In 2001 Brian Capps was in Squamish bouldering with Matt Wilder. They had scoped out an amazing project known locally as “The Room Project”. They felt that this project had all the attributes of a classic boulder problem: an obvious starting hold, a flat landing, a nice setting, excellent rock quality, an obvious line, and it was not contrived. In an attempt to standardize and objectify its quality, they decided to come up with “The Star System”.
Most guidebooks use some kind of rating system to tell the climber how good the climb is, however, the idea behind “The Star System” was that it would be like the V-scale. It was not specific to the area and it could be applied to any boulder problem, anywhere. Their original justification was to explain to someone like Fred Nicole just how good this Project was (potentially five out of five stars) so he would come and try it. Two years ago, Tim Clifford made the first ascent of this gorgeous problem calling it The Singularity. Ironically, Clifford started in a less obvious position, with only one hand on the lowest jug. Regardless, the system was born.
The Singularity, the problem that started it all.
Photo by Mike Chapman
This is roughly the same system that Wilder describes in his Hueco Tanks Bouldering Guidebook, however, Brian and I have come to understand a slightly different scale.
The idea was that the system should be rigorous and that most problems would probably get one or no stars, with a maximum of four stars. There would only be maybe a hundred or so problems in the US that would get four stars. We have also come to the consensus that a five star problem is theoretical. With entire continents virtually unexplored, it seems we have only seen a fraction of what is out there. The style of the problem is generally irrelevant. In addition to the above mentioned criteria, chipping or gluing would detract instantly. Traverses or problems that have a traversing nature would be given less stars. History could potentially add to the star rating, but lack of history would never detract. Difficulty is completely irrelevant to the System.
Often people don’t like to hear that their project or proudest send is only one star, but that’s not to say its not worth climbing on one star problems. I have had some amazing fun climbing no hands slabs in my tennis shoes, ugly moderate warmups on horrible chossy rock, or working the hard moves on a lowball V11. The Star System was not created to measure fun. There is also consensus (among Brian and I) that climbing movement is climbing movement and that it is too subjective to say that one move is “better” than another. This being said, I realize that the entire system is subjective, however, it is only an attempt to bring things closer to objectivity and so things farther away from that are discarded. It also leaves much room for debate, and what climber would complain about that!
Here are several examples to show how The Star System works. No More Greener Grasses is generally considered by most climbers to be one of the best boulder problems at Mt. Evans, if not in Colorado. When applying The Star System, it meets many of the criteria. It has a very obvious start, the line is pure and uncontrived. The rock is good, not incredible, but good. The setting is very nice, on the Dali Boulder, at the base of a 500ft cliff in the mountains. The landing is not the best but it is manageable, and this is what takes away a star. I would give this problem 4 stars.
No More Greener Grasses, Mt. Evans
Another problem that gets a lot of attention in Colorado would be the Centuar in RMNP. The Centaur is a line of crimps up the left side of the Gang Bang boulder. The start to this problem is less obvious, and the uncontrived line from the start is Handicapps V9. It has broken several times (which would indicate poor rock quality), it has a high potential for a dab (very low to the ground), the landing is poor in several places. It is sharp, and the line itself is ambiguous (especially at the end, when a specific set of holds must be followed) It also has a traversing nature. While I have projected and sent this climb, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and am psyched to have done it, I would give it zero stars.
The Centuar, RMNP
One final example I would give would be Kahuna Roof, a very popular problem at Carter Lake. While it does have one very nice hold (the sloper) on it, the rock quality is pebbly and poor. The starting hold is fairly obvious, although it is ambiguous as to whether or not a jump start is considered legitimate. At least one hold has broken on the problem that I am aware of. It has a perfectly flat landing, which was manufactured. I would give this problem 2 stars. Again, its a great problem, and one I have climbed several times, however in the grand scheme of things 2 stars is appropriate.
Perhaps no one has climbed Kahuna Roof more than Matty O!
Brian and I both travel and it is awesome that I can ask him about problems he has seen and I haven’t, and vice versa. Not unlike the V-scale, if he tells me a problem is 3 or 4 stars, I know that means he is talking about a really amazing problem. As long as every one has a general understanding of how things are graded, the problems seem to fall into place. Unlike the V-scale, it seems people are far less attached to their ego’s and will freely give their opinions and debate quality.
When giving out stars I tend to lean towards being conservative as a general rule. This is not my scale, just a great way to discuss the quality of the boulders we all love. I would encourage people to discuss and question what they think is good and why. Hopefully, The Star System will give those conversations some direction.
Here are some potential 4 star problems in Colorado:
No More Greener Grasses
Whispers of Wisdom