The grade debate has always been a sore subject for most. Personally, I have always put a great deal of emphasis on sending harder, climbing the next grade and pushing the limit.
Sometime the line has become blurred as to what is important: the number grade or the reality in which the grade is based. Being an up-and-coming climber without too much experience under my belt, I’ve often been inclined to offer a higher grade to a route and often it has been accepted by others. The problem with this is that it can lead to grade inflation, especially as young climbers, new to the sport will likely take whatever the highest grade suggested is.
The biggest problem with grading ultra-classic lines too soft is that people will use them as a benchmark against which other climbs are measured; the result of this is grade inflation. Once a couple of routes creep up a grade, the rest slowly follow! Paul Robinson and David Graham have both take massive stances against grade inflation in the world of bouldering on an international level, with published posts providing opinions on what a benchmark grade should be.
Starting with my own climb; Raptophilia in Waterval Boven. The line is 5 bolts plus anchors, no single move is particularly hard but each move is continually sustained and resistant to the climber. Strong, powerful climbers will repeat it quickly. Joe Kinder suggested it was soft, Flex offered the first downgrade to 31 and Andrew confirmed it. I have put it down to 31 officially in the route guide and my own scorecard.
Speaking to visiting Italian Dario Zanon (who has climbed everywhere!), it became clear to me that we have forgotten where 8a lies. As more and more climbers are able to climb harder, there are more opinions available as to the grade of lines. However, all it takes is for one group of climbers to change the standard of a grade to impact negatively on the standard of routes in an area overall.
First ascents are difficult to grade and as time goes on it is very common for a route to be reduced in grade. Raptophilia is one example of this, the next is that of Beast which I suggested a downgrade to a hard 31 for after using a hands-free rest on my red point. This rest increased the probability of sticking the crux dyno and made the moves easy. Joe Kinder climbed the Beast second go and thought it was soft at 31, or possibly even a 30, and was confirmed by Dario Zanon, Dirk Smith and other local climbers.
Fossil Fuel is the classic route at Chosspile in Gauteng. It was opened at 32 in 2000. Beta for the route has evolved so completely that it can be climbed with much less effort and is often a climber’s first 31, even before a 30 has been done elsewhere. The result is most people are shut down at other crags on 30s. This was the first route where I noticed a problem with grades being wrong.
I worked this for a long time, working Jack of All Trades at the same time. I went away on a trip to the United States and did my first 8a there, on traditional gear. This provided me with the strength and endurance to come back and send Jack on my second attempt on the route and Fossil Fuel second attempt two days later.
So, Jack of All Trades and now Fossil Fuel are perhaps two of the best examples of benchmark 8a’s in South Africa. I have heard opinions that say that Jack of All Trades is actually harder than Beast. From a technical perspective it may be.
When I came down off of Jack I was pumped out of my mind and cursing from exhaustion; when I came off of Fossil I said “Andrew, that didn’t feel very hard, don’t you think that’s a 30?” My first dilemma, do I take credit for doing my first 31 at the grade that it has been confirmed for a long time, or do I downgrade it and get flak from everyone? Being ambitious and deluded, I naturally chose the easy way out and marked down a big old 31.
Then there is Stormwatch, graded 31 by 8 or so ascentionists… that means it is well and truly ‘consensus -ized’. To then upgrade it to 32 was a mistake, however hard it felt for me. Another rule right there – don’t upgrade a climb that’s had plenty of confirmatory ascents, unless a hold has broken or something. Some climbs are just not your style, or may be at the very top of the grade (but still within it, there’s no rounding-up in grading!)
Lotter’s Desire was opened at 27+ but over the years became 28. I argued for a long time that the route was a soft 28 but after hearing visitors laugh about the grade on numerous occasions, and thinking about it objectively, I am sure it is nowhere near 28. 27 is a much better grade. I mean, its all jugs except for 2-3 moves high up, and its not even steep!
So, where does this leave us? Here’s what I think are the grades of a bunch of routes, use it or lose it, I am just being honest!
Brian is sponsored by Edelrid
Rodan 33 with Paul’s beta, Andrews sequence is 8c, shame!
Shadowax 33 (still a project…)
Jabberwocky 32 (was opened at 33 but it was so far out then grading must have been difficult)
Last of the Mohicans 30
Jack of All Trades 30
Fossil Fuel 30
Cool Like That 29
Lotter’s Desire 27
Big Bad Wolf 25
Freak-on 24 (absolute 24.9, but not 25!)
Lines that grades should/have be adjusted:
Beast 31 or even 30, lets wait and see
Hack and Slay 30
Hypertension 29?? (it was opened at 29, it has 2 no hands rests!)
Snapdragon 28?? (this one maybe right on 28/29!)
Lotter’s Desire 27
Bikini Red 27 (it was opened at 27)
Oudtshoorn (home of the soft-touch!)
Mr Incredible 30/31
Mama Africa 30
Up For Grabs 30
Going Going Gone 28
El Nino 29
Lost Safari 27
Sid Vicious 26
Quickening (full) 27
Goonie Goo Goo 20 or even easier!
Swiss Cheese 28 (was opened at 28!)
Vandals direct 26 soft
Lawyers, Guns and Money 25
Fossil Fuel 30