Actual Danger continued... A.K.A. ‘the effect of pads’
To avoid all the issues regarding gear (will it/won’t it hold) let’s just imagine the route in question is a solo. Its 25ft, sketchy landing of rocks, earth and turf- you get the picture? -A typical Gritstone horror. Let’s say this route was original climbed in the late 80’s without pads as they were not available at the time and it was graded E5. Over the years it has seen a few falls without pads, resulting in broken ankles and heels; so is clearly quite dangerous.
Bring in the bouldering pads......
· It’s the mid 90’s. Person A decides to climb the route and uses his new bouldering pad to start off. It is 90cm square and 3 inches thick; not much by today’s standards but enough to protect the tricky first moves. E5?
· It’s year 2000, mat technology has come on a little and person B climbs above his new pad (1.1m sq, 4 inches thick with new firm foam. Person B falls from around 10ft, landing on his pad and is fine. He gets back on and climbs to the top. E5?
· Its 2004, everyone pretty much has pads. Person C wants to try the route and goes out with 3 friends, each with 2 pads. They stack them at the bottom, making a large landing zone. Throughout the course of the day they take numerous falls from up to 15-20ft, until finally pushing on for the top. E5?
· Its 2009, highballing and grounding-up are the order of the day. A group of friends carry a load of pads out including a couple of monsters over 10in thick. They carpet the base of the route, making falls from the top perfectly possible. E5? Where does it end?
I always thought mats made a difference and because our trad routes are traditionally graded without pads, I refused to use them. Having recently seen very fast repeats of The Promise, where one of the main differences was the use of pads (remember we’re excluding gear for now), I decided to try them out for myself to see if I was making a fuss over nothing.
After carting some up to a route I have been trying, I was truly amazed. The difference was more than I would ever have imagined; turning a very scary route, into a tall boulder problem. It was the difference between going for the lead and walking away – I knew I could comfortably fall off from the majority of the route, with almost zero chance of injury, so it was worth a shot.
I believe it is this mentality and approach that has fuelled the recent fast repeat fever we have all witnessed on the grit. Starting up a route from a pile of pads puts you in a completely different head space, than stepping off some pointy rocks. The whole way you view a route change; it stops being a tiger ready to rip your head off and becomes more of a tabby cat.
I think refusing to use mats is pretty stupid- without a good reason for it. Mats reduce the danger, making injury less likely and your climbing life longer. My reason always seemed good enough to me to justify the risk; trying to repeat and put up new routes in the same style as they had always been (and please let’s not get into this headpoint vs onsight debate, lets save that for another rainy day). This was my attempt to make an already confusing system slightly less confusing.
From where I am sitting it seems impossible to have a grading system that is based in part on danger, yet “allow” the use of a massive variable like pads. The protection mats can offer is in theory limitless and so the amount that they can affect the grade must be relative to this. Mats are not just new technology as friends, or sticky rubber once were - you can only place as many friends as the rock allows, and the friction won’t get better if you try to put on more than one pair of shoes. Every other piece of protection is limited, mats are not.
I could go on for hours about this subject, but I’m sure you will be getting bored so I will try to wrap things up.
Fact – Mats make climbing “safer”
Fact – The more mats you use, the “safer” climbing will become
Fact – If the climbing is “safer”, then the route is not as “dangerous” as when it was originally graded, and thus the grade must change accordingly.
But how do you decide how much difference these pads will make. What about one pad, how about two; did someone say ten? What about old pads, what about new, what about red pads, what about blue? Maybe we should have a pad grade rule book, so people can cross reference their make, model, age and number, then plonk them in a formula and bob’s your uncle?In a world where people seem very concerned with making sure their peers are claiming the correct grade, this seems awfully confusing?