What’s In A Grade?

Anyone who follows climbing news has been getting bombarded with news out of the Red River Gorge this fall. It’s not surprising given the calibre of climbers that are out there; Ashima Shirashi, Melissa LaNeve, Chelsea Rude, Adam Ondra, Jon Cardwell, Daniel Woods, Cedric Lachat, Nick Duttle… the list goes on and on. What I am surprised about is the fact that people are actually finally discussing grades. For years it was almost taboo. I wrote a long rant on grades a few years ago¬†and I’m glad to see people are finally at least discussing grades.

Now I actually do think that different people’s opinions should matter more but I also don’t think that when you’re on-sighting a route that you necessarily have the best perspective. That being said, you can’t exactly argue with a guy like Ondra who has onsighted or flashed more hard routes than anyone else.

However the reason for this post is not because of the amazing news coming out of the RRG but to discuss something a little closer to Vegas. This past weekend I was able to achieve one of my goals for the fall and redpoint ‘Golden Direct’ up at Cathedral in Southern Utah. This route was first redpointed by Joe Kinder and given the grade of 14d, a grade that I have never climbed and may never climb. Joe gave it 14d after climbing quite a few 14c routes and having tried ‘Kryptonite’ a 14d route in Colorado. I’m actually not sure how many people have climbed the direct but I have only heard that Ben Spannuth downgraded it to 14c.

As a bit of a background ‘Golden Direct’ adds a 10-12 moves into ‘Golden’ (14b). The intro moves on their own are probably 13b/c up to a decent rest. Golden is 13a to a no-hands rest then 4-5 moves to the same rest. The direct is definitely harder to that rest so then the question is ‘how well can you rest before continuing up Golden?’.

Personally I can rest pretty well and I’ve been working on my fitness for the last month or so. Honestly the upper crux on Golden is still the hardest moves on the route and they felt only slightly harder on the direct. However, if you can’t rest well, if that isn’t your strength, then I can see how the upper boulder problem would seem a lot harder on the direct vs on the regular ‘Golden’. Just like I am not a strong or tall climber. If a route contains a single hard move or a reachy move then I would deem it to be a lot harder than one that suits me of the similar grade.

From the rest where the two routes converge to the top is some of the most fun climbing I have ever done. It also suited me very, very well. Each move I felt I could get into almost perfect body position and barely had to pull hard with my arms. I even think I fit the two poor rests that lead you to the upper boulder problem. Those two poor rests allowed me to shake out my arms and lower my heartrate so by the time I was at the upper boulder problem I didn’t feel too much different between the two routes. I was definitely breathing harder on the direct but the holds still felt ok and I felt like I could still engage my forearms and bear down on the crux holds.

I think ‘Golden’ was 14b, soft in the grade but still in that range. This makes me think that ‘Golden Direct’, while harder might not be worth that exponential jump in grades to a higher grade. I recognize that it suits me perfectly so I don’t expect people to agree with me but hey, that’s my opinion :) .

So if two people have different opinions whose opinion matters more? Believe it or not I fully agree that my opinion is not as relevant as someone who is a more ‘average’ climber. By ‘average’ I mean average height, average strengths, average fitness for a specific grade. My strengths and weaknesses are very glaring and my height is outside the bell curve. I actually think Joe gave an honest opinion of what the route felt like to him based on his experience and how he was climbing at the time. Do I think the route should be immediately downgraded to what I think it is? No, of course not. I upgraded ‘Dogleg’ in the RRG to 14b and Jens from 8a went in and changed it because he said I was making a mockery of his site. Well, I gave a ‘personal’ grade. Only ‘Dogleg’ and ‘Lucifer’ took me more than 3 days to do. Do I think it should be 14b in the guide book? Heck no. I still have an opinion but I also recognize why my opinion may not line up with other climbers. That being said I still think everyone should state their opinion and be able to back up why they think so.

I also think that part of the reason why I find routes at places like the RRG ‘soft’ is because of where I grew up climbing. Grades in Squamish and Smith Rock are considered hard nowadays but in reality they should be considered the standard. In those two areas it doesn’t help to be short so perhaps my individual perception of what 13a or 14a feels like would be different then someone who is 5’10″ with the same climbing experience as me.

So, if you’re still reading, the point is why do Joe and I have different grades on the same route? The route suited me perfectly. Seriously, every move and rest. I mean no disrespect to Joe and while I could’ve just taken the grade I’m not like that. I’ve been climbing for too damn long to believe that just because a route suits me I should take the higher grade. I can’t tell you how the route felt to him, I can only express how it felt to me.¬†Basically just be honest with what a route felt like to you. Anyone who has climbed for a few years should know that grades are all over the map. Don’t get upset when you get on a route that feels hard for the grade and don’t get excited when you climb a route that is rated hard but felt easy to you.

On another note: I downgraded most of those routes in the RRG years ago and Lucifer hasn’t been downgraded yet (oops, apparently Adam Taylor thinks 14b) :) HaHa! Maybe everyone should just listen to me when it comes to grades :) .

6 Responses to “What’s In A Grade?”

  1. I Think we should just switch over to emoticon grading. Smiley faces, squinty eyes, sad faces, etc or adopt Kenny Barker’s methods and just attach a 13b to it and walk away.

  2. Hard 5.9. At least 5.9+

  3. Nice one, Mike.

  4. [...] Read the full article at the mikedoyle.ca [...]

  5. Interesting read, along with the re-reading of the old grade article as well. For me the difficulty is trying to discern whether or not a climb fits me very well, or I’ve gotten stronger since other ascents of that grade. I find this especially difficult at the hardest grade I climb.

  6. I think that just comes with experience and knowing your strengths/weaknesses. I expect to have trouble with a short powerful route and expect long endurance routes to feel easier. There’s a difference between what I think a route should be rated for the populous (in a guidebook) and how it felt to me, the objective vs subjective opinion.

    I am good at knowing why a route is hard or easy based on individual moves (body size, hand strength etc…) but I am very, very bad at objectifying how a route feels if you are more tired through a certain section.

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