Bouldering grades: a solid foundation for the new standard

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Bouldering grades: a solid foundation for the new standard

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    wednesday, march 3, 2010

    Bouldering grades: Everything is average nowadays I decided to write down some of my thoughts on bouldering grades,

    since a lot has been happening during the last years in the bouldering

    world. This sort of conversation still seems to be some sort of a taboo in

    the climbing community, so I am prepared to receive a lot of negative

    reactions, but I feel like this is a really important topic to discuss.

    I'm going to start from the beginning of this

    whole mess. In the year 2000, 8C (V15) grade

    first got introduced to bouldering, when Fred

    Nicole did the first ascent of Dreamtime and

    proposed a never before seen grade of 8C for it.

    Soon it became known as the standard for 8C in

    the climbing media. That was 10 years ago. Still

    to this date, most of the cutting-edge boulders

    being put up are 8C. To most, this means that a

    decade passed and we have not progressed at

    all.

    Sometimes things are not how seem. There has

    been huge progression difficulty-wise in bouldering. What happened is

    deflation in the grading scale. Dreamtime being set as the 8C standard

    (by the media), other hard problems are being put up and since

    Dreamtime is the 8C standard (and the only problem of that grade in

    the world) they get graded based on Dreamtime. New Base Line gets it's

    first ascent and marks the upper end of 8C. Time goes by, more hard

    problemsgetputupandgradedbasedonthesestandards.Andthen,BOOOM! After Dreamtime gets enough repeats, turns out it is actually

    not 8C, but only 8B+. Same thing with New Base Line, which marked

    the upper end of 8C, it turns out to be 8B+ also. This is were it all

    started to go wrong.

    Dreamtime, the problem that started it all.

    In 2005 Dave Graham makes the first ascent of The Story Of Two

    Worlds and decides to call it the new standard for 8C, even though he

    could have proposed 8C+ as it was harder for him than anything else at

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  • the time. Instead, Dave chose to use it as the 8C standard and make

    some sense to the chaotic grading scale. Today, there is a lot of variety

    in the upper-scale grades, simply based on these double standards,

    because some problems are still graded based on the old standard,

    while other problems are more reliant on Dave's standard.

    Story of Two Worlds, in Cresciano, Switzerland

    I have repeated at least five boulder problems that were originally

    graded 8C or even 8C+, and have now been downgraded by a grade or

    two. And the list goes on. Actually, most of the proposed 8C's or 8C+'s

    have been downgraded and many of the ones that have not, are still

    unconfirmed. The issue here is that a few people (like me and Dave

    Graham for instance) are still trying to define the 8C grade (which I

    personally think is still the cutting edge) while rest of the climbers do not

    necessarily realize the the grade deflation, that has been going on for

    some years now.

    Here are a few examples:

    - Dreamtime downgraded from 8C to 8B+

    - New Base Line 8C (hard), downgraded to 8B+

    - The Never-ending Story in Magic Wood was originally called 8C+, now

    downgraded to 8B+

    - El Techo de los Tres B's, downgraded from 8C to 8B

    - Banshousha, supposedly the hardest slab in the world - downgraded

    from 8C to 8B

    - Memento, downgraded from 8C+ to 8B+ (and according to many still

    deserves a downgrade)

    - Amandla, downgraded from 8C+ to 8B+

    - Terremer in Hueco Tanks, downgraded from 8C+ to (soft?) 8C

    - Ode to the modern man, downgraded from 8C to soft 8B+

    - Kheops assis, downgraded from 8C to 8B+

    and the list goes on...

    I see this

    trend

    repeating

    itself year

    after year

    and there

    seems to be

    no end to it.

    Why do so

    many

    problems

    keep getting downgraded? Why are so many problems overgraded in

    the first place? The media is adding pressure for professional climbers

    to strive for new grades, since bouldering grades have been stalling or

    even on the decline for years. An 8C first ascent is not necessarily that

    newsworthy anymore, after all that grade was climbed already 10 years

    ago.

    Last June I did the first ascent of

    Livin' Large in South Africa. It is

    by far the hardest boulder I've

    climbed so far, a lot harder than

    any 8C that I have climbed in the

    past. Does that mean that it is

    8C+? Maybe, just maybe. Does

    that mean that I should grade it

    8C+? I don't think so. Why do we

    always have to shoot high first

    and then wait for the downgrade.

    Why is it never the other way

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  • around? I graded it 8C because I

    feel certain that it is at least 8C.

    If other people feel like it's

    harder, they can upgrade it. Why

    do people always choose the

    egotistical approach to these

    things instead of "playing it safe"?

    Furthermore, I think Livin' Large equals in difficulty with The Story of

    Two Worlds, the stiff standard set by Dave Graham back in 2005,

    defining the standard further.

    The previous standards failed us and sent the highest grades to a down-

    ward spiral. This time we tried to set standards that are very likely to

    hold their grade. A solid foundation for the grade is what we need to

    correct the situation and that also means lots of downgrades. This is

    where it gets hard, because often people can take it personal, when

    their biggest pride gets downrated. The few people who actually put

    themselves on the line and try to make a change for better, get a bad

    name for criticising other people's ascents or more precisely the grades.

    Grading climbs based on the new-school standard can mean getting "left

    behind" so to speak. In the world of professional climbing, that can be a

    big risk to take.

    It is too easy to keep

    quiet and go with the

    flow, but where will

    this lead us in a few

    years?Already,thegrading scale is so

    chaotic in the upper

    end, that sometimes

    I'm not sure if it's

    even salvageable

    anymore, especially if

    we start basing an

    entirely new grade on

    the "standard" set

    right now.

    Like I said before,

    there are not many

    people out there trying

    to fix the current situation, before jumping to a new grade. If others do

    not approve on this standard that we are trying to set and grade things

    based on a slightly different scale, that's totally fine with me, but in that

    case our problems need to be potentially re-graded. Who sets the

    grading scale, is the question here. I totally agree, that we need to

    move up on the scale soon, but I'm not sure if the necessary (big) step

    has been reached yet and further do we want to base a new grade on

    such a chaotic "foundation".

    The fact is, that there is still no clear standard for 8C. We can all be

    throwingout big grades and flashy numbers and get on magazine

    covers, get better sponsorship and then a few months later watch our

    problem getting downgraded. The irony here is that a downgrade rarely

    makes the news and one would not necessarily get discredited for what

    he claims to have done.

    I see lists of

    the hardest

    boulders in

    the world

    and in reality

    there is a

    three grades

    alternation

    between different problems, all categorized under the same grade. This

    almost makes me want to start a new grading scale. Another important

    thing is, that grades should be openly discussed, not kept quiet.

    Although, most grade related conversations on internet forums are

    usually quite pointless, I think there are people who are in certain

    situations qualified to state their opinion about a grade, without

    necessarily completing a climb.

    In

    conclusion,

    grades are

    only

    estimates,

    personal

  • opinions of

    the difficulty

    of a climb.

    People make

    mistakes,

    that is how it

    will always

    be. But how does it happen that 99 percent of the time, the mistake

    happens to be giving a HIGHER grade, very very rarely lower.

    Especially with upper-scale boulder problems, comes a fair amount of

    responsibility with the grading, because when the problem becomes a

    standard of some sort, a test-piece, it can and will affect the grading of

    many other climbs.

    Grades are only a very small and quite unimportant part of climbing, but

    why do we even bother with the grades, if they really mean nothing?

    sreengrabs:www.8a.nu

    posted by nalle hukkataival at 7:48 pm labels: 8c, bouldering, grades, v15