The grand unified theory of everything, but especially bouldering


Wednesday, 12 October

Bouldering means few and powerful moves climbing a boulder. In fact, that's the whole point in having a separate grading system in the first place. In spite of this, many of the hardest boulders in the world are endurance games with 20 + moves in caves, or traverses linking in to up-problems. Sure it's easy to feel, and fall for, the temptation of linking a problem in to one you've already done, thereby getting a harder problem.

Well, I'm not saying link-ups are always bad, not even that there's anything wrong with any link-ups (although some of them in all honesty can feel more than a little contrived). I mean, after all, everyone climbs what he or she likes best, right?

But perhaps you need to ask yourself whether the link-up you want to do adds quality, or simply quantity? What is it you're after?

Another question is whether these creations are really to be viewed as bouldering in its true sense. I'm sure most would agree, the essence of bouldering is power and to some extent, balance. The main difficulty in climbing a problem should, hence, be being able to perform the individual moves, and then link them together. By that I mean that endurance shouldn't be the deciding factor. If it is, the "problem" is actually closer to a route, where the challenge of "keeping the powder dry" is a more typical characteristic.

One of the three problems in the world to be graded 8C+, The wheel of life, is an endurance feast of more than 60 moves. Hell, most routes are a lot shorter than that!

The first ascender himself, Dai Koyamada, said, "this is not bouldering".

So, what is it then, and how should we grade it?

And although The wheel... is still somewhat extreme in its length, the trend towards longer and longer problems, at least in the upper grades, is clear to see.

This leads us to a question:

Should the question of using a rope or not really decide what grading system we use, rather than the characteristics of the climb? If a one-mover can be compared to a 65-move monster, and a five-meter route to one with 400 moves, why do we have separate grading systems at all?

Let's wait a bit before we get to the answer to that question.Why not use a little bit of backwards thinking?

In bouldering competitions today, no problem can be longer than 12 moves. The main reason for that is that the purpose of bouldering competitions is to decide who's the best boulderer. To do that, one has thought it wise to emulate what bouldering typically is like outside. And as the essence of the sport is power (ok, timing, balance and luck too), 30-movers aren?t allowed.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to draw a sort of line between what's bouldering and what's something else? I mean seriously, when a "problem" is 25 moves or more, can you honestly say it's not more about stamina than anything else? It's no longer a question of being able to execute the individual moves, not even about linking them, but, instead, about having the endurance to go all the way. Much in the same way as a route often has a red-point crux, which you do easily when you're fresh, but haven't got enough power left to do when you reach it from the ground.

If the difficulties you encounter are the same, shouldn't the same yardstick be used?

So, where does this, logically, lead us?

As far as I can see there are two possible solutions:

1)      We keep the two different grading scales, but instead of letting the rope draw the line, we separate between the scales by deciding what character the climb has. If it has a "route-character", i.e. stamina oriented, we give it a route-grade (I guess we'll have to call it something else though), and if it has a "boulder-character", i.e. move oriented, we give it a boulder grade. Most grades will, in this scenario, stay the same.

·        The wheel of life goes from 8C+ to 9a+.

·        Realization keeps the 9a+-grade

·        Hubble goes from 8c+ to 8B

·        Former 9a, The fly is now 8B

2)      We start using a unified grading-system, differentiating between route-, or boulder-style by simply using lowercase (a, b, c) respectively uppercase letters (A, B, C). In this scenario many grades must be changed, but it has the advantage of making it easier to compare difficulties.

·        The wheel of life goes from 8C+ to 9a+ and should thus be compared to Realization, 9a+

·        Hubble becomes an 8C+ comparable to Boogalagga an 8B that might end up as 8C or 8C+.

·        The fly goes back to 9A or perhaps 8C+.

Now some will inevitably argue that the problem of clipping must be considered. After all, it does make a route harder to climb than a long boulder of similar difficulty, right?

Well, yes of course, but on the other hand, isn't it the difficulty of the climbing we're supposed to be measuring?

Do you give a route a lower grade if you decide to take a chance and skip the difficult clip? Do you give it a higher grade if you climb it in bad conditions?

Didn't think so...

Same thing if you use a top-rope on a highball. Does it make the actual climbing any easier? Does the boulder suddenly become a route just because you don't hit the deck if you fall?

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