I would like to preface this post with a disclaimer of sorts. A majority of the posts on my site have to do with my enjoyment of climbing, the beauty of a line, its history, its movement, or just spending time outside in beautiful places with my friends. Grades are also an important aspect of bouldering and it would be remiss not to discuss them, as we would discuss any other aspect of bouldering.
In 2005 Dave Graham did the first ascent of The Story of Two Worlds in Cresciano, Switzerland. He followed up his ascent with a “manifesto” about grades, the media and climbing hard. I thought it was great that he took such a strong stance and as his problem remains unrepeated, it looks like he may have been on to something. I have reposted it here but what I am mostly interested in is if Dave, or his ideas, remain relevant 4 years later. Perhaps they have become more meaningful as time passes. The internet is changing the way we climb, for better or worse. Have sites like 8a.nu lead to upgrading, as Dave suggests? I would argue there is little incentive to take lower grades on 8a. There are a number of climbers who take a very conservative approach to grades and they don’t give their opinion on the site. Does it matter that grades have become inflated, as long as things are consistent? Unlike running, pole vaulting, or swimming there is no objective standard to measure one’s progress. This is part of the beauty of the sport. The ineffable qualities that factor into climbing a rock are mostly why I climb. The subtleness of a foot placement, or the myriad intricacy of fitting two organic structures together (your body and the rock) leave, like an amazing work of art, a vast array of interpretations. Trying to objectify these things is of never-ending interest to myself and many climbers out there. There is never one right answer, but always much fodder for the thoughtful. Anyways, here are Dave’s thoughts, which I think are worth a read (or reread) on their own. I’d love to hear yours.
The new 8C standard 20/01/05
Dave Graham has opened The story of two worlds something that he describes as the new standard for 8C. Here’s a part of what Dave has to say about the problem and grading.
“I changed some of the grades on my scorecard, because I thought they were incorrect. They weren’t consistent with my present views of how hard certain things seem. Didn’t make much sense to me. They were heavily influenced by what other climbers thought. I have posted what things feel like for me. Its my personal comparative analysis. My abstraction.
So, those new grades are just my grades, not the real grades, not the world grades. I don’t want to offend anyone. I just want to climb REALLY hard. Maybe 8C finally. Real 8C.
“The boulder is a pure sit start to a chunk of rock Toni Lamprecht climbed and called The Dagger. I have done the whole line now, after 6 days of trying and 3 years of #$%@$g around with trying to get an idea how to get on, can compute as an intense, super technical-PAINFUL- Monster of a problem. It starts with 7-Big moves at 8B or 8B+(it’s harder than The Dagger for me, and then directly into the incredibly physical 8B+.
I think this is the hardest bloc yet, and I think it can change the mal-progression we can see when we are seeing millions of 8B+ and 8C blocs climbed everywhere. Now its just about comparison. The big point is REVOLUTION, hell with the media, hell with 8a.nu (don’t take that personally, it’s a symbol of the people who abuse the concept from the page), hell with climbing big numbers to keep yourself sponsored, now, it’s time to climb the REAL numbers, and really progress our sport. The Story of Two Worlds, proves that point.”
We at 8a.nu believe Dave’s right. It’s about time we, the media, and we, the climbers, start to focus on honesty rather than ego-inflating that leave a bad after taste…
From his new home in Ticino, Switzerland David Graham explains why he has retro downgraded many of his hardest sent boulder problems:
8a.nu support the thoughts and think it’s brave of David to officially state this opinion. Some times grading is like the fairy tale of the Emperor’s new clothes One should also understand that David actually drops in the ranking when he downgrades his own ascents. The 8a scorecard is just a game and it will never be an absolute thruth regarding who’s the best – but it can sure be a good motivator!
“As a climbing community, we shouldn’t be naive. The media has a big influence on the grades we see for high end stuff. 8a.nu has a big influence on the grades we have for everything. Are we climbing 8C boulders and 9a routes? How did we do that? 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.