Ethics and grades on "world records" etc


Friday, 3 December

Climbing is about creating challenges and solving them for their own sake. When climbers go out to climb, they usually do not feel the need to classify their climbs ('the hardest, the boldest, the longest...'), but they are often quantified and labelled by media and sponsors to facilitate their appreciation and to make sure they get attention. In order to make the challenges harder, one might include eliminations, sit starts, link-ups or doing a bolted route on trad gear etc. On the contrary, if the challenges are too hard they can be made easier by pre-clipping, using fans, knee pads or multiple crash pads etc.

Bernd Zangerl's Into the Sun, which just got its first repeat by Jacopo Larcher, is a perfect example of a beautiful hybrid challenge, where most certainly, no label fits. It could be called a "green point", as trad gear was placed instead of bolts, it could be called a high ball or a trad link-up as a high traverse was added to a boulder problem that ends below the top-out. Zangerl graded his climb 8c+ and called it "probably one of the hardest trad climbs in the world now" in a video that was produced of his ascent. (As of today, there exist only a couple of other trad 8c+, and 9a has never been suggested.)

Into the Sun goes diagonally from right to left on a huge boulder. It starts with Zangerl's boulder Very Important Papagei (V.I.P.), originally graded 8B+, where trad gear is placed a couple of meters after a bolted anchor, and then you continue with a 7b top out. V.I.P. has been repeated and upgraded to 8B+/C due to a broken hold. It begins with an 8A (+) traverse into Der Strahler, which has been upgraded from 8A+ to 8B.

In climbing, we use subjective grades defining which routes are the hardest in the world or at a specific crag etc. History shows that climbing media often presents news that is not correct, and downgrades are frequent. In other cases, it later turns out that the used ethics are dubious, i.e. pre-clipping, down climbing, onsight beta stacking crash pads etc. Climbing news are based on trust and usually, very little verification is made. Personally, I think you can climb in any style or invent and tricks you like, like placing a book under your knee-pad as long as you are open with it - and you're not excessively changing others' experiences or the rock.

The dilemma for the climbing media is that the ethics are on a floating scale and we do not have rules like in other sports when somebody can claim a world record etc. Over the years, we can see that there has been some ethics devaluation in climbing. Personally, I think that when it comes to climbing "world records" reported in the media, high standards are needed.

In short, "Into the Sun" is one of the hardest trad challenges in the world but should it be labelled in the history books as one of the hardest trad routes in the world? What is somebody add a sit start creating a 9a challenge? Should that hybrid be called the hardest trad route in the world? What if somebody skips the trad gear and instead stack some more crash pads and make it a high ball or a free solo? Hardest in the world? The responsibility of the media is to find the balance between the need to label and compare ascents, and to describe them in such a way that their relevance is clear without 'wrong' labels. The interesting aspect of Bernd's ascent at the time was that a legendary climber came back to hard climbing with this ascent. And on Jacopo's repeat, his insight into his own motivations to climb this was also a reason to report it, independently of whether or not this route should be listed as one of the hardest trad routes in the world or not.

Zangerl's comments, after reading a draft of this article, "For me its a trad route, because I used trad gear. Isn't it that simple? I actually put out the bolts when I did Into the sun, some people put it back for probably for top roping."

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