What is a Flash in Climbing?

If you’re new to climbing, you’ll be hearing a lot of new terms in the climbing gym as well as from videos that you might consume. One of the most common terms in climbing is the term ‘flash’. An example is someone saying ‘I’ll try to flash it’ before starting a boulder problem.

What does Flash mean in climbing? Let’s take a look…

What does a Flash mean in Climbing?

A flash is a climbing term used when a climber successfully ascents a route or boulder problem on their first try after studying the problem beforehand.

Here’s an example: your friend offers you beta for a V3 (6a) boulder problem. If you attempt the problem and manage to send it on your first go, the send would be considered a flash.

What is the difference between a flash and an onsight?

The term ‘flash’ is not to be confused with the term ‘onsight‘.

Whereas a flash is considered a first ascent made with the help of a beta, an onsight occurs when a climber successfully ascents without studying the rock or problem beforehand. Basically, an onsight is more impressive than a flash.

Both terms can be a bit confusing and this results in them being used in the wrong way.

In bouldering and climbing gyms, climbers don’t really use the term ‘onsight’. Even if they send a problem or without prior beta, they will still call it a flash.

In the outdoor, it is very difficult to see the holds from the bottom. That’s what makes an onsight so impressive. In indoor gyms, you can easily see the holds by their color scheme which is why the term ‘onsight’ isn’t using in indoor climbing and bouldering gyms.

Why even attempt a flash?

Flashing a climbing route has a certain prestige. You just feel good afterward. Nothing says you have mastered a specific grade range more than constantly being able to successfully flash routes or problems within that range.

But flashing is also beneficial to your climbing session as well as your personal growth as a climber.

For starters, flashing a problem saves skin. If you just attempt a problem without studying the holds beforehand, you are likely to fail a couple of times, and in doing so, are wasting your skin for later on.

As attempting flashes forces you to think about your problem beforehand, you are improving your mental skills as a climber. It’s not all about the time you spend on the rock. Studying holds is a big part of climbing and being able to do so will only benefit your progress.

And finally, attempting a flash forces you to take it slow and be mindful of your every move while you are climbing. This too will help you improve.

Do beginner flashes count?

In some cases, flashes are done by accident. Among beginner climbers, it is very common to successfully flash V0 – V2 (4 – 5+) problems. This is because problems within this grade range are often straightforward and thus don’t really require a beta.

That being said, if you successfully flash a problem, regardless of the grade range, it counts as a flash.

Just be wary that flashing problems will start becoming more difficult once you reach the V3 (6a) range.

How to flash a boulder problem

Now that you know what a flash is, you can start attempting flashes at your boulder gym.

The first thing to understand about flashing is that you should have successfully ascended problems in the same grade range beforehand.

Don’t try to flash a V5 if you have never managed to successfully send a V5 before. This will only set you up for disappointment.

However, if you have plenty of practice doing V3s, you can definitely attempt to flash a V3 problem at your boulder gym.

Here are the steps you should undertake to flash a boulder problem:

1. Warm up

Before you attempt to flash a boulder problem, you should do a proper warm up. Not only will a good warmup help you prevent potential injuries, but it will also help you get to your peak performance.

In climbing, you aren’t performing at your best until your muscles have been properly warmed. This is why you’ll see experienced climbers do warmup excercices before they even get on the wall.

After the warmup excercices, you should spend an additional 10 minutes on easy grades. Don’t get cocky and rush the easy grades. Use this time wisely to practise your footwork and other techniques.

๐Ÿ“š Related : Complete Guide to Climbing Technique

2. Study the problem & establish beta

A common mistake among beginner boulderers is that they find the starting holds and hop on the wall. This might work in the early grades but becomes impossible once you reach the intermediate grades. Before you attempt your flash, you should carefully study the problem. Discover all the hand and foot holds (foot holds especially can sometimes be hidden well).

You can simulate your climb from the floor to help you figure out a beta.

What also helps is to involve other climbers and get a beta from them. With a flash you are allowed to have as much help as possible as long as you send the problem in a single attempt. You can ask another climber at the gym to give you a beta for your flash project. If you are shy to approach other boulderers, you can also just wait around until someone tries it out. ๐Ÿ˜‰

3. Attempt the flash

Once you feel like you know the problem well, and you have a beta you can work off, it’s time to attempt your flash. Remember to take it slow. You only have one shot at it. If you make a mistake and fall off, it won’t be a flash anymore.

Good luck!

Most notable flashes in climbing history

In 2018, Adam Ondra managed to flash the world’s first-ever 9a+ (5.15) flash on the route called Super crackinette in France. This feat is considered to be the hardest flash in climbing today.

On September of 2021, Alexander Megos flashed a 9a route called Intermezzo in Austria.

Most notable flashes in bouldering history

The first 8B+ boulder flash was made by Adam Ondra in 2009 when he flashed Confessions in Cresciano, Switzerland. At the time, he was only 16 years old. Adam Ondra went on to flash two more 8B+ boulder problems, one in 2012 (Gecko Assis in Fontainbleau) and one in 2015 (Jade in Rocky Mountain National Park, USA).

In 2011, Daniel Woods Flashed ‘Entlige’ in Murgtal Switzerland which was graded 8c at the time but was later downgraded to 8B+. Some climbing sources don’t acknowledge Ondra’s 2009 Flash of Confessions and claim that Daniel Woods made the first 8B+ flash.

In 2020, Jakob Schubert flashed Never Ending Story, an 8B+ boulder in Magic Wood, Switzerland.

List of Climbers who have flashed 8B (V13) boulders or higher

Flashing a boulder graded 8B or higher is one of the biggest feats you can make as a boulderer. Here’s a list of climbers that have succesfully flashed a boulder problem graded 8B (V13) or higher:

Who has the most 8B boulder flashes?

Currently, Jimmy Webb has the most boulder flashes in his climbing career. Having flashed fifteen different boulders graded 8B (V13) or higher. Jimmy Webb also has two different 8B+ flashes. Sky in Rocklands, South Africa which he flashed in 2013, and The Globalist in Sipoo, Finland which he flashed in 2016.

The runner up is none other than Adam Ondra who has an impressive 9 boulder flashes graded 8B or higher. Until today, Adam Ondra remains the only climbers with three different 8B+ flashes in his climbing career.

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