Category Archives: Reading Route

Features on reading routes both in a guidebook and on the rock face.

Proper, Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance in Climbing

This classic maxim to get people to plan and think ahead is often applied to a whole manner of different situation, and it also holds true in climbing, especially if you are planning on pushing your boundaries. At its most basic it is refering to having done the ground work, for instant there aren’t many people who are going to get up after a prolonged period on the couch and climb at there previous limit.

If you have been out climbing at your limit for a few months and feel comfortable, then prehaps you’ve done the neccessary work to push those limits and step across that line in the sand to a new no mans land where anything can happen. If that’s the case then there are a few things you can do to minimise the unexpected.

First off consider draw the route, this diagram can take the form of anything from a very basic pencil drawing showing the expected path, and main features like corners, aretes, cracks, holds and quickdraw. Or it could simply be an image in your head.

If its and indoor route, try to include all the hand holds and which direct they look best to hold them, were you can shake out, which holds you clip off and where the crux section of the route is. These diagrams can also be used to break the routes down into sections.

If it is outdoors, where are the rests, the gear, if its a sports route where might you clip off. Where is the crux, where might you get a shake out. What shapes are there that offer a rest or respite.

If you start off drawing the diagram you will eventually find that there is no need draw it, as you can build a mental picture by breaking the route down, into easy climbing, hard climbing, crux sections, possible rests, even where there is protection. Often to achieve this you’ll need to view the route from several different view points, to get a better 3D image of the route, alternatively it is also posssbile to climb an easier adjacent route, allowing you a birds eye view of crucial holds.

Climbing an adjacent route will also allow you to get used to the type of holds, the angle of the wall, and even the style of climbing. This in turn will help you to imagine how you might climb the route in your own mind. At its most advance level you would include imagining a series of ‘What if’s’ – the gear isn’t as good as you thought, the holds are smaller, the rock is steeper, the crux is harder, the gear is better, etc…

The key Points are:
Start drawing a diagram of routes
Break the route into sections
Where are the likely rests/shake outs
Look at the route from several different view points to get a better 3D image
Climb an easier adjacent route to get a feel for the rock and another view point
Imagine how you might climb the route

How to Climb Harder Course

On the how to climb harder course we cover these skill sou planning and preparation as a tactic to improve peoples climbing. You’ll be amazed at how effective they are. To find out more or to check out when out next How to Climb Harder course follow the link.

how to climb harder


Placing Gear Efficiently

Effective placement of gear comes down three things, knowing your racking system, developing a good eye for placements as well as the appropriate size of relative protection, and using rests where possible to place gear whilst in balance.

The first two are down to hands on experience with your rack and gear placements. You might go through you racking system at home, trying to reach straight for the piece of gear you think of and take it off and replace it in the same position in time each time. Getting to know gear placements is down to time spent at the crag.

You can however practice the hands-off rests we cover in hands off rests section. By being in balance you avoid placing gear mid move in a strenuous position. You may often find that the instant you have placed your runner you find a better position to place it from. Try to be relaxed when placing gear and ask yourself whether if you make another half move you will be in a more balanced position?

When at a rest it is sometimes possible to see a gear placement above. You may be able to judge the size from the rest and select the correct wire and clip it to a quickdraw ready to place, saving time and energy. Some people climb up with the gear ready in their mouths. Be aware that it is quite easy to drop the gear, possibly meaning you don’t have anything to place. Besides, metal plays havoc with you tooth enamel!

Placing Gear Efficiently exercise

Rack up ready to climb and walk along the bottom of a cliff playing ‘guess the placement’. Find a crack and guess the best size of gear. Experiment with other sizes to see if you got the best fit. See section on various gear placements.

You may be able to judge the size of a camming device placement in finger widths; one finger = cam 1, two fingers = cam 2 and so on.Try it and see if it works for you.

Placing gear on lead exercise

When you are leading try to place gear only where you can stand in balance or from a hands-off rest. Place the gear from here and before you leave this position take time to look up and spot the next rest and gear placement. Take the time to look at how you might climb the next section.

This can be described as anticipating the next moves and gear. So ask yourself two questions where you can stand next and where you can place the next gear. Until you can answer these two questions don’t move.

WARNING — Lead climbing is dangerous. Before attempting this exercise it is worth practicing placing gear on your route whilst on top rope, trailing a rope to simulate lead climbing. Make sure that your belayer has the neccesary skill to stop you if you fall!



Reading Routes and Using Guidebooks

Hopefully by now you will have developed some energy saving habits, as well as a understanding of how to carry on learning. After all it will be your own discoveries at the crag that will carry you above and beyond. Even a single pitch might require all of the skills outlined so far. The trick is to identify the different styles you will need to use – you need to be able to ‘read’ the route. To be adept at reading a route the skills and movements of climbing will already be subconscious. Your body needs to have used the movements hundreds of times before it starts to lay down subconscious muscle memory.

There are a couple of ways you can help: Think about climbing whenever you can! By thinking of the movement you are excercising some of the same brain functions as when you are actually climbing. By climbing as quickly as possible, quicker than you can think through the moves, you can exercise your subconscious skills.

A climber taking a moment to visualise and mentally prepare to lead Free Stine Henge , E7
A climber taking a moment to visualise and mentally prepare to lead Free Stine Henge , E7

Developing subconscious route reading exercise

Find a pitch that you should find relatively easy to climb and climb it as quickly as possible, the guide for how quickly should be the point at which you feel that you are making moves before you have had the time to really think about what you are doing. Yummy be using bad technique, so climb the pitch again slowly. Did one feel efficient? Did you find any of your instant decisions helped? Repeat this exercise often on both route you know and don’t know. 


The ability to read routes is pointless if you can’t find the crag. Guidebooks are another essential tool; some are pictorial, others are more descriptive, all should help you find the crag, the start of the route and the climbing line.

Read the route description and carefully examine the topos. Try and identify key features and landmarks described in the book, and try and visualise the line of the route on the crag. On multi-pitched route this becomes increasingly difficult as part of the crag may well be obscured from view. At times it may be necessary to check the guidebook on the approach to the cliff as you often get a better overview of the route.

A classic climbers club guide book with line drawing of cliffs and long route descriptions
A classic climbers club guide book with line drawing of cliffs and long route descriptions

When people first start using guidebooks they often misinterpret the information, a slight groove becomes a corner, a crack becomes a chimney, etc. The trick is to constantly learn from you mistakes, (typically this can be trying to make the description of your chosen route fit the section of cliff you are stood below!).

Guidebook Exercise

Before you head out spend some time in the comfort of your own home to do some armchair research. This will probably not only involved a guidebook nowadays but also google and youtube. As you’ll be surprised how many photos and videos there are out there of the really popular routes around the world. This will help you visualise the route, crag and line.

When approaching the crag have the guidebook to hand. If you get a good view of the crag you can identify possible approaches to the bottom of the crag and work out the rough line of one or more of the routes on the crag. Which will all help you to arrive at the bottom of the route that you wish to climb.

At the bottom of the route read the description again and look at the topo. Your route may not be shown, but the lines of the routes to either side might. Visualise the line of the climb. It can be helpful to ask other climbers around what routes they are climbing but they may be just as lost as you! 

Find the right start of a route is a great start, as it means the rest should fall into place, sometimes it can seem rather ambiguous.

If you are setting up a top rope you need to identify features at the top of the crag that will help you find the top of the route. Or alternatively place some rucksacks or a climbing partner just out from the base as a reference point to locate the appropriate place to rig your ropes.

When climbing the route let the belayer have the guidebook and keep it open on the right page, and if you get confused get them to direct you, as they often have a better view of the bigger picture.

Once you have finished the route, try re-writing the description in your own words. Does the guidebook use different words to describe the features and different phrases to describe the climbing?


Reading Routes

Talk to other climbers, they might be able to tell you where they found the going tough or where they found a crucial gear placement. They may also be able draw comparisons with other routes that you have climbed. Use the internet as someone may have written about there experiences, maybe they got lost and have key piece of information to share.

As you approach the route and can see the whole thing, identify any features or landmarks that may help you to navigate your way to the top. Look for any obvious rests or gear placements. Binoculars may be useful to examine the route from below, or you may get a better view by climbing an easier adjacent route. On a single pitch climb it may be possible to walk round to the top. The more angles you view the climb from the better the three dimensional image of the route you will have.

Identifying the type of terrain and how best to climb is at the heart of reading a route. It comes down to breaking a route down into sections, ideally in between obvious rests. Think about what skills you are likely to need and visualise yourself climbing particular moves. As you do this at the base of the route you are switching your brain to climbing mode.

You need to continue to read the route as you climb; not only to follow the line but also to react to the terrain and climb using appropriate technique.

Reading routes exercise

Look up at a route from the ground and try to identify the skills you may need, where the rests are, where the crux moves are, what kind of belay awaits at the top of the pitch and so on. Now climb the route and see if your expectations were right. Take a photocopy of the topo and mark down your thoughts or write them on a piece of notepaper before you climb, so you can review them afterwards. Were you drastically wrong anywhere? If so where? What made you wrong? How could you improve your eye for judging routes?

Try this on every route you climb, you don’t always have to take notes. The more your route reading develops the closer to the getting things 100% right you will become … although it is unlikely you will ever be totally right!

Reading routes tips

  • Visualisation is key; you might imagine seeing a line on the rock, hearing yourself talk through the route or recall a written set of instructions.
  • Your plan may be wrong, the skill of reading a route whilst climbing is just as important.
  • Use rests on the route to look at the next section, re-formulate your plan and identify the next rest
  • Real hands on experience of using guidebooks and looking at climbs is required to develop this skill. Learn from your mistakes!

Colour coding your route

How you colour in a route will be a personal thing, green climbing for most will be very easy, usually with a good spattering of ledges to rest on.

Yellow would be for the blanker sections where the holds are smaller, and the rests are further apart. Most of the moves will require a degree of thinking but the rests, climbing and angle of the route will mean that you shouldn’t feel like you are getting pumped.

Red is the steep and harder section, maybe just a single move, roof or bulge in the rock. It will be to hard to hang about on these sections and they will require a sense of urgency or power to overcome. Identify a place to rest and/or place gear after them, so that you have a point to aim for and no feeling of desperation through the moves.

Visualisation exercise

Draw your route on paper using a colour scheme to to indicate different climbing styles; green circle = rest, green = easy, yellow = Requires a little thought but is not that pumpy, red = hard climbing requiring power, speed and technique (the hardest moves you are capable of and you will become pumped).

Try to visualise your colour coded route on the rock and use this plan to climb the route.

Were there any differences in between the plan and the execution? If so did you spot the problem before, during or after you had to climb that section of the route and could you have spotted the problem earlier?

Using colour to break a route down into easy section, crux and sustained parts. As well as highlighting rests.
Using colour to break a route down into easy section, crux and sustained parts. As well as highlighting rests.

Visualisation tips

  • Some people might nd this visualisation technique more useful than a written description.
  • Try and see your body making the moves. You mat see yourself from a third person viewpoint (like a movie) or through your own eyes from a rst person viewpoint (if this is the case try and feel the moves as well).
  • By thinking of the moves you are engaging your pre-motor cortex, and turning your mind on to climbing mode.


Lead Climbing Coaching Course

Our sister site snowdonia mountain guides runs lead climb coaching course that are specifically aimed at getting you to a higher level in all aspects of climbing. The ability to use a guidebook and read a route is at the heart of efficient climbing.

We use a very simple approach when it comes to route reading and breaking a route down in bite size chunks. We believe this is some important that within a day we can often improve some’s approach to climbing and within two days increase the climbers grade.

Alternatively maybe consider a How To Climb Harder Course.

eMail us to find out more.


Single Versus Double Ropes

Many climbers choose to use double or half ropes when trad or multi pitched sport climbing. However the whole single versus double ropes is not necessarily that simple.

Single Versus Double Ropes for climbing

Single Ropes

  • Approximate diameter 9mm to 11mm
  • Easier to belay on one rope
  • Easier to hold a fall so good for beginners
  • More likely to get rope drag
  • Can only retreat half the rope length at a time
  • Can be used on its own
  • easy to use on straight up climbs
  • Harder to managed on wandering lines and traveses
  • High impact force cause by lack of stretch
  • can leave second with nasty pendulums

Double Ropes

  • Approximate diameter 7mm to 9mm
  • harder to belay two rope simultaneously
  • Harder to hold falls on skinny ropes
  • less likely to get rope drag
  • can retreat the whole length of the rope as you have two of them.
  • Have to be used in pairs
  • not good for indoor or single pitch sport climbing
  • Easy to use on a straight up route
  • Easier to managed complex wandering routes
  • lower impact force cause by stretchier thinner ropes
  • can help protect second whilst traversing

Belaying with double rope

Belaying with double rope takes a lot more skill, as effectively you can be taking in on one rope and paying out on the other and vice versa. As such getting sed to belaying on double ropes will take time and most importantly practice.

Belay on double ropes. Here the climber can pay out one or both rope by using his thumb to control the live ropes. They can also take in either by controlling what rope(s) they are using with the dead rope by splitting the ropes. (see next photo)
Belay on double ropes. Here the climber can pay out one or both rope by using his thumb to control the live ropes. They can also take in either by controlling what rope(s) they are using with the dead rope by splitting the ropes. (see next photo)
How the grip the dead rope when double rope belay. Note the split at the ring and middle finger.
How the grip the dead rope when double rope belay. Note the split at the ring and middle finger.

Belaying with a double rope exercise

At the base of the crag or at home have a practice using double ropes by attaching the belay device to both ropes and having a friend randomly ask for slack or to take on both ropes, as well as individual ropes.

once you have the basic then start making it more complex, so to test you ability. The key is throughout the whole exercise to never let go of the dead rope. Can you pay out with one rope and then take in with the other only to reverse the whole thing in a moment?

Once you have master this try using double ropes for real, but on a climb that is really easy for everyone, bit leader and second who is belaying. As this is about both leader and belayer coming to terms with the extra rope.

Why we need to be able to pay out with one rope and take in with the other whilst belaying with double ropes.
Why we need to be able to pay out with one rope and take in with the other whilst belaying with double ropes.

When you are leading with double ropes there instantly become many different ways you can use them. As do you keep one for the left and the other for the right or do you mix it up? Often it is hard to tell what is best unless you look at the route and make a plan to manage the ropes before you leave the ground. You can also ask the belayer for advice as they can sometimes see the bigger picture.

Two ways to use double ropes when climbing. Both work and help reduce rope drag.
Two ways to use double ropes when climbing. Both work and help reduce rope drag.
Other ways to use double ropes to most effect. Left - alternating the rope should make any fall less. Middle - A wander route can have left and right runners as it meanders. Right - When traverse it is often better to have a top and bottom rope to help reduce rope drag.
Other ways to use double ropes to most effect. Left – alternating the rope should make any fall less. Middle – A wander route can have left and right runners as it meanders. Right – When traverse it is often better to have a top and bottom rope to help reduce rope drag.




Moving around roofs can be strenuous on the arms, the trick is to move past the obstacle as quickly as possible, to a rest above.

Place gear as close up under the roof as possible, and even above the lip of the roof if you can reach. Going up and down a few times may give you a clear picture of where hand and footholds lie. Having placed gear or taken a peek over the lip descend to a rest below the roof to prepare yourself. When you decide to go, do so with determination and don’t stop until you’re above the roof where it will be far less strenuous to stop and place gear.

Moving through a roof
Moving through a roof

Roof exercises

Below the roof nd a good and look at the moves above. When you have an idea of how to proceed, move up until you are faced with the need to step your feet over the roof.

With strength you will be able to step your foot over the lip of the roof, but to start with and on harder routes you will nd it easier to place your knee over the roof to rock-over and step up with your other foot. Don’t stop until you are stood above the roof.

Roof tips

  • Try and remember that standing sideways on before and after the roof to save energy and helps us develop the least strenuous position or even a hands off rest.
  • Move as swiftly as possible through the roof.
  • Rest after you have stepped over the roof.

Overhanging Walls

By there very nature an overhanging wall is going to be strenuous. At lower grades the chances are that any steep rock will be reasonably short lived and you will be able to rest at either the top or bottom of the section.

Just like a roof find a good rest below a steep section and place gear as high as possible. Whilst stood below try and work out the sequence of moves for your hands and feet. You may be able to mark footholds with a dab of chalk to help you spot them when you are committed to the hard climbing.

After assessing the moves you face a decision. If the section is short, commit to climbing quickly and confidently through it. If on the other hand you are unsure then you can climb up a few moves and place some higher gear before reversing back to the rest. By repeatedly going up and down you can place progressively higher runners and also start to work out the complete sequence to overcome the obstacle.

Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.
Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.

If you choose to yo-yo up and down like this, keep in mind whether the moves you are making are reversible and just how long can you hang on in that position before you fail? You’ll need to balance working out the sequence versus the need to blast on through the crux before you become too pumped.

At times climbers choose to construct a ‘bomb shelter’ or a cluster of runners just before the crux or steep section in order to build confidence.

Overhang Tips

  • Arms straight and driving from the feet, minimise the strain on your arms.
  • From a good rest below a steep section, work out your probable sequence of moves and where possible, mark any useful footholds as far as you can reach with chalk. Then give it a go. If you find extra holds that would make the sequence easier, reverse back down to the rest and try again. Repeat this until you are ready to move through the whole section. Then take a few deep breaths and tackle the section with determination.
  • To keep your arms straight, imagine there is an iron bar down them, or get some large cardboard tubes that will keep them straight!
  • The principles of climbing sideways and using opposite limbs are key.
  • By getting your feet high and keeping your arms straight you can drive yourself upwards with your legs.
  • Moving swiftly through a steep section of rock is going to use far less energy than hanging around on every hold.
  • Sometimes it is possible to reduce the angle at which you are climbing by nding grooves and corners to bridge out on.

Corners and Chimneys

Bridgeable features often provide ways to rest the pulling muscles in our arms and make upward progress.

Climbing using only the flat wall for hands and any hold for feet. A good exercise to work on bridging
Climbing a corner trying to only push down on holds. Thos will help you realise that you don’t have to pull all the time. When climbing this might allow your forearms to recover.


Pushing off a hold and walking your feet up the opposite wall and then getting back into a bridge/rest position. This might help if there is a long wy to the next hand hold.

Another trick for ascending corners and grooves is ‘back and footing’, see Chimney Rest.

Climb a corner with as many hands off rest as possible, by bridging and back and footing.

Climb aagin but your hands can only grip as if you were holding a cup of tea.

Corner tips

  • Use your hand to pivot around your feet and feet to pivot around hands.
  • Palming off the wall uses different muscles to pulling down on holds.
  • Rest whenever you can, both bridging and ‘back and footing’.
  • Sometimes corners and grooves are like pantomimes, the holds are “behind you!”


Climbing chimneys ef ciently is often dif cult, as much of the time actually moving up requires an energy sapping ‘thrutching’ that tires the whole body. The only respite you get is when resting in between the struggling up. The best psychological approach for many chimneys is one of rugged determina- tion and that given a good ght you will succeed.

Chimneys cover a vast range of width of cracks; essentially anywhere you can t a body, it is possible to chimney. Generally the way we move is by locking or wedging one part of our body which then allows us to move another part. By continuously repeating this wedge-move-wedge-move it is possible to edge our way upwards.

Chinmey exercise

Find a chimney, doorway or corner and place your back against one wall and feet against the other and try and sit down in a wedged position.

Push off one foot and your back and move the other foot up and then wedge yourself of the higher foot and your back.

Using your hands against the wall you back is on, thrutch your back upwards and attain another sitting position. By repeating this movement it is possible to edge your way upwards.

Back and fitting up a chimney
Back and fitting up a chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney

Chimney tips

  • Although it is possible to climb a totally smooth chimney, placing your feet on footholds or edges makes the whole process a lot easier.
  • You will have a fight on your hands.
  • You can often rest by simply sitting down, it is the thrutching upwards that is exhausting.
  • Decide which way round you are going to face before you start. Try the first move facing one way and then reverse down and try it the other, decide which is easier before committing yourself. It will often be impossible to turn around half-way up.
  • Thin chimneys are even harder to climb, unforgiving on the body, totally claustrophobic and requiring a lot of energy to move up. Improvisation is the answer, but the principle is the same, wedge-shuffle-shuffle-wedge.
  • It will often be impossible to see your feet, or arms for that matter; so take note of prominent foot holds as they pass you face and struggle relentlessly until you can feel your feet on them (perhaps your only chance of a rest).



Drill Boards: Drop Knee and Flagging


The use of these drills boards has help many climbers start to develop a better understanding of climbing on steep rock. Although you can develop one for the rock over it is the tricky techniques of the drop knee, inner flag and outer flag that this drill boards really helps.

For most climbers the first time they use a drill board they struggle with the pattern of movement. In that they can often get the beginning or the end position but it is the transition from one to the other that become the problem.

It is this ability for a climber to repeat many different combinations and permutations of the movements need in order to get the underlying fundamental principles dialled in.

As such whilst know what a drop knee, inner and outer flag are is great this exercise really helps you get to grips with the body positions needs to make the transitions smooth and effective.


Private Coaching Course

Our sister site snowdonia mountain guides runs private coaching courses that are specifically aimed at getting you to a higher level in all aspects of climbing. We can focus on indoor or outdoor technique and training. Covering skills like in the drill boards above.

Alternatively maybe consider a How To Climb Harder Course.

eMail us to find out more.



Hands Off Rests

Learning to climb with efficiency is all about saving energy. So finding a hands off rests or a little respite is a key component of good climbing technique. A hands of rest is a place where we can recover from a tricky section and shake out the lactic acid from our arms and even legs, but also a place to plan the next section of climbing from.

In the video above we cover several different type of rest, the first thing to do is practice them in isolation so you can recall them. The next step is to see what shape the wall/rock needs to be for you to get the rest. This ability to identify rests from below will give you islands of safety and rest to aim for.

Once you get to the rest remember to take a deep sooth breathe, this can help calm you down if on lead. As the rest can help you regain a composed and relaxed manner, as well as giving a physical rest. You might also be able to add to this relaxing feeling by placing gear from these restful positions when trad climbing.

Finally use the rests to plan the next section of a climb. Whether be a plan to get to the  next runner or rest. The rest or respites become a tactical component of your climbing, but essentially they are all just simple techniques based on the ability to identify the rest and use it.