Improve Your Beta Memorization: How to Make a Beta Map

Improve Your Beta Memorization: How to Make a Beta Map

The first time I ever saw a beta map was watching Reel Rock 12Margo Hayes had created a monstrous construction of 8.5″x11″ sheets of paper on her wall. This paper mache detailed the moves and holds of her mega project – La Rambla, 5.15a. Hayes eventually redpointed the route, making it the world’s first female ascent of a 5.15a.

Though my ascents are a far cry from the glory and complexity of routes like La Rambla, I realized that there might be something to this whole beta map thing. So I started making them for my own projects.

It started with my first 5.12 in the New River Gorge, and I’ve been drawing them up ever since.

I have found them particularly useful for a few reasons:

  • Writing out a map out immediately after I finish a burn on the route helps to seal the beta in my memory.
  • If I am in weekend warrior mode and I will not return to the route for a week or more, it helps me to review my beta while I am away from the route.
  • Looking at them provides inspiration, especially when it comes to training and trying hard.
  • It forces me to be absolutely confident about my beta. If I cannot write down or draw exactly where I put my foot for a certain move in a sequence, I know there are details to be refined.

Keep in mind that I am writing this from the perspective of a sport climber – but this works for anything. Trad, boulders, you name it. If you know your beta, you will be able to draw it out.

Alright, here’s how to do it!

Step 1: Identify the chunks

If you are climbing a sport or trad route, you might consider the chunks to be gear placements or the bolts. For boulders, it might simply be one or two chunks since you are not typically covering as much terrain as a route climber. Either way, in your projecting process, you have probably identified some chunks of the boulder – so break down your beta map in the same way.

Personally, I put my maps in my notebook. Each page usually covers 1-2 bolts worth of mapping.

Step 2: Draw the important holds

This is where creativity and messy action come in. Margo Hayes is an actual artist, and I’m just a gal with a pencil and a dream. I suck at drawing. If you an artiste yourself, then you will probably enjoy making really accurate pictures and drawing the holds out nicely. If you are like me, do what you can. As long as you understand your drawing, that is all you need.

Key holds around the crux of Stoned Temple Pilot in Rumney, NH.

Step 3: Fill in with arrows and notes

Now that you have your holds drawn out – fill in the movement! Think about what positions you are hitting as you move. Draw up notes like “this is a clipping hold”, label things, do whatever you need to do so your map tells you what you need to know.

Updated the drawing with some notes and labels.

Step 4: Write step-by-step beta

Since I’m not much of an artist, after I draw my map, I usually write out the beta step by step. In this part of the process, I typically start to realize where I am not 100% clear about what holds I am using, etc. Obviously I am not a robots and neither are you, so we may not know every last detail in the beginning. However writing out the beta is a great way to take stock of the sequences we understand and which ones need more sussing.

Step 5: Review & reflection

Now that you have written out the beta and drawn it up, save it for review. Pull out your notes before bed or around the camp fire. Use your map to explain the beta to your significant other. My school teachers used to say “if you can explain it to someone else, that means you know it!” While this isn’t biology class, being able to write it, say it out loud, and draw it out means that you really know your stuff. When you show up to the cliff, you won’t have to spend another forty five minutes reworking what you have forgotten. Knowing your beta means less time sussing and more time firing off redpoint burns!

A word of caution

Beta maps are a great way to keep record your preferred sequences. However, remember that a wise rock climber is open to possibilities and does not get married to shitty beta just because they wrote it on a map. If you find that on your redpoint burns, your beta is not working for one reason or another, then change it. Be curious and prepared to make alterations to the rehearsed beta if needed.

Is this a normal thing to do? Do I have to do this?

First, I have no idea if this is a normal thing to do. Honestly, nothing about projecting rock climbs is normal at all. Ripping your skin apart to make it up a rock face in the hardest way possible? Pretty weird way to spend your weekends when you think about it like that. But hey, we love it, right?

And of course you don’t have to do this for your projects – big or small. I have found it helpful for me. My whole purpose as a writer and a coach is to share knowledge with my fellow climbers. So here we are, feel free to learn.

Do I always make a beta map for routes I’m working on? Hell no! But I often do – even if it’s just for crux sequences. Over the past year I have noticed that my ability to remember my beta and execute it has improved significantly. Beta mapping has certainly helped me hone this skill and practice it more intentionally. If you have trouble remembering and executing your beta when you’re trying to send – give this a try and let me know how it goes! Bonus points if you post to it instagram and tag me in it – I’d love to see it.

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