In another edition of Climbing Jargon Explained we tackle one of the weirdest common terms. What is climbing beta? What does spraying beta mean? Why is it bad to spray beta? Let's dive in.
Climbing beta is information on the moves, sequence, or holds on a climb. If someone asks you for the beta on a climb they want to know how you did it. It could be something as simple as the general type of holds, like "it's all slopers" or just the type of rock and length.
Beta in climbing can be very detailed down to the exact way you hold a specific hold i.e. "pinch the left side with your first two fingers so there's space to match with your other hand". Outside you'll find it's harder to spot hand or foot holds. Knowing the beta on where the holds are or which ones to ignore can make a huge difference!
Beta can be entirely different for different body shapes, reach, and preferred holds or style. Using different beta is common but some routes are very beta specific i.e. you really need to be exact. Really though, whatever works for you is best.
What Is Spraying Beta?
Spraying beta is giving beta without being asked for it. If someone is struggling on a climb and you really want to help, ask them if they want the beta first before giving your opinion.
Spraying means arrogant self talk about your climbing. In this case not shutting up about the beta - meaning a humble brag you already did that one.
Is It Bad To Spray Beta?
It's considered rude and can ruin an "onsight" attempt if they wanted to figure things out themselves. It could also be that they know the beta and are just struggling, or that beta doesn't work for them. Don't spray beta.
Honestly when people are spraying beta when I'm on the wall I can't hear half of it because i'm concentrating. It's often more noise than help.
Where Did The Term Beta Come From In Climbing?
Jack Mileski was a prolific climber from Texas who is credited as inventing the term beta. Back before the internet, bluray, and DVD, there were two videotape formats - one called Betamax.
According to different sources Jack would either say "Do you want the beta, Max?" as a play on words or actually have recorded himself climbing on the betamax tapes so could literally show you how.
What Is Breaking Beta?
Especially indoors it's possibly to "break the beta" by finding a way of bypassing holds or moves, or using them in an unintended way. Often a route is set based on the difficulty of specific moves - so skipping them might make the route easier.
Climbing youtuber Albert Ok has great playlist of videos about pro climbers breaking beta.
Do Climbs With New Beta Get Downgraded?
Outside it's less common to break beta but finding new beta may lead to a downgrade of the route's dificulty. In this video Adam Ondra climbs "Beginning" 9a but finds a new place on the climb for a weird upside down knee bar. For him personally, using this beta he suggested a lower grade.
This knee bar alows you to rest your arms for a bit and makes the climb a little easier. There are no set rules on resting on climbs outside, plus climbers now use very soft knee pads so knee bars are much easier on the skin.
Sometimes it goes the other way when holds break off and the route becomes harder!
What Is A Spray Wall In Climbing?
A spray wall is a wall where a tonne of holds are bolted on without any specific routes/colors being set. Usually the holds fill basically every bolt hole (similar to Korean and Japanese climbing walls) rather than a more spaced out set.
Spray walls are excellent for training as they are used to make up your own routes - normally to train specific moves or to recreate outside climbs. Sometimes there will be a folder with a photo/sketch of the wall and the holds with made up climbs or ones to set for yourself and train. They're also great for training with friends who tell you what holds to use aka "Addon" or "Nominate" games.
Some spray walls are set with wooden holds for hands and tiny metal or plastic holds that are meant for feet only. Wooden holds are easier on the skin but less grippy so are great for higher level training over a longer period. Sometimes the holds are set mirrored so you can check or train specific sides.
How To Ask Someone To Stop Spraying Beta?
Just say "Hey, thanks for trying to help but I'd like to try and figure this out on my own if that's OK". If the person persists or is obviously there to hang around you and not to talk about climbing - speak to a staff member. You should feel comfortable and safe climbing at a gym without feeling guilty.