I did a few sport climbs this week, and on two, it seemed that the area between bolts was just blank, and if I went to the side it was easier. I could still reach the bolts, but I was afraid I was "cheating".

Also in the past I've done a top-rope route with a horizontal traverse line on the topo, and wondered if the line was for hands, feet, or something else. It would make a big difference in difficulty.

How do I know what's part of the route and what's not?

  • I guess I could post some actual pictures to illustrate, if desired
    – endolith
    Dec 1, 2019 at 5:52
  • 1
    Suggest that you replace 'outdoors' with phrasing to show that you are referring to climbing routes. I read it intially as being on/off the existing trail network in the back country. Dec 31, 2019 at 4:07

1 Answer 1


This is a well-known problem, escpecially on sport routes that have been bolted on rappel and have a bolt placed every like 2m in a straight line. The only real solution is to ask someone involved in bolting the route or doing the first ascent. Even then, as sports climbing involves free choice of holds, there might be something they have overlooked initially that makes the climb easier.

As general rule of thumb, if the bolts are still reachable and if the moves feel about right for the grading, you are on the route. If your route starts to feel way too easy or you cross over another line of bolts, you are likely off-route. Another hint can be chalked holds. As long as you are following those, it is likely that you are on the route (assuming routes are not too dense and you already use the neighboring route's holds. Sometimes guide books give a hint on defined routes, e. g. "climb the crux without the flake on the right hand side"

  • 3
    I actually asked one of the people who posted a topo. They said Oh, I wouldn't be so binary about it ("right" vs "wrong/off-route"). It's just a rock climb. :-) 🙄
    – endolith
    Dec 4, 2019 at 16:54
  • 2
    Well it depends. If you are a random recreational climber doing 6a nobody really cares, just you. If you are some professional climber doing 9b it really makes a difference as everybody will be watching you ;)
    – Manziel
    Dec 4, 2019 at 17:30
  • But I caaaaaaaare!
    – endolith
    Dec 4, 2019 at 22:38

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