Rating in theory and reality - "Everything is relative"
19 May 2008
In climbing, we use a unique system for measuring performances. Other sports use split seconds, centimetres, points or a match/fight to decide to decide who's the best. Climbers do it by grades, but how does it work? Who's to determine a grade? Down-grading! One move boulder dynos! Tactics to maximize your climbing grades! Grading scales for Routes and Bouldering
However, the rating system in climbing is first of all a means of making it easier to chose which routes/boulders to try. Secondly it's the base for the competition with yourself and others for glorification and sponsors. This article tries to cover both the theory (of relativity) and the reality of this, to all climbers, which is such a dear subject to us - Rating! 8a.nu is looking forward to your comments...
Rating is based on individual subject suggestions
Rating isn't, and will never become, a precise science. The first ascender can only give a subjective suggestion, decided on the experienced relative difficulty. Climbers have different heights, strength and weaknesses, hence, the individual suggested grade could differ. It might have been an 8a suggested performance of that short superwoman on the reachy steep route, but taller guys suggest only 7c.
Albert Einstein -"Everything is relative".
and confirmed by facts and results by the climbing community.|
A grade doesn't tell you how hard a route is in absolute terms, but it's in fact a measurement of the effort and the time put in by the climbing community in order to succeed on a particular route/boulder. The time/success ratio, for the climbing community, will step by step confirm the grade. Take a dyno boulder for example, the grade of such a problem can only be given, based on that ratio of the community. The communitiy's grades of new route/boulder has to fit with previous grades they have climbed.
Down- or Upgrading is necessary when the "ratio" is incorrect for the community
The grades in the guidebooks are mostly correct but sometimes the ratio has been proven false by later climbers. When climbers do the first repetitions they sometimes don't bother in correcting the grade. Then, it's easy to end up like the well known fairy-tale, "The emperor new clothes". Surely, we do have some nice stories to be revealed out there, of some over-graded stuff. On the opposite side, how many climbers have already down-graded a route/boulder which they "felt" close to do, but haven't done. Worst of all is anyhow, all these routes that are sinking into oblivion in your neighbourhood, because they are considered to be sand-bags. God damn it, upgrade them. They might be nice and you will make the first ascensionist happy!
Concerning the down-grading of routes/boulders the IT revolution will catch these emperors with nudity. The information about repeats and downgrades etc is out there and everyone will stay updated with what's going on.. 8a.nu have very positively tested a system of up- and downgrading via internet, on the Swedish site, which maybe used by everyone having an online topo to their crags.
Practial examples of the grading mystery
Number of red-point (RP) attempts versus time/success ratio?
The number of RP-attempts you can make in a day depends on how much rest is needed between tries. On a short route, with the crux in the start, it might be possible to make 15 tries before your power is gone, whereas on a long, pumpy route you might only have a couple of tries per day. As a direct result of this, many long, pumpy routes are by many considered to be sandbags.
RP grading versus on-sight?
It's not possible to set grades that are justified for both RP- and OS-attempts. The rating system does only consider the easiest way up, one can not down grade a route just because it's easy to OS. In theory, all routes could have a supplementary grade for OS as this might be completely different from the RP grade. Today, the grading system only account the RP difficulty.
Technical skills versus power?
Since it's easier to acquire power compared to technique, the rating of power demanding routes should be kept down. Take any teenage gym-rat and he'll say the rating of overhangs are considerably softer than the one of slabs. However, as there are certain genetic differences among women and men on the ease to gain power, on the contrary, most women will claim that the sandbags are found on the short steep routes.
Natural protection versus Bolted routes?
In the British rating system naturally protected routes are given higher grades if they are severe. A real death trap gives the highest grade E10! This system is unique and normally routes are not giving higher ratings just because you can die. However, one should bear in mind that if you are placing the gear by yourself, as you normally do in trad routes, sometimes the difficulty involves that you have to stop and place the protection in the crux, hence, making it harder to climb the route compared to bolts being placed before and after the crux.
Many years ago, climbing activities took place on vertical trad routes giving climbers certain abilities to succeed and grade these routes. Today, on the opposite, most training occurs in steep indoor gyms giving other prevailing skills for climbers. This has changed the community's time/success ratio on different type of route/boulders, and grades have to be changed. In practice this mean that some steep old routes should be in the risk-zone of beeing downgraded. Most probably, dyno problems will face the same down grading risk as dyno-ing gets more popular and we will develop better performance level during the next few couple of years. On the other hand, we will see upgrading of a number limestone routes due to pollished holds. Try one poular slaby route at Buoux for example and a 7a might be on it's way to 8a. There are a number of popular routes where the ratings have to be upgraded due to broken holds as well as polish.
How to optimise grades for every individual?
It is said that you are supposed to train your weaknesses. Based on the logic above, it's the other way around. If you somehow are lucky enough to be extreme on a certain fact like: Ability of power or Endurance, Height, Fingersize, Open-hand strength etc. A concentration on routes/boulders that favours your unique ability would be your best opt to go for the high grades. Most female should for example go for crimpy vertical routes. Another extremely egoistic possibility is to chip routes to exactly suit your size.