The Nitty Gritty
I guess this is what this has all been boiling down to. I climbed some routes, gave them grades, various things happened; now do I still feel the same?
There are many many tactics that if employed, will alter the overall difficulty of a route. Obviously the most difficult style to climb something in is a pure on-sight with no bouldering pads, every other style is simply easier, to a greater or lesser degree. We could argue the toss all day and night about these other styles, it has been done before, it will be done again but in reality it will get us nowhere because they are all a personal choice; we decided to do something in a certain way and because we have decided it, to us it seems sensible.
To move forward and stop our grading system becoming a farce, I think everyone needs to be playing by the same rules. By that, I mean understand that routes should only be graded for a certain style of ascent and any up/downgrades should only be applied in line with this style. To explain this point better than I probably could, here are the words of a wise old goose...
“Grades are, or should be, given for a theoretical pad free onsight lead, regardless of whether the route has ever recieved such an ascent or whether this type of ascent is even likely or appropriate. Why? Because it is, as you point out, impossible to factor in unquantifiable variables such as pads. A pad free onsight is a clear and simple baseline. It is a useful line in the sand.”
Ok, back to my original point “There are many many tactics that if employed, will alter the overall difficulty of a route”. If we use the above rule of thumb, then we need to re-asses grades based on changes that are relative to the theoretical pad free on-sight. Reliability of gear and a better understanding of what will happen in a fall are two things that are directly relative.
So what do we now know about my routes that was unknown at the time; and how would I grade the routes today:
- The Promise – The gear has been tested and has held numerous falls so not as dangerous as first thought. If I were to offer a grade based on my knowledge today, E9 7a would be my probable answer. Jumping the gun a little in the hope of answering questions before they are asked – maybe Superstition requires an upgrade to E9 7a?
- The Groove – By only using one rope you minimise the chance of flipping upside down making it safer. You may also be kept off the gound after a fall from the break but this is still untested in a lead situation and all down to the reactions of the belayer. E10 7b?
- The Walk of Life – I don’t really know any particulars about the gear on Daves ascent other than he used mainly wires and a few Peckers. Thinking about it, you may be able to place a Pecker where I placed the first rubbish micro-wire. Its the kind of placement they work well in, but I don’t know as I never thought to check. If you can, this might make the start feel a little less deadly. Its frustrating how sometimes you can be so oblivious to things staring you in the face. Anyway, regardless of the gear situation, the other routes that I based my original grade on have come down a little, and so surely The Walk of Life should follow suit in response to this? Perhaps this means it is only E11, which would actually fit in nicely with Steve McClure’s recent thoughts on Rhapsody. Who knows? At the end of the day, grades are just educated guesses to one extent or the other.
So what have I learnt from these 5000 words and numerous hours spent pondering? Let’s look at each section, and note down the problems:
- Bouldering – A certain problem perceived differently by different people due to conditions, body shape, personal strengths etc, causes differing opinions on the grade of the problem.
- Actual vs Perceived Danger – The seriousness (danger) of a certain climb may be perceived differently than the actual danger causing an apparent discrepancy in the grade once the actual danger is known (usually tested by a lead fall)
- Use of Pads – Routes can be made a lot safer by the use of pads. Problems arise when repeaters claim the same grade, or even downgrade routes that were originally climbed and graded without pads.
Do you notice any recurring themes? Yup you got it - Grades, grades, grades, grades, grades. The route of all the above issues seems to lie in the thing we spend more time discussing than any other, not really a surprise is it.
Am I alone in thinking that the subject of grades has grown into a bit of a monster? There seems to be so much emphasis on them that the actual climbs often take second fiddle or are even forgotten completely. Surely if we used them as I imagine they were always intended to be used – as one of the many “guides” you can use to select a route, then all of these troubles would fade away?
Personally, at this moment in time grades are as un-interesting and un-motivating as they have ever been and I’m not sure how big a part they will play in my future.