Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Grades, Grades, Grades…

As I have been attempting more “hard” routes recently I have been mulling over the concept of grades. Within a given number, whether 5.9 or 5.13, the variability of perceived difficulty can be quite vast. Rock type can vary between crags as can the grading ethics and the style of climbing. How can we relate a 5.9 on Yosemite granite to a 5.9 at the Red River Gorge?

At one point our grading system rated a climb based on its hardest move, but now we try to rate the overall effort required for a climb. Sustained 5.9 moves yield a rating of 5.10a at certain crags despite the lack of a 10a move. These ideas are not set in stone nor are the agreed upon throughout the world, yet people all over base so much on these simple numbers. Is this because we need an expectation for the route we are going to climb? Do we need compare climbs to each other and to our past climbs? What do we need from these grades?

I found this quote about Dave Graham’s feelings on grades quite interesting. It was originally posted here.

"Do we comprehend as a community a system of grading? As a community, are we confident in our current theories about the complex abstraction of high-end grades?

I think the media did a lot more consolidating of grades than we ever did as a community of climbers. For generations it has happened. Capitalism, money, "fame",...these factors of our world are real, and they have a serious influence.

Grades will never be the most inspiring abstraction donated by climbing. They rank low in overall importance. From an artistic point of view, the possible inspiration one can attain from a grade (it being an after-the-fact interpretation of something special) can never compete with the inspiration donated by the actual experience of climbing.

I changed a lot of my ideas about grades throughout my experiences climbing. I learned a lot about how to compare personal experiences and deduce their relativity. I think its amazing, as a community, how everyone involved, can appreciate the attempt to articulate (with a little number) how challenging something felt, or how one experience compared to another."
--- Dave Graham, 2004 ---

I completely agree that climbing is too complex to be expressed by “a little number”. As a community we should work together to push the limits of climbing and make sure not to be confined by grades.

This article really sheds some light on the John Gill B scale. It is cool to see that a younger climber, Klem Loskot, agrees and his explanation of how to grade problems that are so difficult. It is especially important how he says that grades should really just be a personal reflection of the difficulty of a climb. As well that sometimes the best way to look at the difficulty of a problem can be its relation to other climbs you have done.

Personally I use grades as a measure of performance and a way to gauge progress. I target grade ranges when I travel to crags so that I will push my self climbing. In the past I have been too concerned with sending given grades at the sacrifice of other parts of climbing. I would climb 11as instead 10ds since they are the next number grade up and thus more important even thought both grades be quite similar in difficulty.

While I do think the grades do characterize different types of movement I can still be surprised by the effort required to do 5.9 versus 5.12. Just because a climb is graded harder doesn’t always mean it is more difficult. Difficulty is so abstract, especially in climbing, because there is a varied mix of mental and physical effort. A climb can seem more difficult if the moves are harder to unlock compared to a climb with simple pulling.

Overall I think that the most important thing is to keep climbing and trying different styles of routes. A person’s body can learn so much from a variety of challenges. After man years of climbing cruxes will make more sense and perhaps grades will seem less important. The key is to challenge yourself and have fun doing it.
- Luke


lizzy said...

I definitely agree about the difficulty vs. grade conundrum. A couple years ago in J-Tree when i was just starting to gain the confidence (and opportunity) to lead lots of trad routes, I flew up several 5.9 routes, but was later practically stumped as to how to get off the ground on a 5.7. It seems that some places the kind of trickery that you often have to use in Jtree (if you've ever tried the start of waterchute, you know what I'm talking about - i used a radical backstep/butt smear) are included in the grades, whereas other places those kinds of awkward difficulties mean a route will be graded harder.

I think its hard, though, to imagine any largely "better" scheme of grading routes. It seems that the only way to really convey the important information is through words... and that's why we have guidebooks, right?

It really comes down to putting a definite label (like 5.10d R) on something whose challenge is subjective and dependent on the particular skills, strengths, and weaknesses of the individual.

DSD said...

Thoughtful analogy on the artistry and inspiration within our experiences out there...
Perception is everything isn't it...