Thursday, 17 October 2013

Grades grades grades.

"In reply to Fiend:
Have you noticed that a lot of people don't agree with your totally objective and correct views on grades? What do you make of that?"

What do I make of that?? They are fucking imbeciles a bit mistaken of course (barring the few occasions where I am either trolling or speculating - and if you don't have the brains to work those out you don't have the brains to be discussing grades. Nor reading this blog, actually.).

Funny how some people can get so wound up about grades. Even leaving aside the desperate scrabbling of the ego and it's hollow numerical attainments (which, for this issue alone, is fair enough to leave aside as people's wrongness does go both ways, either side of a route's grade), people seem so perculiarly attached to a number. I suspect this is where the antagonism comes from, having to give up pre-conceptions and entrenched viewpoints, the painful wrenching into reality as the objective truth of a grade is revealed and reiterated.

And thus people shoot the messenger. I, like others, don't have any special views or opinions on grades. I don't create them or set them in stone. I merely recognise their objective truth and the reasoning behind them, and pass that on to others where needed (or where I really want to stick my fucking oar in and see what happens).

For therein lies the hardest truth about trad grades:

Grades are not a matter of subjective opinion, they are a matter of objective fact.

If people accepted that it would make their lives a little bit easier. And mine too. This is for trad grades of course, technical/sport/bouldering grades are based less on the unchangeable rock and are more influenced by morphological factors, thus necessarily a bit vaguer. Of course like the factual nature of grades themselves, the factual nature of grading is more acceptable if it is backed up with reasoning. Thus:


The adjectival trad grade is made up of various factors:

  • Protection - quality, spacing, existence thereof
  • Sustainedness - existence or otherwise of rests
  • Continuity - of difficulty regardless of physical sustainedness
  • Rock quality - solidity or otherwise
  • Exposure - and general atmosphere
  • Obviousness - or blindness of climbing, line, protection etc
  • Landing - if appropriate
  • Technical difficulty - obviously
  • (there may be others)

These are a matter of FACT. A piece of protection will either exist or it won't - and thus contribute to the grade. The rock will either be solid or it won't - and thus contribute to the grade. The line will either be simple and obvious or will be obscure and devious - and thus contribute to the grade.

No amount of bleating, whining and handbag twirling will change whether a route is consistently overhanging by a certain degree or has a red camalot at the crux or has a resting jam to fend off the pump or whatever. The rock isn't going to change to reflect what grade people might want to apply to it, so the grade has to reflect the rock and the route. Although grades are a human construct and thus might seem to be prey to human fallibility, they are a piece of information that describes the rock, summarises what actually exists on it, and that is a truth as hard as the rock itself (does that mean grades at Gogarth/Lleyn/North Devon should be squishier to match the rock there?? Food for thought.)


The adjectival trad grade of any given route fits in to an overall system and progression of grades.

E - M - D - VD - HVD - MS - S - HS - MVS - VS - HVS - E0(MES) - E1 - E2 - E3 - E4 - E5 - E6 - E7 - E8 - E9 - E10 - Ewe'llrepeattheseandmakelotsofsubtlecommentsabouthowtheyareeasierthanotherroutesbutbesopoliticallycorrectwe'llrefusetoactuallycorrectthegrades

Unsurprisingly whether it is a purely linear system with equal spacings or not (more equal with E0 of course), it is a system of progression. Governed by the factual factors above, a harder route will be given a higher grade, an easier route will be given an easier grade within the system and in comparison to other routes in the system. Obviously the system has somewhat bastardised origins, obviously it is an aesthetic mish-mash (which is entirely irrelevant, you could replace the alphanumerical grades with straight numbers or roman numerals or increasingly sized fruit for all it matters), obviously there is a certain vagueness due to comparing apples and oranges, but the system is established and it works.

Thus, routes have their place in the grading system, and if you try to fuck with the truth of their grades then either the result will be clearly farcical OR you'll have to regrade so many accepted routes and completely break the system. If route X and route Y have a similar angle and technicality of climbing, but route X is shorter, has obvious and perfect protection, and resting jams, compared to route Y which is longer, has fiddly gear, and no rests, then route Y is simply higher up the grade system. Try to change the grade of either and you'll not only have to change the grade of the other, but all the nearby routes that surround it in the grading system. If route A has one technical move, good rests, and a bit of steepness next to easy gear and route B has two harder moves in much steeper terrain, with no rests and slightly spaced gear, route B is simply higher up the grade system and again trying to interfere with that direct comparison will change everything around it.

Reject the correctness of some grades and you reject the entire comparative and progressive grading system and you might as well not bother trying to convey and information with grades at all. Of course people could come out with spurious waffle such as "but it's just a matter of opinion the grades of route X and route B (maybe seasoned with macho posturing for extra self-sabotage), but then they can get swiftly referred back to point 1. - the system is built on facts.

Accept those facts and you will have more accurate grades, and will be a happier and more peaceful climber - fact*

(*N.B. this fact alone might be complete bollox)

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