Climbing Competitions: How Do You Decide Who Wins?

If you’ve ever been to an onsight-style climbing competition, you’ve probably noticed the line judges and scorekeepers keeping tight watch on the competitors.  But what does that MEAN? What do people DO when they’re up there with a giant picture of the route in their hands?

Judging at RiverRock | Peak Experiences

I have no idea what I’m doing.

First off, every route at a competition is pre-set.  Routesetters spend days and sometimes weeks setting, climbing (“forerunning”), tweaking, and re-tweaking the routes.  Once they’re happy with the route, they take a photograph of it that gives the judge a clear image of what the route looks like.

Route Maps | Peak Experiences

Some Boulder Bash route maps.

At Boulder Bash, there were two officials per problem.  The first official is the scorekeeper – this is the person who follows along on the map and determines how many points a climber has earned.  The second official is the linesman, who double-checks the scorekeeper and ensures the climber doesn’t step out of bounds.  At a competition like the Boulder Bash, this is especially important, since there are hazards like tops of volumes and metal trusswork which a climber can push off of, which ends the attempt.

Before the climbers even come out for their preview, the routesetter meets with each pair of officials for each problem.  They discuss the potential issues climbers may have, expected high points, and anything the judge needs to watch out for – for example, some holds are only worth points if you grab them with your left hand.

Route Maps | Peak Experiences

Point values are written on the holds.

Each hold is worth points depending on how well the climber grabs it.  A climber will get a full point for controlling the hold.  They’ll get a fraction of a point for making positive movement off of the hold, and another fraction of a point for reaching usable surface of the next hold. This is where it gets a little tricky.  “Control” and “usable surface” are fairly subjective; “positive movement” is less so, but there’s still room for error.  A judge has to decide what counts for each category, and be consistent among all of the climbers.  If there’s a question, the other judge (and sometimes routesetters or video) are another set of eyes to conform or contest what the scorekeeper saw.

Onsight competitions are a special kind of comp that require many hands to make run smoothly. Next time you’re at one, high-five one of the judges, routesetters, or gym staff that make these events possible.  And if you’re interested in getting more involved in the world of competitive climbing, come check out the USAC Divisionals Competition at Peak Experiences on June 14 and 15!


About Peak Experiences

Love rock climbing? Me too. Peak is a giant box of climbing and fun, located in Midlothian Virginia, and has been around since 1998. Stronger Than Yesterday is our online resource for all things climbing, in Richmond and out in the wider world.
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