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
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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Bouldering grades: Everything is average nowadays
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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
seems to be
no end to it.
Why do so
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
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
Could Be Worse
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Nalle Hukkataival bouldering in Maltatal
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
anymore, especially if
we start basing an
entirely new grade on
the "standard" set
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
and in reality
there is a
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.
of a climb.
that is how it
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?
posted by nalle hukkataival at 7:48 pm labels: 8c, bouldering, grades, v15