Route Reading and Being a Better Climbing Partner

Reading a climb is a conversation. In order to have an open dialogue, even if it's with yourself, it is vitally important to keep asking questions. Staying curious will avoid letting the ego or external elements effect how you climb and engage in the route-reading process. If you're giving beta, never use absolutes. Absolutes in climbing hardly ever exist. Absolutes also dictate a master. There are no masters.

Ask your climbing partner pointed questions. Allow them to understand your thought process. If you can't explain your thoughts clearly at first, it's okay. At least you're engaged in a conversation and learning more about each other. Let's take a look at an example of an Absolute Exchange (AE) and a Question Based Exchange (QBE) :


Belayer  - You're hesitating. Stop climbing so extended. If you work your right foot up that move is easy.

Climber - Oh... okay. I can't seem to stand on that foot... it seems too high.

Belayer - It's not.


I have seen this scenario play out so many times both outside and in the gym. The belayer doesn't leave any room for discussion. He/she is setting a clear hierarchy. This seems to happen a lot with couples. Which really puts a damper on how fun self discovery in climbing should be. Let's try a Question Based Exchange:


Belayer  - Why do you think you fell on that part?

Climber - I'm not completely sure... I think I may have been holding my breath.

Belayer - Yeah often when I hold my breath, I climb real stiff. I think you may have been missing some feet out right. Do you see those feet out right by the third clip?

Climber - Oops! Yeah I see those now.

Belayer - Want to take a second to read your sequence and try it again?

Climber - Sure that sounds good. Can you remind me to breath when I go through the sequence again? I think that would help.

Belayer - For sure.


There is so much more room for back in forth dialogue in this scenario. It plays out a lot like any regular conversation. But in the process, the climbing partners are learning much more about each other and working on solving the route together. It's also important to only shout out commands or reminders when asked. Doing this may interrupt some climbers processes. The climber in this scenario asked for breathing reminders, so the belayer obliged.

Personally, the QBE route makes me feel valued as the climber. Often times, when someone sprays beta, it can make you feel pretty stupid, even incapable - even though the beta sprayer may have taken months to figure out that particular beta for the climb. Please make sure to ask your climbing partner if they want specific beta for a climb. Often times giving established beta to another climber can stunt their route-reading and climbing process. Especially if the given beta is for a tall climber and the receiver is only 5 foot 4 inches tall.

Think about it like this - Would you rather be lectured? Or would you rather have a conversation? AE lectures, while QBE converses. My choice is clearly option two.

What's yours?