Thursday 22 January 2009

Deliberately dangerous II

Just to re-state from the previous post - I completely agree with James' point on his blog that bouldering mats make a huge difference to the overall challenge of the climb on grit crags, and that hasn't been recognised properly. In fact, its been rather underplayed.

My post adds to this that because of the problem of mats on grit routes, they are not that useful for understanding e-grades.

Simple as that really.

I don't agree with the guy who commented on my post that if you use lots of mats you might as well toprope - the buzz of highballing a long way above mats is very different to toproping and has a quality to it that is worth something.

James Pearson has taken a gutsy personal stand by doing these routes without any mats. I admire him loads for doing that, especially when that effort has seemed to be dismissed or ignored by others. But ultimately it shouldn't matter if the choice was made primarily for his own climbing experience. It's normal that setting a strong example won’t necessarily bring many followers, either because they simply disagree with the direction, or they want to take the easier option [of mat use].

If everyone who climbed on grit suddenly took James’ example of no mats there would be some stressed out doctors in Sheffield’s orthopaedic unit next weekend I’ll bet. Not everyone has the same level of skill and control that James does! But neither does everyone want to spend their Saturday evening getting a plaster put on their ankle – they’d rather just use mats, make it safe and enjoy the moves. The flip side of this is that some of the grit e-grades will become meaningless.

So this is how the argument plays out – hence my point about looking to all the types of cliff to argue about upper end e-grades, not just the shortest routes on one rock type.

These discussions get a little tiresome in climbing, unless offset by beer. It’s a necessary evil I guess.

Falling from the last move of Kaluza Klein circa 1997, mats at the ready and Rich turning to run. I landed flat on my back (not on the mats, again) and whacked my head off a rock. Thankfully I had my fleece hat on to pad out my head. What grade would it be with a fleece hat on? I felt a bit dizzy for another go…


  1. Right on Dave! This all makes perfect sense to me. It's plain and simple as this subject is to understand, so many climbers choose to ignore reason and continue their rant. They will never get it.

  2. Sweet photo!!

  3. Out of interest - was the tide in when you led the Walk of Life? Perhaps this would explain your downgrading of the route.

  4. The above post should have a ';)' after it by the way - with you on all points Mr M.

  5. We're approaching a crossroads in climbing with respect to genre, and style. In itself, this is of little consequence, except when we consider the issue of grades, which aim to measure difficulty based on climbing while adhering to a given set of rules.

    We wouldn't hesitate to call the ascent of a boulder problem invalid if it was sent with the aid of a rope. Would we?

    Following this logic, if a grit route is given a certain E grade, this is awarded for an ascent of the route using a rope, gear (placed in the style of the first ascent) and belayer for protection. If you start padding out the base, you're changing the accepted rules to suit yourself. This is okay, however you've just thrown away any claim to compete in the same arena. In essence, you've made up a new game. It might be fun. It might actually be an improvement (e.g. if you ditch the rope!), but your effort can't be measured on the same scale.

  6. Its amazing how out of hand this whole grading buisness has got. Why has a simple process of relaying information to future climbers of the same route turned into such a matter of ego.

    It seems like these grades are now being taken as a kind of badge of honour as opposed to the route itself. I mean if you were talking to another climber and you said you climbed The Promise, do you really think they're going to say "Oh hang on, did you climb it as E10 or E7?" and if they do they have completely lost the focus of climbing.

    As you've said Dave it's about the route and the moves, the safety aspect should be down to personal preference. If James wants to climb a route without forms of protection like mats thats his choice, whether someone does or doesn't shouldn't take away from the fact that the accomplishment over the moves and the rock is something to be proud of.

    And i know theres gonna people saying "OK then I'll climb Rhapsody with infinite mats, it'll still be E11", for those people grow the f*ck up.

    Great blog Dave, keep up the good work. Can't wait to hear about the next project.

    P.S. sorry for the wall of text :P

  7. Thankfully the people writing the guidebooks to the main gritstone areas are getting it right: A very simple two-tier system of E grade for leading/soloing a route without pads, plus a V grade for highballing it.

    Obviously it won't quite work for higher grit routes where one highballs up to gear but I'm sure it's easily tweaked for that.

  8. Right on the money Dave. As Lee has pointed out as well, if you do the climb in a different style you can't compare the grades. But maybe this is where we need to head. Forget about the grade, climb it in the style you prefer and enjoy what you have set out to do.

  9. I think that this is an interesting issue, but only as it applies to E-Grades. In other forms of grading, which I am admittedly more familiar with, the danger of the route has no impact on the difficulty, whereas the danger aspect plays an important part in the E-Grade system, right? In other words, if you were to skip a good piece of gear on a 5.13a trad route and then regrade your ascent a 5.13c based on the increased danger, it would have no validity.

    Being from the states and thus much more familiar with a difficulty based grading system (rather than a combination of factors), my initial reaction was to scoff at the logic that by refusing to increase the safety of your ascent by adding pads at the base you could then claim a higher difficulty for the route, but when I consider the nature of the E-Grade I guess it does make some sense.

    Still, doesn't it strike you as a little bit of an ego-trip to intentionally increase the danger of routes just to claim a higher e-grade? I mean no disrespect by asking the question, it's just hard for me to understand the logic....maybe a culture gap?


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  11. in reply to nate:

    E-Grade has nothing to do with difficulty. The E-Grade is simply the danger factor of the climb. No one is downgrading the difficulty in these routes when using a boulder pad, they are downgrading the E-Grade or "danger factor".

    So if the climb is an E10 7a, ruffly translating to 5.14a X. Now if someone climbed it with pads, they are now claiming E8 7a. That is where the debate lies. They are not claiming E8 6b. You cannot downgrade technical difficulty based on danger factor.

    All Dave is trying to get at is, if you repeat a climb that the FA climbed without pads, and you climb it with pads, you cannot comment on the E-Grade because you did not send it in the same style as the FA did.

    Also, the E-Grade has nothing to do with an ego-trip. Many climbers do these routes with old style ethics. They do this because they feel strongly about the tradition of climbing in their area. The climbers putting up these hard gritstone routes back in the day did not use pads or bolts. They climbed with traditional ethics.

  12. When I stated about that the E-Grade has nothing to do with difficulty, you might take that wrong.

    E-Grade and difficulty go hand in hand. But the E-Grade does not make the technical grade go up or down. The technical grade in a certain section of the climb is what makes the E-Grade go up or down. If you climb a 7a with a very run out section of 5b climbing, the E-Grade will be lower, but the technical grade stays constant. If you climb a 7a with a run out section of 6a climbing, then the E-Grade goes up.

  13. Clueless John K.

  14. Nate you've hit the grade nail square on the head my friend.

  15. John k... not quite
    Tech grade = single hardest move or short sequence
    E grade is the difficulty of the route, where if something is dangerous it is deemed more difficult, and if it is technically harder to climb physically then it is deemed more difficult.
    So you can have an E5 6a which is safe (London wall) or an E5 6a which is dangerous, but physically easier.

  16. Thx for the info....whoever you are.

    I am just starting to learn how the E-grade works. Coming from the US, it is never used here.

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  18. Dave,
    I'm the guy who posted about top-roping routes instead of using pads. I think I've been misunderstood.

    I was trying to say that, if the intention is to completely eliminate danger, it makes sense to top-rope rather than use multiple pads.

    I wasn't trying to suggest that doing a 20-foot route over pads is the same as top-roping, that's obviously not the case!

    Hope that makes sense. Anyway, I really enjoy your blog, all the best.