Where did the 8a benchmark go?

grade debate

The author on his route 'Raptophilia' (30 something) at Waterval Boven. Photo Gustav Van Rensburg

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.

Hands off rest, rock climbing

The author finding a fun blood rushing hands off rest on Running Bare (31) at Wigwam, NW. Photo by Gustav

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

Benchmark Routes

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)

Godzilla                                     32

Last of the Mohicans           30

Jack of All Trades                 30

Fossil Fuel                               30

Monster                                    29

Cool Like That                        29

Lotter’s Desire                       27

Karfoefeling                            26

Big Bad Wolf                            25

Freak-on                                   24 (absolute 24.9, but not 25!)


Lines that grades should/have be adjusted:


Rodan                                        33

Beast                                          31 or even 30, lets wait and see

Raptophilia                             31

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!)

Condor                                     27

Lotter’s Desire                      27

Bikini Red                               27 (it was opened at 27)

Diablo                                      25


Paragon                                  29

Oudtshoorn (home of the soft-touch!)

Mr Incredible                      30/31

Mama Africa                        30

Up For Grabs                       30

Going Going Gone              28

El Nino                                    29

Hardplay                                28

Lost Safari                              27

Menopause                            26

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


Anduril                                            30

Fossil Fuel                                      30

Grimslade                                       26

Gandalf                                            24

60 Responses to Where did the 8a benchmark go?

  1. Pierre Joubert Feb 6, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    You downgrade Brian’s route, he downgrades YOUR WHOLE SPORT-CLIMBING COUNTRY!!!

  2. Stijn Laenen Feb 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    Surely there are routes that need to be upgraded as well? If all you do is suggest downgrades, you’re going to struggle to convince people that this is not just ego talking… my 2c.

  3. Brian Weaver Feb 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    I have suggested upgrades before… Particularly in the realm of easier lines. This is definitely not ego related, I tended to choose the higher grade to make my ego feel better. I have climbed all around SA and in the USA too. I find that 30 is an important grade to have as a stable level country wide. The international climbers are calling a lot of routes in the 27-32 range very soft. Joey Kinder was here and he crushed everything he touched in max 5 tries (for Rodan and Raptophilia). He thought they were all soft. The Wave Cave is another example of this: he suggested 30, not 32, for Barricade. Dario has climbed all over the world and suggested major downgrades. Most of these downgrade recommendations are not coming from me initially, but from others. The European climbers are calling our climbs soft: I’m just writing down what I’ve heard and experienced.

    Grading routes is tough, sometimes it takes an outside source to bring perspective to a closed system of climbers…

  4. Stijn Laenen Feb 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    The interesting thing about grading within a closed system of climbers is that it will be very style-dependent. The Wave Cave is one of our only proper steep, endurance crags around – hence Saffers as a whole will have this style of climbing under-developed relative to the rest of the world and also tend to overgrade it (as it feels hard relative to all the technical vert stuff we’re used to). So it doesn’t surprise me that Joey (and other internationals) noticed the discrepancy there most (and at Outshoorn).

    A true internationally calibrated grading system would take the average relative strengths of climbers on various styles into account. This is pretty difficult to do though, especially as the popularity (and hence relative strength) of each style keeps evolving over time. Good luck 🙂

  5. Paul Feb 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Bring the downgrades! Much rather do a route that’s nails at the grade than a soft-touch! Anyone who logs Jimmy at The Mine as a 24 should try Pocket Rocket or Screaming Demons at Boven, also 24s. o_O

  6. Flex Feb 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    I know the following comment may not be very constructive to the conversation but here goes anyway:
    Who cares! Just climb the routes that inspire you and stop worrying about getting an extra 50 points on 8a.nu or sacrificing 50 points and then feeling like a hero for doing that!
    You sent a good route, pat yourself on the back and move on with your life.

  7. David Wade Feb 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    “Grade inflation.” I like the wording.
    Im glad to see someone has addressed the problem.
    I think its important to have “bench mark” climbs at various grades

  8. dom Feb 6, 2012 at 3:58 pm #


    Thank you for your concern re: South Africa’s grades. It’s heartening to see someone bringing their vast experience of international grading to quell the uppity natives and their preposterous ideas. We may not have known it, but we certainly needed a firm colonial hand to get us back into line.

    Job well done, Captain America.

  9. Ansie Feb 6, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    I like the system in Font, routes are graded with a colour, a grade should just be a guideline. When you rock up at the crag it should just tell you “this is too easy”, “this is too hard”, or “this is within my grasp”. It is purely a subjective thing and I wish people would stop putting so much emphasis on grading routes. How about we just go beginner, moderate, hard, super-hard and leave it at that? I understand that sometimes people want to rate themselves in a formal kind of way (that is why the 8a.nu website exists), but again, the standards across countries vary too much. So if you really want to rate yourself, go do a competition in the gym. For those who strive to set themselves apart from the rest in some way, I think it is unfortunate that we have no more virgin peaks to climb, and that we have already discovered all the continents, and that someone already got to the South Pole before the rest of us could join the race, but at least we can still open new routes. Just don’t worry too much about the grade.

  10. Pierre Joubert Feb 6, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    “uppity natives” – Jolly good show ol chap!

  11. Willem Boshoff Feb 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    yikes dom that is a bit catty. i think brian made an interesting and well supported point.

  12. Ansie Feb 6, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    I agree, there is no reason for being nasty. He raises a valid point. It is my not-so-humble opinion that it is impossible to have something like a “benchmark” for any grade, and that is simply because all crags and climbs are different. I think it is possible to be consistent with grading in a specific crag, but once you take a trip somewhere else, you should forget about comparing routes of different grades, and that is because different places require different strengths and techniques. The only possible solution would be to find a climber who is equally good at overhangs, long desperate moves, super technical climbs, massive endurance routes and routes that require a hundred dinos, and so on and so forth, and then ask him/her to grade it, but alas such a person does not exist. So we should just try to make sure that a 25 is not way harder than the 27 right next to it.

  13. Ansie Feb 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

    Anyways, I must admit that climbing is not the same for me as for Brian. I just want to have a good time, maybe push my limits very slightly and know that I am not going to die when I attempt to climb a route. But I guess when you climb real hard, and people start asking stuff like, “who is the best?”, then you want to be able to say “it is that guy cause he climbed the hardest route”. Anyway. I don’t think this debate will ever be resolved.

  14. Neel Feb 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

    I have to agree with you Ansie. When you start to climb hard people are bound to ask who is the best. The problem is the many variables of routes. The current grading system was developed as a guideline, to give an indication of how difficult it is to climb routes, not to be able to grade who is the best. How do we sort this out?? By removing as many variables as possibles. Thus grading routes not by a single number but with a range of specific measurable criteria eg. angle, length, average hold size etc. It will then sort out who is the best on what type of terrain as well as who is overall the best climber. It will take a whole mind shift of how routes are graded and might only work on sport climbing and bouldering? I have my competitive sports and climbing for me is only for enjoyment thus leading a revolution for a climbing grade change is not that important for me but maybe it matters enough for the strong guys and they can sort out such a system and the finer detail of what criteria should be used to grade routes. Bottom line is that as long as we use the current grading system the debate will continue!

  15. Snort Feb 6, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    A few years ago I was at Montague with a very young Steve Bradshaw (jnr). We climbed with lots of difficulty and practice and dogging a trad 25. He then went on, the same day, with arms that were quite worked by then to red-point Switch Bitch (31?) on his first go. Begs lots of questions about grades. And the trad route is indeed not harder than 25, it is not particularly scary, or run-out. ???? So what’s the grade of Switch Bitch then>

    I also notice that the hit rate for upper grade 20’s and even 30’s is quite high at Oudtshoorn…..

  16. Faye Feb 6, 2012 at 10:17 pm #

    why do we feel the need to discuss whether a route grade is the “correct” grade?…why does one person feel that they can or need to set a “standard”? Im sure that all climbers will agree that grading is so very subjective…one persons experience on a piece of rock, will always be different to another…and even your own experience on the same piece of rock will vary (which is why climbing is so AWESOME!!) When you open a route…the grade you select is pretty random, and is based on your experiences. You are not saying this is IT….! I understand the need to have some kind of idea of what you are climbing….so perhaps a new view on grading could be this: the person who opens it just starts the discussion and others can add their opinion (minus their egos)…a collective decision…minus the judgement

  17. Andrew p Feb 6, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    As much as we like to think grades are not important, they are, being able to measure our performance against time and against others is a key part of the motivation of all climbers and there is nothing wrong with that. Its refreshing to read Brians words; the cool cats who dont discuss grades are boring and in accurate. I agree with almost all of Brians suggestions, glad that its come to the fore, yes we are all different shapes and sizes but climb for enough years in enough places and you can factor all that in and be within 0.5 of the real grade; yes there is such a thing. Its a big advantage to have a benchmark at each crag for reference.. Jack of all Trades 30 is a good one, at Chos is Fossil 30, Outdshoorn would be Up for Grabs 30, Montagu is..Cool Like that 29, Umgeni I dont know. Good job Brian, a desire to be accurate is nothing to do with ego but rather a keen sense to…be accurate, nothing more than that, as if in science.

  18. Ebert Nel Feb 7, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    I personally feel that grade is a personal opinion and no person before or after u should effect your opinion if you feel strongly about what you think, furthermore, in the end, who cares, im good at underclings, alex is good at crimps, each person experiences it differently, u can hav a 27 thats reachy that no short person can climb or a compression problem tall people cant climb, routes are different to each person and grades are based on average score given, not whats written on paper

  19. Paul B Feb 7, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    Faye, you’re absolutely right: the first grade given to a route is a fairly random guess. The grade should then be debated after its been sent by other people. The old example of one person’s guess of the number of coins in a jar, compared to the average guess of a number of people: the average guess often being really close.

    The problem really, is that people just don’t give their own opinion enough. I think Brian’s article goes a long way to shaking up the discussion. People should stop worrying about stepping on other people’s toes, or feeding their 8a addictions. Put down the grade you think, the FA grade is MOST LIKELY out one way or another.

    And even then, I agree with Faye, the grade is just a guide on whether or not to try a route. Really, you should climb the route which draws you in, not the one that has a nice big number attached to it.

  20. Paul B Feb 7, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    Oh, and a point on subjectivity, while this is valid for some routes with single cruxes, the longer the route, the more subjectivity is ruled out (the moves tall people might find easier balancing others that short people find easier).

  21. David Wade Feb 7, 2012 at 9:10 am #

    Accurate Grading IS important. There is nothing worse than getting on a climb you think you can do, only do discover it is a complete sand bag which you can not finish and end up leaving escape pieces on the route. And this applies weather you are trying to push grades, or just going out for a fun day at the crag.

  22. Warren G Feb 7, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Like what was said on the Forum: grades are invaluable for trad routes, where there are meaningful safety consequences for in accuracies in grading. I agree too that we should have benchmarks in areas, this will allow for local style differences, and to follow a harder or softer local grading. Each local community could settle on what are the local benchmarks, and the bench marks are comparable with each other nationally- in lo of the above mentioned issues.

    So long as things are done thru consensus we should be fine, the question is if we want to go thru the whole process, or are we just happy to talk about it?

  23. Faye Feb 7, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Yes andrew…I agree with u….grades are necessary and give you an idea of your personal improvement… however I think its important to stay open to differences in opinion.

  24. Brian Weaver Feb 7, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Faye, I fully agree with you… That is how this whole article came about. I had a very big difference of opinion relating to a lot of routes. There are quite a number in my time that I have upgraded and will stand behind my personal grade. Works for boulder problems too and for trad lines. The open-mindedness of the personal grade is really important. Everybody will have a difference in opinion on the severity of grade, I doubt anyone will ever think the exact same thing about every line, even identical twins (NOW THAT WOULD BE AN INTERESTING STUDY).

    Climbing is indeed a very personal en devour and should remain that way. But at the same time, there should be some agreed upon ideas about which lines could constitute a representation of a grade. Personally speaking, when I think of a 30, it is Jack that jumps out first, 32 is Jabberwocky; both of which are iconic routes in an area I am very familiar with. I worked hard to do both and both have gone through grade changes: Jack was 29 and Jabs was 33. But through the consensus of many climbers the grade has stabilized and can be represented as a benchmark of sorts.

  25. lubags Feb 7, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    speaking of trad…. you guys don’t even use a consistent gear rating. there have been many times i have got on routes that the guide did not mention sketchy only to find the gear extremely sketchy.

  26. Dark Horse Feb 7, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I know it’s just my Ego talking but I would prefer it if visiting climbers didn’t think south africans were soft 🙂

  27. Andy Davies Feb 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Flex hit it on the nail 🙂

    HOWEVER its nice knowing what you are climbing in the greater scheme of things.

    The first mistake is trying to compare us to foreign crags. An 8a in Finale, Italy is a whole lot harder than one in Spain, so no need to feel special here in Africa about inconsistency. My one Spanish mate (read limestone expert) found Oudtshoorn soft and Boven brick hard (who cares, the routes are all flippin great).

    The other mistake is locals grading routes – I mean seriously, Mrs Pedley has lapped Monster so many times it probably feels 18 to him 🙂 Findling those skanky kneelocks, shoulder scums and butt locks has made a route easy for the locals, but the true test is a non-local pitching up and onsighting a route.

    Finally, we all have our strengths and weaknesses and ups and downs. Some of us are tall skinny sneaky old foxes whilst others are short & burly with knuckles that drag on the ground. And sometimes we are honed, while after christmas a bit fat and podgy. So we will always disagree on grades. Its part of the game.

    In the greater scheme of things there will always be someone stronger than you (except Mr Ondra), so just enjoy the pump and crank as many good routes as possible.

  28. Phlip Feb 7, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Agree with Dark Horse. Don’t want visiting climbers to think getting to the crag (avoiding crime) is more hard core than climbing the routes 😉

  29. Paul B Feb 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    One like for Andy D’s comment 🙂

  30. Buyoil Feb 7, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Brian.OMG.Seriously.8a is 8a is 8a.Points is points is points.Thank you for addressing the pink elephant, was desperately needed.

  31. Steve B Feb 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Good points Brian. No reason not to bring up the subject Flex, since it’s nice for grades to be properly legit and it really is a process to bring them into line. It really sucks thinking you did something only to find out later it’s a softee.

    Grades should be brought into line as soon as consensus forms (after an FA) or changes later. It’s good to have nice solid test pieces! An interesting philosophical question though: what is the benchmark for each grade? Given big differences between Spain, France, Australia, Thailand, etc. is there even such a thing as an absolute benchmark? Maybe one area (say Ceuse – if we want grades to be stiff!) should be explicitly made the gold standard with specific benchmark routes at each letter grade.

    Snort, seems there’s been some grade inflation at the Dogbowl! I remember it being a 24 (and I also remember sending it!) You just have to watch Ningo flail his way up easier lines to see the flaw in the reasoning. Switchbitch probably is soft though. Another benchmark 8a?

  32. Mario Feb 7, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    I agree with lubags, why haven’t we incorporated a similar grading system like the UK E-grading in regards to gear?

    Climbing an 18 pitch on trad with 5-6 placements as opposed to 2 placements on the same route
    makes quite a difference….

    LIKE BUTTON for Andy’s post

  33. lubags Feb 7, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    or even something as simple as the G,PG, R, X system

  34. Flex Feb 7, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    I’m back… This debate crops up every so often and I’m sorry but while it remains a great way for climbers to pass the time when they are not climbing, I still believe it is largely a crock of sh*t.
    As an example… I recently cruised Who She Poopie (big pat on the back to me) but I rested on the giant ledge that some people choose to ignore. I did not award myself 8a because I do not feel this is the correct grade. Whether people agree with this or not is totally irrelevant in my life (as is the debate on whether to use the ledge or not). I know what I climbed and I can try fool other people but I can’t fool myself.

  35. Steve B Feb 8, 2012 at 3:43 am #

    OK, Flex, if its not relevant to you then just stay off this forum topic. No need for sermonizing…

    The topic keeps coming up because grades take a while to settle and there’s a lot of inertia that needs to be broken to correct them as Brian’s whole article points out so well…

    I don’t think it ruins any aspect of climbing for anyone. If its not important to you, just don’t get involved.

  36. Flex Feb 8, 2012 at 4:43 am #

    Fair point, Steve. I shall shrink once more into the shadows.

  37. pail B Feb 8, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    For this discussion to mean anything, there really needs to consensus on which grades need to change and which routes should serve as benchmarks.

    Any ideas on how to go about this? Other than 8a. Being a ranking website, 8a is intrinsically flawed.

    Would be great to have some kind automated poll!

  38. pail B Feb 8, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    Just realized a possible point of confusion. There’s a difference in saying an experiance is subjective, and a grade is subjective. On any given day, you might be climbing well or badly, feeling weak or strong. The grade is still the same. The route doesn’t change: you change! Which is why the only way to resolve argument is to put it to the vote!

    Time to train 😀

  39. Ebert Nel Feb 8, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    Accurate grading is NOT THAT IMPORTANT, if it looks cool, harden the f up and do it, to much time spend chasing grades, i was there myself, over it, lets love what we do, not what we get from what we do. Brian fail on this post:) peace

  40. Warren G Feb 8, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Ebert I hope you are Trolling as I never see you on anything below your ability, and therefore can only sumize that grades are important to you. grades are and will remain important, both for standardizing the sport (not sport climbing, the sport of climbing) and for afety reasons. you don’t adjust grades to settle what is the hardest routes in the country, you adjust to avoid sandbagging. the problem is climbers speek of sandbaged routes with a rye smile, waiting for its next victim.

    the best way for this conversation to sork would be to break it into sections around the country: locals start discussing their discreprancies, but more importantly those that have climbed in multipile areas compare them to one another. to the credit of the Boven locals that area seems to have the fewest grade discreprancies, and those that still exist are either because the route is rarely climbed or due to hard to find beta. Boven might be a good area to start benchmarking, and then work our way to other areas.

  41. shorti Feb 8, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    Rye smile 😀 I don’t know man, I’ve never had someone give me that uncomfortable shy kind of smile that begs for leave to the closest drop zone, while telling me about their latest sandbag.

  42. Derek Marshall Feb 8, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Grade does matter…evident by time spend discussing it. (Somebody stop me!) Consensus reaquires discussion.

    Hard climbers should avoid grading easy stuff like Goonie Goo Goo. I’m not sure Brian (or other hard climbers) can really tell the diffrence between 20-21-22.

    People who write & publish RDs often get to dictate their version of the grades. Written renderings being more substantial than verbal….become fact.

  43. hermann Feb 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    The grade/great debate! Usually when there is so much difference of opinion and many good points raised, its obvious that its is a very complicated issue.

    I can almost agree with everyone’s point of view above. But, for those who REALLY FEEL THE NEED to drive the nail home. There is only one answer – SCIENCE – as is true with virtually everything. I’m not a professional statistician, but with some background, I can guarantee you that you do not have the necessary sample sizes to make meaningful conclusions about a lot of routes/boulders/trad, meaning many ascents of the same problems (10 people is not enough for instance). Then you still have to take in account all the countless variables that influence each persons feeling about the route:

    1) Conditions – weather etc.
    2) Body size
    3) Personal strenghts/weaknesses
    4) State of mind/emotions/psyche
    5) beta
    6) Keeping track of our changing abilities over time
    7) Memory (can you really remember how hard that route was 2 years ago or your exact feeling at the time?)
    8) style of the problem – endurance/powerfull/technical
    9) influence form others, topo’s …

    etc etc etc

    I think you can see the problem here…

    If you look at bleau.info you will find that they give you the whole range of grades that has been suggested for the boulders there. This gives you a distribution of grades and for you personally, the grade will likely be there somewhere.

    In my opinion, that’s the best we can do for most routes/boulders/trad:

    A DISTRIBUTION – Gauss would be proud =)

    (Unless somebody will start a grading team (of many people) that will sweep the country and perform controlled send experiments for each problem. Who would want to be part of that? Definitely not me)

    But, we can only log one grade, so in the end just be honest and don’t be too bothered with what somebody else thinks.

  44. Paul B Feb 8, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Well, we’ve been talking about routes. Again, for cruxy routes or boulders, a ‘distribution’ indeed makes sense. For most routes, much less so.

    Concerning your other point, I believe we can assess our performances to some degree and can usually take into account sends done when tired etc.

    And surely a consensus, say, of as little as 20 people on the grades of routes is better than taking as gospel what we see logged on 8a (flawed), guidebook or wiki (one person). It may not be scientifically perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. It just has to be better than the alternative.

  45. Stijn Laenen Feb 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    I suppose a good place to start would be with routes that have had many ascents whose grades have never really been disagreed on or called into question. One example at Boven that I can think of is Women aint Nothing but Trouble (24) – correct me if I’m wrong but that route combines multiple styles (balance, power, endurance) and I’ve never heard of anybody suggesting that it is soft of hard for the grade. All good factors for a “benchmark” route.

    You would need a few of these at each grade in each of the major areas in SA to get a comprehensive set of benchmark routes which an FA of a new route is likely to have done some of in order to use as a reference for grading their new route.

    So, how about some other suggestions (at all grades, not just the super-human ones!)?

  46. Andy Davies Feb 8, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Brian I admire your passion for the sport and tenacity on the rock, but the one aspect of your article that concerns me is your specific mention of individual route grades. The problem is you have made such a public statement here that it may result in a number of route grades being tweaked based on a single individuals opinion. Every RD author will no doubt be influenced by the numbers you have proposed. I believe the current process of consensus over a cold frosty works just fine.

    I do however support the principle of stopping overgrading. Like overbolting has made South African climbers soft, overgrading will result in us getting a reputation for vacation grades. And we wouldn’t want to harm Darkhorses ego, now would we 🙂

    On the subject of benchmarking, I am a little amused why so many of the old classics need to be downgraded – surely they ARE the benchmark and after 15 or so years surely Snapdragon, Lotters and Jabberwocky grades should be settled? Maybe the problem isn’t the routes are easier, but your arms are stronger?

    And please be a little bit more sensitive about us old folks’ feelings. Downgrading a route after Colin, Douw, Sean, Rodger, myself etc have dragged our weary old bodies up those routes, is just disrespectful 😉

    Happy cranking………

  47. Brian Weaver Feb 8, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    Andy, FYI: Snapdragon was opened at 28, Lotters at 27. They were upgraded over the years, but when Euros climb them, they annihilate the lines. Both are considered notoriously soft and are often a climber’s “first” for the grade. Jabberwocky was the first 33 in the country and to this day has had 7 recorded ascents, so probably 10-12 in total, in 19 years, the grade is slowly settling…

    Also, not a single one of these routes that I have mentioned has been a whimsical individualized downgrade. I could easily name 5 or more people who share my view towards each line, EXCLUDING Andrew P, who we all know for being very harsh, but realistic, with grades.

    I’m not trying to insight riots, but I definitely want people to be aware of what they are climbing so that we can all have a realistic expectation if we travel abroad or to another part of SA. Style varies from person-to-person and place-to-place and everyone knows what their personal limits are as well as their strengths. We naturally choose lines to play to our strengths, for me I love pure endurance, but someone else will choose short bouldery lines to test their maximum limits.

    The concept of a benchmark route is just that, a concept; it is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a grade or a style. It might be complicated on paper, but I really think it’s a lot easier in real life because it’s a continuing discussion as to what each of us think about the lines we’ve climbed/worked over the years. It’s quite a big philosophy and may perhaps need a bit of a paradigm shift from the rigid of singular grades (as Herman was mentioning) but the only way to determine where to place a grade is to have a benchmark as a measuring stick.

    Only time and ascents will discover where the benchmarks lie, but I don think I have a pretty good idea between my own experience and the hundred of discussions I’ve had on this topic with friends and acquaintances from all over the world. Don’t shoot the messenger, I just caught hold of the ideas floating in the air and put them down on paper…

  48. Ryan Feb 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    haha… a messenger with a nice little personal pictorial expose
    good debate though. can sympathise with Hermann’s want to be objective. Interestingly, when i go to a boulder problem knowing Hermann’s personal grade for it i generally know what to expect and that’s helpful.

  49. Niel Feb 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    personally i don’t think the 8a scorecard system is that bad or flawed at all – it does open the door for abuse by climbers who like numbers and podiums, but if used properly it should actually help a lot with this grading and consensus issue. And by used properly I mean letting go of ego and logging ascents at whatever grades YOU felt they were, not what the guidebook or the other climbers say. It is easier to have a feel for a grade the more experienced you are, but maybe young/new climbers can compare routes against a reputable benchmark route/boulder/whatever in that particular area.

  50. Danny Pinkas Feb 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Like others have suggested, at the end of the day it’s the one who writes the guide who has the most influence. Snapdragon used to be Boven’s benchmark 28 before some strong climbers struggled a little on it (remember, in those days there were no chalk and rubber marks) and whispered in Gus’s ear. New guide, new grade. For many it’s the first route at 7c or 7c+ because that’s the famous route they came to Boven to do, and the quality of the climbing means that they don’t give up. Not so sure of Lotter’s history, but in early attempts that I saw the guys traversed under the crux and approached it from the right. Certainly no 27 in my books!
    The thing about travelling a lot is that you realise that there is no concensus within an Italian province (for example) never mind between countries. As some have suggested, grades are good as an indicator of what you are letting yourself into but nothing more. The longer you climb, the more comfortable you become with the idea and (believe it or not) the more fun climbing becomes.

  51. Crag Rat Feb 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    When i was young I climbed 20, after 40 years of inflation I now climb in the 30’s. what is a man to do ? 🙁

  52. Adam Feb 9, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    The main problem with consensus is that it requires people to be honest about how hard they feel the climb was. This may sound simple but in reality we all want to think we are better than we actually are (Wow look at me I just climbed that 30 and it was easy, I must be able to climb 32 quickly too). As far as grades being settled after many ascents, well how many people have actually just followed the FA as opposed to giving a personal grade. On a completely different note, I remember someone (probably trolling but that’s not the point) commenting that all grades were soft and that we needed a wholesale country wide downgrade (http://www.climb.co.za/forum/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=2905), funny how this guy got shot down and openly told to p*ss off while Brian gets a pat on the back, maybe it’s easier to take when it’s ‘one of the boys’ saying it.

  53. Micky Feb 9, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    I think for many who say ‘grade doesnt matter’ its far easier to accept the soft send for more points than suck it up and give it an honest grade. If grade really doesnt matter you wouldnt score on 8a firstly and would only climb a route for the line not the grade, i know few people who do this.

    Benchmarks a great and important. I think its way better to choose a solid route for the grade as your first project at the grade. That way at least you know if its your first 29 and its something like ‘Point Break’ or ‘Hypoxia’ then you really have broken into that league of climbing and you’re not kidding yourself. Whereas if you just punt around looking for softies at the grade so you can say you climb 28 or whatever then you are just kidding yourself.

    So yeah i’m all up for downgrading! lets keep the routes tough and real 🙂

  54. Andrew p Feb 9, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Wow what a cool discussion, actually very refreshing, I think grades and grading is one of the funnest things about our sport. Seems everyone agrees concensus is most important, coupled with having established benchmarks. Andy you bit rough on Brian, concensus for monster is 29, in fact probably bovens benchmark at that grade, same for Jabbs at 32 its had lots of sends. I dunno about snappies, its on the line between 28 and 29 but I think just 29. Only problem with concensus is a bias at the upper end due to guys taking whatever is highest but I guess that can be filtered out. Guys think I am a downgrader or tough grader but thats a bit unfair: I have suggested almost as many upgrades as downgrades (kindred spirits, unlimited power, gollum, T pex, castaway, that heinous 29 at Heaven and I have seen lots of my climbs downgraded or considered soft like Hypertension, beast, rodan, eldorado but thats ok, I learnt from it. So lets make a list of benchmarks on wiki, 1-2 at each grade at as many crags as possible. Ya ya cool cats in the end its not important, but lets flip it on the head and enjoy grades and why not try be as accurate as we can, they motivate me and I have been psyched for 25 years so dont miss out, join in the fray, step out of the closet : ) Benchmark for 7a/24 I think Woman Aint is perfect, not Freak on as thats almost (but not quite) 25!

  55. Paul B Feb 9, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Oh well, since there aren’t any programmers stepping up to offer anything better, here’s a shared spreadsheet:


    Be careful not to overwrite any other users, the cell they are editing should be highlighted. I haven’t added many lower grade routes ‘cos I don’t really have a strong opinion on them. Feel free to add routes at any grade you like though. If you add your name to a route, you should have climbed it, and ideally, should have some experiance at other crags or out of the country. Would be nice to have standard grades throughout South Africa.



  56. Donovan Craig Feb 9, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    My 2cents,
    Grades are important to those who care about the progression of their sport. In the pursuit of excellence it all comes down to the minutiae. So keep pushing those grades (up or down) and build a foundation on which our children can enjoy this activity without having to endure the pain of debating whether or not to attempt a route because its too difficult or not. Additionally people think that hard climbers only debate hard grades and obscure moderate grades when opening routes. Remember its those hard climbers that are the ones with the good general knowledge. Having climbed 500 different 20’s gives you a better perspective of what that should feel like regardless of how hard you climb. To most it may seem trivial to debate grades that such a small percentage of the population can complete, however the incremental advancement of each climber is based on the ability of their predecessors.
    I commend any climber who is willing to take on such challenges and improve the sport which I love.

  57. Gustav Feb 14, 2012 at 12:30 am #

    If we agree (ok, more or less for once!!!) that 19=6a=5.10a and 33=8b+=5.14a …

    In the SA grades there are 15 grades, counting 19 and 33
    In the French system there are 16 grades if you include 6a and 8b+
    And the US must be bigger and better with 17 discrepancies

    My point is that we measure less precisely, remember that we decided to drop slash grades (no more 28+ or 28/29).

    We therefor have to take a slightly less serious approach about grades, time will let them settle holistically.

    Then <>

  58. Warren G Feb 14, 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    But the number of grades will have no impact on the job at hand: creating consistency. Just so long as that is achieved.

    The question is are we letting this topic die here- as it seems- or are we going to get this big ball rolling? This is a lot like not doing a stock take: the longer you wait the worse it gets, and the less you are sure of.

  59. Gosia Lipinska Feb 15, 2012 at 9:16 am #

    Once upon a time, about 10 years ago I went to Oudsthoorn for the first time. I was climbing about 18-20 at the time. I jumped onto Goonie Googoo (22 according to the guide book) and landed up onsighting it. I then, with a little guidance from Craig Reed, did Phalic Mechanic (24 according to the guide book) second go. These grades were way beyond my scope of imagination – starting out climbing I never imagined I would climb harder than say 21 – wow that seemed impressive to me. Although these grades are soft or perhaps innacurate they opened up my imagination to the possibilities that exist. Soon I was jumping on Sickle Moon (22) at the Mine, followed by Jimmy and the Big Boys (23/24) and Red Guitar on Fire (25). The rest is history.

    POINT: I don’t think having softer grades within a grade are by principle a bad thing. Starting out climbing a softer climb within a grade can inspire you to push harder. That’s not to say that once I’ve climbed Phalic Mechanic I am a grade 24 climber – I have simply done one softish 24, that’s all.

    Having said that I agree with a lot of what the guys suggesting down grades are proposing – it is extrememly important to keep standards nationwide high and not to land up grading soft as a rule. I just don’t think soft grades are devil-speak. Balance and the middle way…

  60. Nattrass@mweb.co.za Feb 17, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    I am impressed by the routes, not the grades, that you have climbed….

Leave a Comment/Reply/Review