How to project a route.

There’s one question that many of my clients keep asking me: How did you climb that route so well? The answer is simple… I’ve climbed it about a hundred times! When we watch videos of Adam Ondra onsighting some ridiculous grade, like 5.14d, we’re not getting the whole story. It makes great video seeing a professional climber float up the wall, but the reality is, it may have taken Adam 20 times to finally learn the moves before he flashed the route. Sometimes this is done on top rope, on rappel, or even studying photographs of the route. This is called “projecting.”

Just last week, I was out at the cliff on one of my “projects.”

DSC_1092As you can see, I am top roping the route. This is because lead climbing can be dangerous. Taking an unexpected fall can result in flipping upside down, or worse, getting the rope twisted around an ankle and snapping it. This is why most climbers will rehearse a route before taking to the sharp end, to minimize the risk of a fall. I have been working on this route for over a month. The first time I tried it, I was able to stick clip my way up to the anchors, and have left my rope on it ever since. This is so that when I get to the crag, my rope will always be on the route to save time. My first few times on the route, I would ascend the rope, working the moves out in my head. I made tick marks to help me remember and visually see where the small, yet crucial holds are. Each time I’m on the route, I try to perfect my movements, try different beta, move around my tick marks, and make mental notes. Practice makes perfect, and climbing is no exception.

I have probably top roped this route 40 times, and have got it down to only 2 falls. I know the areas I need to work on now, so it makes projecting so much easier. This is how I will send the route!

So what kind of climber are you? Do you try a route once, and if you fall, move on to another? Or do you invest the time to project, and one day go for the send? I challenge all of you to head to your local crags, and find a route that is out of your league. Next, throw a top rope on it, and just work out the moves. Take photos, make tick marks, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! It’s not glamorous, but this is climbing folks! If you want to get better, you have to put in the time.



45 thoughts on “How to project a route.

  1. I think you are confused as to what ‘flash’ and ‘onsight’ mean. An ‘onsight’ is when a climber walks up to a wall and lead climbs a route first try, with no beta and no falls. This is what Ondra did when he sent that 5.14d recently- he had never touched the wall before, nor did he have any beta.

    A ‘flash’ is similar to an onsight in that it is your very first time on a route (on lead) and you send it with no falls. The difference is that you have beta on the route- you have a good idea of what to do at the crux, or have other information on the route.

    Also, most climbers (including myself) project a route on lead if its any more than vertical. You can project on TR or on a fixed line, and many climbers do, but TR projecting isnt all that common. And leaving your rope up at a cliff and using what looks like an excessive amount of chalk to tick the route is generally frowned upon as it can threaten access to the cliff for others. Your rope should come down at the end of every day, no matter what.


  2. Circle ticks are key for dynamic accuracy! I use them as well. I admire the style with which you pursue your vertical dreams.


  3. If you don’t like top-roping, then you don’t like climbing. TRonsighting is the future. Just imagine, with a long enough rope you could TRedpoint El Cap, maybe even in a day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wes – I clicked on the ad, thinking it was a climbing vid, so I guess you made a little bit of money.
    You’re welcome.
    p.s. you’re an awesome climber.


  5. Hey Wes!…RAD article!

    I’d just add that climbers should choose carefully and be sure the route is difficult enought to “project”. Perhaps 2 number grades harder than anything you have ever sent previously? I’ve dissapointed myself on several occassions by onsighting a project my first time on it. It’s a major let down for us “Projectors”!


  6. Great tick mark photo – also makes it nice for people who climb after you because they know what’s worked already.

    When I project, I’d add that screaming is really helpful when you’re at the crux. If the best rock climbers in the world do it, it’s what any aspiring rock climber should be doing.


  7. geez pal what kind of FUCKING IDIOT ARE YOU??????????? tr/ing a route like that & leaving ther tr on it? if I SAW A TR LEFT ON A ROUTE LIKE THAT id’ FN CUT THE THINg, you are truly a half-wit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


      • dont you call me a homie dude im BUTCHER THAN YOU ARE given ur pussy climbiung exploits in this ridicuous blog!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Hey einstein, regarding your reply below, he said “homie” – not that other word! And as for toproping, all the instructors at my local gym toprope – and they climb really hard, often outdoors. And they don’t swear like troopers either. Maybe try to learn some manners?


    • Mr. The Wesley Summers,

      I’ve seen quickdraws that are made of metal at some rock climbing places, usually on roof climbs. Doesn’t it make more sense that we have permanent ropes on routes??? That way we could all project routes that are probably to scary too climb on lead, then we can get really strong and eventually flash that route and maybe other routes.

      Thank you for helping the climbing community! Are you friends with Andrew Bisharat??? That guys neat.


  8. This is how I onsight a route too, I found this method very effective but I added a few tweaks. My last project was a 5.10a, very crimpy and I was feeling frustrated to fell at the crux each time. In order to rehearse the move, I find out it was more convenient for me to chip a bigger hole with a hammer next to the crimp so that, if i was too pumped on top rope, I could relax on this new hole instead of taking another fall. Of course, on the actual send, I would eliminate this hole (I just mark it with a cross) and not use it. After some discussion with my friends, we optimized this method by borrowing a jug at our local climbing gym, just drill a hole and fix the jug for the time we are training on the route. We thought it was cleaner as we could remove the jug after the onsight. I’m so glad, I made some good progress on my climbing with this! I can now proudly send 5.10c in less than 15 tries!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I humbly ask a technical question – how can I use tick marks in projecting my offwidth? The little white marks you make that work well to point at or encircle small edges or pockets, or whatever, just don’t seem to work for me in an offwidth. First, there is usually no such specific feature to use, and I find I never seem to make the same move either twice in a row, or on each subsequent attempt. Also, since most of my body parts end up crammed into the crack, whatever marks I might make end up getting quickly rubbed off each new time I shinny past it.
    I was thinking about those paintstick things, if they dry fast enough, and maybe using them not just inside the crack, but around it on the outside, too, and like maybe to give me reminders at a specific spot, like “left foot heel-toe bridge here”, and maybe also where it gets really hard, just adding encouraging advice, to myself, like “good job, dude, you’re crushing it here!” They come in a bunch of colors, too, so no matter what color rock it is, you can probably find a nice contrasting color that will really stand out.


  10. Disgusting thing what you did to that rock which you were obviously so unprepared for? 40 tries?! you are not adam ondra and that aint no 5.14c, I couldnt care less about TR, but the tick marks and leaving the actual rope on the crag… well that shit just screams selfishness and an amateur with silly dreams of grandeur…. go back the to climbing plastic, you can do that shit all day long there…


  11. If I went to a crag and there was a top rope hanging on a route that I wanted to climb with no one on it, I would pull it…because I want to climb that route. If I went to a crag and there was a top rope hanging out a route, and I knew it was yours, I would pull it (regardless of whether or not I wanted to climb it)…because you are a dipshit.


  12. Wes, you are my hero. Really. Your work brings unalloyed joy to my otherwise bitter heart, and a smile to my otherwise frowning countenance. With your helpful tips- love the tickmark beta!- I’m off to proj my proj!


  13. onsight. Adjective. (not comparable) (climbing) Without having previously seen the terrain.
    flash. The clean ascent of a climb on the first attempt, having previously obtained beta or while having beta shouted up from the ground en route.

    So you projected a route, but were pretty unethical in your ascent. Leaving a rope behind while you make 40 top rope attempts and chalk up the rock? Not cool


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