Okay guys. What the fuck? Here’s the issue: climbing grades are many things: egotistical, sadistic, flattering, bilingual, nationalistic, relaxed, uptight, and passive-aggressive. Now, I like diversity as much as the next guy, (or girl, or beautiful transgender human being) but sometimes this moderate climber gets a little frustrated that climbing grades are rarely what they should be, which is accurate and straightforward.
And nobody is even upset about this. How does buttering the rock of Vedauwoo with your precious skin, as you sweat, pant and shit your way upward (upward, if you’re lucky) some route that is graded 5.6, not raise the question “Why am I okay with being lied to?” There are many great feelings that come from climbing, but to be sure, one of them is not the feeling of watching your beloved #2 Camalot fade into the distance as you are shamefully lowered down some “casual 5.10” in Yosemite. Knowing that your dear #2 will be added to the rack of some Dean Potter wannabe is kind of like knowing the schoolyard bully was better fed with your lunch money back in 2nd grade.
Seriously guys, and I’m looking at you, The South. You’re prideful, you have debaucherously rowdy frats, southern belles, great football and some of the best unhealthy food around. You have great climbing. You also probably have a little chip on your shoulder from losing that “War of Northern Aggression,” and maybe also from being late to the climbing game. That doesn’t mean that a 5.12 should be a 5.10+ at every crag except the Red.
Not to place the blame solely on our southern brethren. Raised as a Colorado climber, I feel at home among the fair and true grades of Eldo and Clear Creek, from Shelf Road to Longs Peak. Whenever I venture outside of my rectangular borders, I feel tricked, swindled, and lied to. Sometimes it’s because I think that I finally “sent 5.12” only to return home and only to have my hopes of greatness dashed as I realize I am the same sorry 5.11 climber I was before I left. Sometimes it’s because I return home with one third of the bail biners I set out with; also not a wonderful feeling. Whether the route is harder or easier than the grade, the only thing that is consistent about climbing grades in the inconsistency.
Don’t even get me started on French grading. And while we are talking about the international scene, why can’t we find some common ground already? We should leave the exchange rates to currency, not climbing grades. British grades see the same amount of use as British dentist offices. Australia…well as long as we refuse to acknowledge the existence of their scale, which is at 38 and counting, we’ll be ok.
The most ridiculous part of this whole problem is that routes which saw their First Ascent back when grades only reached 5.10, ARE STILL RATED LIKE THE GRADE SCALE ONLY REACHES 5.10! People, c’mon. In the 1960’s those grades actually correlated with the difficulty of the route. Just because our climbing forefathers think we are soft and spoiled for using niceties such as harnesses instead of a loop of hemp rope tied off with a bowline, does not mean we need to “walk in their shoes” every time we go out to send. I mean, we upgraded to chalk, nylon rope, expansion bolts, cams, and TC Pros, so why not modernize the grading structure to at least post-millennium? Or would you like some “rope chocks” to protect your way up that Kor classic?
Ok, the horse is dead, and I’m done beating it with this rack of Chouinard Equipment pitons I stole from the basement of a museum. There are plenty of whiney critics out there, and I’m not trying to add to their numbers. The world needs a hero, not another rawk tawk. So I propose a solution. Something that everyone can get behind; something that represents all of us fairly, equally, and effectively. Something that has the authority to say:
“No, Chattanooga, you may not grade that 5.12 a 5.8, just because Jimmy Webb sent in hiking boots.”
“No, Adirondacks, that overhanging, icy finger crack is not 5.7+”
And “No Earth treks, the YDS grading scale does not begin at 5.11a.”
The climbing community needs something it should have had a long time ago, when Honnold was free soloing out of his crib and Royal Robbins was more than a clothing brand for golfers.
We need bureaucratic governing body to set things straight. Vote for climbing reform in 2016.
…just kidding. Carry on, you crazy kids, the world needs you.