Posted on 03. Nov, 2009 by in News

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 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 (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 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: 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. 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.

18 Responses to “Grades”

  1. joe morgan

    03. Nov, 2009

    i just wanted to say, i like your blog and your content is great!

    but the melding of two things organic does not always occur when humans climb rock; it could be said limestone is organic in nature, but i do not think granite, sandstone, etc is organic in nature. anywhooo…..

  2. Daniel

    03. Nov, 2009

    I like Dave’s attitude and his writing. Would love to see him blogging (again).

  3. B3

    03. Nov, 2009

    @Joe I was referring to the structure and not the composition. I am going to have to hire an editor soon…

  4. Maxim

    03. Nov, 2009

    Jaime, I am starting work on my own treatise on grades (since i sit on a couch for 8 hours a day), along with a couple other big ideas…should be interesting when its done.

  5. leukaria

    03. Nov, 2009

    grades – indeed they are a necessary facet of the climbing experience. they are confounding, however, due to the intrinsic subjectivity in the process of their determination. i think this is dave’s most basic point.

    is there such a thing as a universal V2 or V9? probably not. perhaps the most practical approach to the grading question is to ask what the grade if for? for whom is it important and why?

    the way i see it, there are two basic approaches to answering such questions: the first is that they provide information and allow us to make decisions about what is safe or realistic for us to commit to when embarking on a climb. the second is that they provide a measure of our performance.

    difficulties arise as many of us are less interested in measuring our performance than embracing the experience in a direct relationship, unaffected by such measures. but – unless you choose to live in a bubble and climb by yourself seeking out unclimbed routes for the rest of your life – you can’t have one without the other.

    to open up a route or problem somewhere, someone has to go first. and as jaime so poignantly describes, the process of parsing out the nuances of specific movements can be mesmerizing. however, taken together, both dave’s statement and jamie’s blog demonstrate a second and perhaps more important aspect of grading. it demonstrates the decidedly social processes involved in grading.

    this realization doesn’t resolve the problem by any stretch of the imagination. getting grades wrong can be alarming when run out on a stiff grade somewhere on a big wall. and it can be embarrassing for someone when their first ascent of a V11 gets repeated instantly by every tom, dick and jane after months of effort at unlocking the coded sequence of moves.

    but thats just the way it goes. its important to recognize, as jamie does, that reducing and objectifying the relationship between our bodies and the rock we climb to a number or letter grade (or both as is the case most often!) is a confounding experience. but it is a social one. and it is only with time and through repeat ascents that the relative difficulty of any climb or problem comes into focus.

    if, as many of us do, we think of climbing more as an art or craft, than a blood sport forged in competition (whether with ourselves, each other, or nature), perhaps we should think of the grade merely as another facet of its naming and title. this may not satisfy the elite few who seek to secure sponsorship and a record of their accomplishments for posterity.

    but it will probably work for rest of us.

  6. Climber

    04. Nov, 2009

    Every climber is different, so there will be a different scale for each and every single one of us. What feels like V12 to you may feel like V8 to me, but the next thing you hike up as a V7 may feel like V13 to me. Some climbers can crimp hard, some can muscle their way up boulders, some find knee-bars and heel hooks everywhere, etc. There is no doubt about that. However, in an effort to prevent grade inflation, I believe there should be some standards for each grade, but not just one per grade. Instead, there should be numerous standards for each number, perhaps many per country, or per area, or per style (ideally). As humans, we often need specific examples to understand a principle. Let’s say, for example, a list problems for each grade that climb in different styles but have been decided by the community to right for the grade.

    After all, this is supposed to be democracy, right? There are standards set by society for every other aspect of life anyway. If you don’t want to accept them, then you don’t participate in the community, but you don’t want to create a blog to let everyone know you are a rebellious bad-ass. Either you are in or you are out. Maybe the internet should be used as a way for the whole community to participate and create their own grade standards in some sort of list or database. Any other climb could then be fit in between according to the “scale.”

    And perhaps later, when some V8 at the new area is kicking your ass so much that you wanna call it V12, you’ll have a whole community clearing your view.”

  7. Crafty

    04. Nov, 2009

    I believe that when John Sherman originally formulated the V scale, at Hueco, he did in fact list a problem as the “standard” for many of these V grades. While this certainly doesn’t take into account the differing nature of boulder problems, as well as different body sizes/types and climbing styles, it does help to narrow things down a bit. IMO.

    I could be completely wrong, though.

  8. B3

    04. Nov, 2009

    Chris, Sherman most certainly did, although he picked some unique problems for standards, and several that he has never climbed, like Shaken not Stirred and Crown of Aragorn.

  9. chuffer

    04. Nov, 2009

    I believe both editions of Sherman’s Hueco guide list one to three problems as standards up to V12 or V13, some of which are no longer appropriate standards for their listed grades. Most are in Hueco obviously, but a couple are on Flagstaff, in JTree, Yosemite and elsewhere (based on vague recollection).

    Jamie, maybe I’m wrong but I believe you have an appropriate audience of readers/collaborators that could begin to analyze, dissect, critique and add to the original lists, such that each grade could have say 5 problems listed as standards. As an example, somehow come up with a list of 10-12 problems representing the diversity found at each grade and, over time, a collective of folks could narrow it down to 5 for each grade up to V14.

    I suspect, after distilling it down to a set number, you could write a historical piece on the entire issue, the methodology used to determine the new Vermin standards, the flawed nature of grades, etc. Propose an article to Climbing, Rock & Ice, UC or Deadpoint Mag and see what they think.

    On the other hand, maybe no one cares THAT MUCH about grades …

  10. […] an apples to apples comparison, but it’s interesting to think about.  Jamie Emerson has some good discussion on this same subject if you’re interested. AKPC_IDS += "5998,";SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: […]

  11. OBdizzy

    04. Nov, 2009

    I think Chuffer’s suggestion is awesome, and this would be one of the few forums (that I know of) where this discussion could happen, without turning into something hideous. (*providing Jamie has the patience and interest for the project.*)

  12. sidepull

    04. Nov, 2009

    chuffer – it seems to me that bleau and UKclimbing do a good job of approximating this by averaging the ratings rather than scoring them (eg, In other words, makes problems relevant by making them into scores for comparison and competition. These other sites turn the data into data. This takes into account the diversity of body types that “climber” refers to. So, a given climb could be, on average v8 with a standard deviation of a half a grade. This would tell you that the problem isn’t very body dependent. In contrast, some problems might have fairly large standard deviations, indicating that body (or conditions) are extremely important in determining difficulty. In fact, web 2.0 sites like these could even regress rankings by body type or date climbed to show if there are relationships between these variables. I think all of these things would help grades represent what they are supposed to represent, a marker of difficulty (not of ego).

    That said, I don’t think grades are a necessary part of climbing. I do think they can be an enriching part of the climbing experience but often are not. As Dave’s manifesto states, sites like have only increased climbers’ collective problems with grades and their impact on climber culture.

  13. Crafty

    05. Nov, 2009

    Ironically, as I reached for Stone Crusade on my bookshelf, I realized that only 3 books away sat my “introduction to probability and statistics” text.

    The above was the best I could find as far as listed standards for given V grades. Unfortunately, many of those are closed (El Murrays, 45 degree wall) and Sex after Death is commonly done with a new method, making it significantly easier than the V9 sequence (I’m told).

  14. sidepull

    05. Nov, 2009

    PS – Is it just me who feels screwed by the lack of a Joe’s update? Stuff went down last week – wasn’t Jamie there to take sweet photos and retrospectively wax philosophical?

  15. B3

    05. Nov, 2009

    Unfortunately I was home in the snow and wet of Colorado and didn’t do anything but catch a mild cold.

  16. glclimber

    05. Nov, 2009

    Well there’s another perspective to ego…and it is looking up to those high grades. Personally I never bagged a v-double digit, and had every single V7-V9 that ive finished been told “its easier now” or “mr rock crusher didnt do it that way”, or “in colorado this would be v4″…and I think a lot of us do this out of ego as well. I would love to challenge all boulderers everywhere, self included, to not be the guy, (sorry, but i have never heard a single comment from a lady), making these comments. As Buns says, “If you want to bag an undisputable v10, then you better finish some v11 to cover the downgrade”.

  17. […] Musings on Rock Climbing 9 11 2009 Prompted by a recent post by Jamie Emerson on Grades.  I thought it would be good to dig up a few older thoughtful posts on climbing mixed with some […]

  18. longchamp pliable

    22. Mar, 2013

    Thank you stephanie for this great post

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