There is a grade debate going on (again) on the UKC Forums, in the Ondra Spotted thread.
(By the way – loads of Ondra stuff coming up at UKC – watch this space).
It’s a Trad vs Sport style debate and actually has a bit of substance. One particular post that struck a chord was this one:
Posted by – RupertD on – 18:50 Wed:
“The point is, surely, that in the E grade system difficulty is traded off against boldness. E7 can be 8a and safe, or 7a+ and bold. The question is whether that trade off actually works in practice, does the boldness of a 7a+ E7 make it as hard as an 8a E7 to onsight? Some people feel that boldness is over-rewarded grade-wise, especially at the top end. Rhapsody is a case in point. If well protected 8c/+ is E9 then Rhapsody goes from E9 to E11 simply by virtue of falling onto 2 small wires (that have held numerous falls), rather than onto a bolt. The fall length is irrelevant as you don’t hit the deck and sport routes can have falls just as big if you skip clips.
Looking at it another way if we assume the “E9 = bolted 8c+” and “E11= bolted 9a+” equivalences are correct, if you can climb 8c+/E9, which is the easier way to get to E11/9a+? a) train like a bastard for 5 years so you can climb a 9a+, or b) simply climb an a 8c/+ above a small wire (that in reality is very unlikely to snap) and get E11?”
I have to say that I think I agree with this post entirely and it is right on the money.
BUT: I personally believe that real ‘Death Routes’ are worthy of their high E Grades (Indian Face – the clichéd example) when climbed onsight.
And also really safe but really hard routes are worthy of their high E grades, obviously, because they’re really bloody hard.
Onsighting F7b+ on really blind, green rock with technical smeary moves that are all sloping the wrong way in a death position is HARD.
Onsighting F8b+ in a really safe position is HARD.
Onsighting F8a with some long falls but actually in a safe but scary position is MUCH EASIER.
The three are virtually incomparable, yet could all merit E9. Plus of course Hubble was originally graded E9 7b (remember E grades were used for bolt routes) and that is F8c+.
What’s my point?
My point is that I think it is the ‘inbetweeners’ that are soft touches. They’re a bit run out so you get extra E points, but in reality they are “totally safe” to quote James McHaffie and therefore confuse Jens Larsen.
Routes like Rhapsody, which are really hard, but very sporty in style, climbed on redpoint and have a steep fall out zone, are really like a run-out version of sport climbing, but on trad gear. They offer a tough psychological challenge for sure, and are super hard and impressive routes, but are very difficult to compare with a ‘full rack, total onsight shuffle’ of a big multipitch E6 somewhere like Strone Ulladale. They are however more easily compared in terms of difficulty to a steep sport route.
That doesn’t mean they are under graded or over graded or wrongly graded, it just re-enforces the fact that the E grade is a broad grade and doesn’t just cover one style of climbing.
It’s worth noting here that “Totally Safe” means different things to different climbers, and certain climbers in Britain are remarkably bold (as are climbers from elsewhere).
For instance I recently went to the Pfalz to climb Magnet Finger, and was told by a climber the night before to be careful because it is ‘really dangerous’. It was in fact a normal sport route, but you could theoretically deck out if you screwed up the third clip and pulled through loads of rope and fell and had a slow belayer.
She said it was “really dangerous”, and she was giving her honest opinion. I would have described it, quite honestly if someone had asked me as “totally safe”.
That isn’t to say I’m tough and she’s not, which is clearly not the case, I am just trying to highlight the fact that two people’s honest opinion of danger can vary considerably.
A Side Note:
Also, a few older routes that have become standard at a certain grade, but really need down grading, are throwing the system off a bit too.
Isn’t it time Gaia and End of the Affair went down to E7??!
And someone was looking for a list of E8’s that are F8b. Well, there are quite a few! Here’s some guesses:
Loaded. Marble Wall. Captain Invincible. Ogwen Crack…
Email: Jack.geldard ( at) gmail.com