Old-schoolers deserve more credit


Thursday, 14 January

There is continuous grade progress in the climbing community. Almost every year we see new records, meaning that old performances seem less impressive. However, the explanation for this progress may not only be climbers improving, but also an increasing number of hard routes to choose from, grade inflation, videos, better gear etc.

Today, there exist some 140 different 9a+ routes. This can be compared to about 15 routes of this grade twenty years ago. This means that it is much easier to find a 9a+ that fits your style. Furthermore, today you don't have to spend days finding the best beta - instead, you can just check a video. Then, there is grade inflation, which can be estimated to at least 0.5 grades, i.e. a slash grade, for the last 20 years. Another factor suggesting that climbers have not improved as much is that shoes have become better, knee pads have been introduced, etc.

A strong indicator that climbers have not developed as much as suggested by the stats is their performance on Action Directe 9a. During the last couple of years, this world's first 9a has only been repeated twice. If Wolfgang Gullich were equally strong today as when he established this route in 1991, he could probably have ascended several 9b’s in 2021. The same goes for Alex Huber. In 1994, he established Weisse Rose in Schleier Wasserfalle as an 8c+, which was based on Action Directe being 8c+. Later he said that "Today, the grade of “Weisse Rose” is definitely 9a+," making it the first in the world (see picture). In fact, three of his hardest routes have all been upgraded.

Another example of an old-school climber being at the same level as today's best climbers is Josune Bereziartu. Between 2001 and 2006, she did six routes 8c+ and 9a. At the same time, she also onsighted four routes 8b and harder.

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