Rock climbers are intent on finishing routes or boulder problems successfully (read: not falling). There are specific definitions for the ways a rock climb can be “sent:”

On-sight. When you successfully finish a climb having never seen it, been on it, or even talked to anyone about it. This term comes with the most prestige and honor. Onsighting is a sign of your fitness level, ability and talent. The climb didn’t have anything to teach you.

Flash. When you have climbed a route successfully your first time, but you have either seen someone else climb it, or you have been given “beta” (information on how to climb the route) and have an idea of what the moves are ahead of time. You can be very proud about flashing a climb, even though you didn’t on-sight it. It means you needed very little help, and you were strong enough to do the moves even though you didn’t figure them out on your own.

Red-point. When you red-point a route, it means that you have fallen on it. It could mean that you did the climb your 2nd try or your 205th try. Either way, there is no shame in red-pointing. The one time of not falling on the route erases all the other times you did fall on it. Redpointing shows that you went through a learning process on the climb and that you became stronger and better at climbing… it formed you into a better climber.

However, there is no pride, no honor, no prestige in an unfinished climb. In fact, I would say, an unfinished climb is a little bit shameful: a climb left imperfected, a climb left undone. You can say, “Well, I have been on that climb. I have done all the moves. But I haven’t DONE it,” with a little deferential tilt of the head, a lowering of the eyes, and much frustration in your voice. 

I have too many unfinished climbs hounding my mind and thoughts, some for a year or two, some for decades: Creature, Inter-gallactic Orcas, Mr. Serious, Slash and Burn, Happiness is Slavery, Ultramega, P.O.D., Starry, T-Bone Shuffle, … It doesn’t matter that I have a ticklist of routes I have done a mile long. It is the unfinished routes that are a thorn in my side, like sins I can’t stop committing or haven’t been forgiven for. They symbolize weakness. In a more positive light, they show me that I still have a lot to learn.

But I have to remember that our lives are always unfinished business, and even if I have finished all the climbs I have tried, I will still remain unfinished as a climber and as a person. I can always get better and stronger. I can always work on skills that I don’t have. I will always have new goals to attain, new routes and problems to climb. I will never be finished.