and/or their preferred style and technique (e.g. may not have the power to overcome a roof, and thus take a different route).[1][2][3] Multiple route options–and thus betas–are particularly common on long multi-pitch climbing and big wall climbing routes, for example on the famous Yosemite route Freerider and its optional V7 (7A+) "Huber boulder problem".[4]

In rock climbing, beta can include background information about a route's grade of difficulty (e.g. what drove the grade), detailed aspects about the crux (e.g. "you need to use your left hand, not your right"), the climbing style needed (e.g. long reaches or tiny crimps), the best way to protect the route (e.g. "insert a number 4 SCLD before attempting the crack"), and specific information about hand or foot holds.[5] For mountaineering and alpine climbing, beta may include information about the approach (e.g. crossing bergschrunds), the ability to find the correct route (e.g "avoid the crack system on the left"), the feasibility of exiting the route before completing it (e.g. key abseils to set up), and the situation regarding rock-fall and avalanche dangers.[6]

Sometimes climbers display beta on a graphical beta-map (a more detailed move-by-move instruction guide than the route topo).[7] Advanced climbers on very difficult routes try to connect the beta of their route to their muscle memory, so they don't have to think about the next move.[8]

Competition climbers are given a fixed time to inspect the route as a group before the competition, but once the climbing begins, they must remain in the isolation zone away from the climbing wall, to prevent them learning more beta from watching fellow competitors attempting the route. During a time-limited pre-competition inspection, climbers try to work out the beta starting from the top of the route and working down, to avoid losing time.[9]

Derived terms[edit]

The derived term spraying beta designates when a third party begins to impart unwanted beta without being asked for it (which can ruin an onsight attempt). The term breaking beta designates when a climber is able to bypass or skip a whole sequence of moves (e.g. using a dyno).[2]


The official climbing guidebooks were the first systematic forms of beta.[10] The beta in these physical climbing guidebooks was limited to the basic details of the climbing route (e.g. length, grade, direction/topo etc.) so as to manage the size of the guidebook and avoid giving so much information that would spoil an onsight attempt.[10] With the development of the internet, a significant quantity of more detailed beta began to accumulate (e.g. complete YouTube videos on how to climb a specific route).[10] Both established climbing guidebook publishers (e.g. 'RockFax' in Europe), and the new dedicated online climbing databases (e.g. Mountain Project and '') began to aggregate this detailed beta in online databases and apps, alongside the traditional guidebook-type information.[11] Open-source beta databases such as 'OpenBeta' also aggregate user-generated climbing beta.[12]


A Betamax cassette

The original use of the term beta in climbing is generally attributed to the late Texan climber Jack Mileski, who climbed predominantly in the Shawangunks during the early 1980s. "Beta" is short for Betamax, an early videotape format since largely replaced by the VHS format. Reputedly, Mileski would record climbers ascending routes on Betamax tape and then share these tapes with other climbers, resulting in the term becoming synonymous with getting information on how to climb a route.[13][14]

Onsights and flashes[edit]

When climbers are attempting a graded climbing route for their very first time, a distinction is made on whether they complete the route on their very first attempt without falling. This distinction is further split depending on whether they had prior beta about the route. Where they had no beta, their ascent is called an onsight, and where they had prior beta, it is called a flash.[15][16]

The climbing media records new grade milestones of onsights and flashes of major sport climbing routes. In 2023, the highest milestone in flashing a route was by Czech climber Adam Ondra who in 2018, became the first-ever climber in history to flash a 9a+ (5.15a) graded sport climbing route, Super Crackinette.[17] In 2023, the highest milestone for on-sighting a route was set by German climber Alex Megos who in 2013, became the first-ever climber in history to onsight a 9a (5.14d) graded sport climbing route, Estado Critico.[18] In 2023, Slovenian climber Janja Garnbret remains the only female climber to flash (La Fabelita in 2015) and onsight (Fish eye in 2021) an 8c (5.14b) graded sport climbing route.[19][20]

Effect on re-grading[edit]

When a climber has made the first ascent (or first free ascent) of a climbing route, they will assign a technical grade to the route to reflect the difficulties encountered. This grade will be a function of the particular beta that the climber used to make their first ascent. As subsequent climbers repeat the new route, they may discover new beta that makes the route easier and thus lowers its grade.[21][22] Notable examples include the 2021 downgrading of Bibiliographie from 9c (5.15d)–the world's highest grade at the time–to 9b+ (5.15c) after a slightly easier sequence of moves was worked out for the crux.[23] New beta can also emerge from new climbing techniques; examples being the introduction of knee pads that enabled knee bar rests, and use of more advanced use heel hooks. In 2002, the famous bouldering route Dreamtime was downgraded from being the world's first-ever V15 (8C) graded boulder to being grade V14 (8B+), with the discovery of new beta that used heel hooks to make the route slightly easier, thus reducing the grade.[24]

Notable beta[edit]

Certain famous climbs have beta around very specific necessary sequences of movements or actions that have in themselves become notable:

  • "Rose Move". In 1985, leading French climber Antoine Le Menestrel [fr] chipped out a series of tiny pockets on a limestone sport climbing route in Buoux to create La Rose et le Vampire, only the fourth-ever route at the grade of 8b (5.13d) in climbing history. The elegant sequence of cross-over movements needed to overcome its crux became known as the "Rose Move".[25][26]
  • "King Swing". One of the most famous pieces of beta in big wall climbing is the 100-foot pendulum that climbers need to execute to move from a crack-system that ends at 'Boot Flake' into a new crack-system that starts at 'Eagle Ledge' on the Nose (VI 5.9 C2) of El Capitan in Yosemite.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Climbing Terminology". Rock & Ice. Archived from the original on May 19, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "What Is Climbing Beta? – Climbing Jargon Explained". Climber News. 29 October 2020. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  3. ^ a b Bate, Chris; Arthur, Charles; et al. (8 May 2006). "A Glossary of Climbing terms: from Abseil to Zawn". UK Climbing. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  4. ^ Lucas, James (13 July 2022). "What You Didn't Know About Alex Honnold & His Free Solo of Freerider". Climbing. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  5. ^ Andrew Bisharat (6 October 2009). Sport Climbing: From Toprope to Redpoint, Techniques for Climbing Success. Mountaineers Books. ISBN 978-1594852701. Retrieved 15 August 2023. ebook: ISBN 9781594855139
  6. ^ Pesterfield, Heidi. Traditional Lead Climbing: A Rock Climber's Guide to Taking the Sharp End of the Rope. Wilderness Press. ISBN 9780899974422.
  7. ^ McGrath, Don (10 October 2014). "Learn This: Mental Training for Climbers". Climbing. Archived from the original on Feb 18, 2019.
  8. ^ Claassen, Paige (27 July 2023). "Getting Pumped? Making Mistakes? You Should Train Your Muscle Memory". Climbing. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  9. ^ Pardy, Aaron (28 May 2023). "10 Tips for Comp-Style Boulder Problems". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Adamson, Michael (6 February 2009). "The Guidebook Odyssey – Unearthing the epic task of writing a guidebook". Climbing. Retrieved 26 August 2023.
  11. ^ Gerry, Aaron (29 September 2023). "The Best Climbing Apps of 2023". Climbing. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  12. ^ Gerry, Aaron (4 May 2021). "Mountain Project, OpenBeta, and the Fight Over Climbing Data Access". Climbing. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  13. ^ Samet, Matt (August 2011). The Climbing Dictionary: Mountaineering Slang, Terms, Neologisms & Lingo. Mountaineers Books. p. 30. ISBN 978-1594855023. Origin: The late Shawgunks and Texan climber Jack Mileski known for his colorful neologisms. Mileski coined the term at the Gunks in 1981 when films were offered for home viewing in both VHS and Betamax formats. Let me run the 'Betamax' tape for you, Mileski once told Mike Freeman, describing the 5.12 Kansas City, and then added "So Mike, here's the beta!"
  14. ^ Pesterfield, Heidi (2007). Traditional Lead Climbing: A Rock Climber's Guide to Taking the Sharp End of the Rope (2nd ed.). Wilderness Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0899974422.
  15. ^ Pardy, Aaron (2 November 2022). "Onsight and Flash – What Do They Mean?". Gripped Magazine. Retrieved 24 December 2022.
  16. ^ "What Is A Redpoint In Climbing? – Climbing Jargon Explained". Climber. 2 October 2020. Retrieved 1 January 2022.
  17. ^ "Adam Ondra / Interview after world's first 9a+ flash at St. Léger in France". planetemountain.
  18. ^ "Alexander Megos, l'intervista dopo il primo 9a a-vista mondiale".
  19. ^ Millar, Delaney (5 November 2021). "Janja Garnbret Becomes First Woman to Onsight 5.14b". Climbing. Retrieved 4 January 2022.
  20. ^ "Janja Garnbret makes climbing history with first female 8c onsight, Fish Eye at Oliana". PlanetMountain. 3 November 2021. Retrieved 3 July 2022.
  21. ^ "Inflating Grades and Egos: A Climbing Difficulty Discussion". Archived from the original on Sep 10, 2017.
  22. ^ Mandelli, G; Angriman, A (2016). Scales of Difficulty in Climbing. Central School of Mountaineering, Club Alpino Italiano, Italy. S2CID 53358088.
  23. ^ Clarke, Owen (8 September 2021). "Stefano Ghisolfi on Climbing the World's Hardest Grade… and Then Downgrading It". Climbing. Retrieved 5 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Dreamtime, a dream which vanished for a second only". PlanetMountain. 16 November 2009. Retrieved 11 August 2023.
  25. ^ "Watch Anna Stohr do the Rose Move on the Famous Rose Route". Gripped Magazine. 22 November 2018. Retrieved 28 October 2023.
  26. ^ Thornburg, Jim (22 April 2010). "Buoux: Revisiting France's Crag of the 1980s". Climbing. Retrieved 28 October 2023. Today, Antoine's "Rose move" is part of our everyday lexicon
  27. ^ Bishart, Andrew (14 June 2015). "Climb Yosemite's El Capitan Like a Rock Star—From Your Computer". National Geographic. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  28. ^ King, Cameron (2015). "Misjudged Pendulum". American Alpine Club. Retrieved 18 May 2023.

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