Important to some and meaningless to others, climbing grades have long been a great source of debate to pass the time in between sessions. Recent years have seen an explosion of climbing related websites and blogs on the internet which has taken this debate to a new level. It’s easier than ever for people to share their opinions on the grades of climbs…especially ones they have no hope of ever doing (or even trying).
While I enjoy posting news of the latest and greatest hard send by the likes of Sharma and Graham, I usually reserve my opinions on what I think about the grade of any of their climbs for private conversations. Why? Because I have no clue what I’m talking about. For the most part neither does anyone else, unless of course they are climbing at that elite level.
I bring this topic up because I was reading an interesting interview done by SA Mountain Sports with Bernd Zangerl that was re-posted, ironically, on 8a.nu the other day. Discussing his 2nd ascent of Dave Graham’s Chironico, CH testpiece From Dirt Grows The Flowers (V15), Zangerl offers some useful insight when asked for his thoughts on the grade of the problem:
There have been many discussions about grading since the ‘new standard’ was put up in 2005. It seems that it’s the most important thing now in bouldering. Even people who are far from climbing that level of difficulty want to talk about it. They propose grades and think that everything can be measured by a logical or mathematical system. I think only someone who is actually climbing at this level has an idea how sensitive this topic is.
Just because the standards rise, we don’t necessarily have to downgrade. It takes time for a grade to settle and each climber has personal strengths and weaknesses. How much a problem suits your personal style is really important in bouldering. Most climbers forget this. Personally, I feel that some other boulder problems felt harder than From the Dirt.
So what are arm-chair climbers to do? Part of what makes reading about high-end climbs interesting is attempting to understand the difficulty that goes into the given grade of the climb. So internet debates about grades are unlikely to end. I don’t want it to come across that I’m against having these debates either because I’m not. I just think it’s important to keep things in perspective.
Fortunately, with the onslaught of sometimes uninformed opinions comes an increasing number of more informed opinions from elite climbers through personal or pro blogs as well as interviews like the one SA Mountain Sports did with Bernd Zangerl.
As with most things in life, time may be the only answer to the grading question as Dave Graham states in this old blog entry (emphasis mine):
In all cases, it’ll be all good, it’s just going be a bunch of forever-unanswered questions. What is 9a+? Realization, La Rambla, Im Reich des Shogun, maybe Coup de Grace? And is 9a Action Directe, Estado Critico, A Muerte, Kinematix? in each catagory, one asks, are these all the same grade? What’s 9a with Bain de Saing involved? Good Lord. Only the people doing these routes know, and we are all pretty lazy, and some not the most driven to know these answers. Time will prove a lot.