Friday 21 July 2006

Grades - again!!!

I apologies for this post in advance as I know, like me, many people find that arguments about grades get boring after a short while. However, I read with interest some feedback about my Irish climbing last week on the internet and see that much of the feedback centres around my suggested downgrade of divided Years to E8. I guess it's good to get some discussion on it. You never know there might even be some progress. Grades at the top end of trad climbing (especially for mountain routes) take a very long time to settle down because very few climbers do the routes. Whether this is due to lack of ability, motivation or simply that headpointing is a little out of fashion I'm not sure. It certainly does take some motivation to climb E8 or above in the mountains, there are plenty who have the fitness, I wish more of them would be arsed to go back and lead these routes to get more of a consensus.

People seemed rightly surprised as to the big downgrade of Divided from E10 to E8 and the physical difficulty from 8c to 8a. People keep asking me why John Dunne gave it 8c. I don't know! I am not John. Physical difficulty grades on top trad routes were always given very loosely and not taken very seriously, maybe now that has changed? Well if it has, I should point out that F8a on trad gear on a mountain crag is still pretty hardcore, and is maybe underrated in it's difficulty. F8c is an astronomical grade to climb on trad, even more so on a mountain cliff. Do any climbers in the UK have the form to do it? Hmm maybe but I suspect you could count them on one hand. We joked in Ireland about the narrator in John's 'Big Issue' video stating proudly that Buzzard's Roost 'is 4 miles from the road' as if this was terrifying in itself. It isn't of course, but climbing F8a on Buzzard's or similar situations probably means you have to be an F8c climber, as well as being good at trad and walking 4 miles. Otherwise you are in for a long haul with a lot of walking, gear carrying and understanding belayers! Finding someone to belay you for 15 redpoints on divided years might well be E10. Basically what I'm trying to say is E8 6c on a mountain cliff is still pretty hard - hard enough.

I would rather sidestep the whole argument and take the E10 ticks (hey can I really climb E10 faster than anyone else on the planet??!! I don't think so). But unfortunately we need climbers to be bold enough to be honest about their grade opinions to have any chance of accurate grading. Could you imagine where science would be without the scrupulous and unforgiving 'peer review' of research?

My grade opinion is just as questionable as anyone else's on its own, but like real science, weight of certainty is added with more similar opinions. So I encourage the other climbers who have been on or have an interest in repeating Divided Years to get to the Mournes and make it happen. If DY and Breathless end up as E10s then Rhapsody might be the first E13. If I repeat all the E10s in the UK and they are all E8, I'll bring Rhapsody down to E9 or 10. Grades are not fixed they exist only in climbers heads, they can change.


  1. Anonymous21 July, 2006

    Nice one on the tick, E8/E10 or otherwise.

  2. Anonymous21 July, 2006

    Good effort on the repeat dave, its nice to hear qualified opinions on high end e-grades. Good luck on future projects.

  3. Anonymous22 July, 2006

    hi dave can you please explain why you use sport grading to explain trad grading

  4. Anonymous22 July, 2006

    first of all well done. but i would also like to know the reasons behind the use of sports grades to explain the subjective grading. cheers sam

  5. Hi people, climbers these days use french sport grades to give an impression of the physical difficulty of a route because it gives you much more useful information. If you only have the UK tech grade (6c for Divided Years) that tells you it doesn't have any really hard moves but little more. It could be one 6c move at the start (easy) or at the top when you are pumped (hard) or every move could be 6c (a whole different level of difficulty!). The sport grade just gives you a nice over all grade for how hard the thing is and how fit you will have to be. Between the three grades (E8, 6c and F8a) you can tell a lot about it which is very useful in prediciting if you have a chance or whether you should train a bit more before getting on a ferry to Ireland and wasting your time.

    Some people still cant get round my working for Rhapsody's E11 grade. Here are some examples/benchmarks of similar routes at different grades. All of these are a similar balance of physical difficulty and danger to Rhapsody (i.e they are bold and dangerous, but have some protection so serious injury/death is a relatively low probability outcome of a fall):

    Route Sport E-grade
    Fever Pitch 6b+ E4
    Right Wall 6c+ E5
    Lord OT Flies 7a+ E6
    Revengeance 7a+ E6
    Shine On 7b+ E7
    Undertow 7b+ E7
    The Nose (Eigg) 7c+ E8
    Parthian Shot 8a+ E9
    Equilibrium 8b/+ E10
    Rhapsody 8c+ E11

    For safe routes it tends to go like:

    Chemin De Fer 7a+ E5
    Major Domo 7b/+ E6
    Misadventure 7c+ E7
    Otto 7c+ E7
    Divided Years 8a/+ E8
    Nandrolone 8a E8
    Achemine 8b E9
    Bellavista 8c E10?
    A safe 9a trad E11?

    And for death routesits not so clear but the main theme is that the E grade is miles harder than the sport grade, but less so for more modern routes as gear/headpoint tactics improve

    Countdown to Disaster 7a+ E8
    End of the Affair 7b E8
    Doug 7b/+ E8
    Femme Fatale 7b+/7c E8
    Indian Face 7b/+ E9
    Holdfast 8a/+ E9
    The Fugue 8a+ E9
    A death E10? 8a/b E10
    A death E11? 8b/c E11

    Another cam at the crux of Rhapsody would make it E10, but as it is you drop 60-70 feet and have a smallish chance of landing on the belay ledge is the gear rips at the wrong moment and dying.

    Going back to UK tech grades, they can be virtually useless anyway because there is no consensus or even standard between differnet types of route. I hink they might die out for hard routes, if they havent already.

  6. Yeah everything that adds to the difficulty is taken into account, insecure moves matter most in the 'death' category routes. e.g. Indian Face - F7b and E9!

  7. The question is raised "why did JD say it was 8c?". I believe we all know the answer but I don't want you to get in trouble as even true statements can be misconstrued as libel!