Grades… An Ongoing Debate

  • SumoMe

Today’s Thursday Thoughts!  Here’s the quote for today by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

Super inspiring… I need to remember this every time I really blow it on a climb or lose my nerve when lead climbing.  My perceived “failures” should be motivations to pounce on ways that I can grow as a climber, and in all other areas of life.  Looking at it this way, my shortcomings suddenly become opportunities to learn more and have fun, and learning new skills helps me keep the psych high and, ultimately, climb harder.

Now, onto the article for today- a writeup on grades.  As I expect most of my fellow climbers already know, there has been much controversy on the topic of grades.  Recently, the bouldering grade V16 has been proposed many times… and there have been many attempts to downgrade boulder problems of that suggested grade.  The question is, are new grades being created because climbers are sending harder, or is “grade inflation” occurring?  This article was posted on dpm climbing, and I found it a very interesting view of this ongoing debate.  I am not necessarily sure of my opinion on this touchy subject, but I do believe there is a happy medium somewhere between the two extremes of always downgrading problems and quickly creating higher levels in climbing grading systems.  But it’s up to you to decide what your take is on this issue; so without further ado, I present “The Never Ending Story” by Anthony Lapomardo.

It is safe to say that most people don’t understand our grading system.  Who would?  The system is created by numerous levels that are based upon “personal” biases that can not account for the various heights, methodologies, strengths, and motivations of climbers.  I think it is safe to say it was born broken.  Sure, it lasted us this long, but how do we move forward?  We can’t simply keep jumping into the same 8-mpg gas guzzler and complain about the cost of filling up at the pump.  We need to offer an alternative solution and put an end to this vicious circle.

Most boulderers fluctuate between the V-scale and the Font scale.  Both systems operate on nearly the same premise and have their pros and cons.  For many, the Font scale has become the leading grade converter as it offers a bit more flexibility between the grade ceilings then the V-scale.  The challenge for both of these systems is that they are unable to take into account the numerous variables that can create a “crux” for a climber and affect the grading of the problem.  Stated simply is that they are too rigid.

The main issue, for the everyday 8a user, seems to lie at the bottom and top of a grade.  For example, there are numerous V12’s in the world (some even called V15).  As you have seen on hundreds of score cards there are soft V12’s (even if it takes the climber 3 weeks to send), hard V12’s, and solid V12’s.  It is confusing and the truth is; everyone is right and at the polar end of that everyone is wrong.  So how do we fix this problem and lend our sport some credibility?  Wisdom has poured out by the great thinkers of our time and everyone has tried to offer a solution Gill, Verm, Carlo, but they have only created band-aids when the solution was right in front of their faces.  Don’t grade the problem like a boulder problem; grade it like a sport route.

Rarely do you see sport climbers participate in the back and forth that boulderers do when the topic of grades is brought up.  Why?  Perhaps they truly know whose is bigger and don’t have to inflate or deflate the grade to surf through the testosterone chest-thumping world of the boulderer or, perhaps they have simply inherited a system that allows for more flexibility.  So in order to bridge the gap we should introduce a new system.  This new scale will combine North America’s climbing meccas and grading systems to form one grading amalgamation dubbed “Yosve”…the name is a work in progress.

If you hadn’t guessed yet it is a splice of the Yosemite decimal system and Vermin’s V-scale, combining everything that might deflate the back and forth about a problem’s grade.  The scale will retain the letter “V” and the grades 1-16.  However, from the Yosemite decimal system we will add an addendum and tag on the letters a-d.  The sub letter grades that are imposed on sport climbs will now help boulderers refine their definitions and come closer to the “true” grade of a problem, before it is downgraded.

Take The Game as an example.  First put up by Daniel Woods it was given the grade of V16.  Seasons later, after repelling several ascentionists and enduring massive attention, the problem received its second ascent by Carlo Traversi and was downgraded to V15.  With new beta and muscle memory, new solutions are presented and the downgrade reflected that.  But, instead of knocking it down a full grade lets introduce the new system and boom you get V15c/d.  The problem moves down in a grade, but also retains its dignity and offers the community a more accurate average.

It is not perfect, but neither are the other two systems.  We can’t go as far as the Brits and attempt to classify fear and exposure…  With this new system we can introduce new flexibility into our grading system, lessen the social fluffing that is found on, and bridge the gap between the pad people and the rope climbers.  This seems to be a system that can at least offer our community a new hope and if anyone has a better name for the system please feel free to write in.

There you have it, a little overview of the grade controversy and a possible solution to it.  The challenge for this post is to post in the comments about your view on the great grade debate.  Feel free to post links to other articles that explain this topic further as well!

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