Given that lots of these big E-grade climbs are seeming more difficult to compare than ever (or is it that folk are more impatient to compare them??), this issue is simmering underneath some of the arguments.
James’ route The Promise was downgraded from E10 to E7 by some climbers who used mats where James didn’t. It’s obvious this made their climb a bit safer.
I can totally understand why they would want to use mats even though James didn’t – it’s only natural that climbers want to make the climb as safe as possible. It’s a paradox isn’t it – We as climbers want to put ourselves under potential danger for the enjoyment of dealing with that situation, yet we want to avoid needless danger, for example a spiky rock that you could pad out with your bouldering mat.
I climbed a lot on grit as a teenager, doing about 20 or so grit E7s and E8s. It’s quite funny that this period in my climbing pretty much ended after a 6 metre fall onto a very thin and pretty much useless bouldering mat after a pebble I was pulling on snapped off. I spent three months in plaster with a badly broken ankle which still complains eleven years later. My friend baggy Mike used to have this futon mat in a zip up bag that let the air out like a bouncy castle. It was the best mat I've ever used. We could jump off the top of the highballs in the peak rahter than bothering to walk back down. I remember spotting Mike when he fell off the last move of Piece of Mind (E6) at the Roaches. I watched in horror as he fell in the wrong direction, away from the air futon. But he landed like a gymnast on a tiny rock ledge beside it and burst out laughing. After that I discovered the potential of Scottish new route climbing and forgot about grit!
So for me looking on this debate about hard trad routes it seems sort of silly that grit is used so often as a yardstick to make benchmark E grades, when sometimes it’s barely high enough to warrant them at all (with modern mat protection, and abundance).
What to do? Like many people, when I think of grit climbing I think of it’s most famous son Johnny Dawes in the Stone Monkey film. I can’t remember off the top of my head exactly, but he described it’s character something like:
“just enough to interest and intrigue, without becoming tiring, or awkward”
Dawes being Dawes, he could have been referring to any manner of things, but I take from his statement that he felt grit climbing was playful, fun and centred much around the kinaesthetics of body movement, with the seriousness rather more in the background. This makes common sense – the peak district’s edges are quite a gentle and non-serious place, compared to some of the other places Johnny later focused on (Cloggy or ‘the big stone’).
I’ve thought this over a lot, and although I’m quite often in favour of making climbing on the harder and more demanding where possible (just because I like that!), I think that ultimately the best style is the one that is the most fun. When the route is 6 metres long and would be a good ‘highball’ boulder problem above mats – so boulder it.
If you are looking for a truly soul searching lead, go somewhere that lends itself to it. If you are looking to understand what E-grades mean, Gritstone is pretty much the last place to start.
Strone – the big stone – somewhere where E-grades will make more sense