The E0 Concept: E0 would be a new grade, or rather a new minor enhancement to our grading system. It is conceived to neatly fit into the gap between HVS and E1, to accurately grade routes that are currently too hard for HVS but too easy for E1, and to reduce argument and confusion about such routes. (For a completely different point of view of what E0 should mean, read Charles Arthur's article.)
How it came about:
I came up with the idea independently - in the shower I believe, whilst pondering on grades and ethics as I spend most of my life doing). No doubt many others have come up with the same idea, but only I have announced it with such pomposity and arrogance and managed to alienate so many climbers in a public forum. As follows:
E0 was then revealed by a simple list of E0 routes.
So let's put it all here.
Why E0? Because...
Sure, debating grades is fun. But the arguments about many HVS or E1 grades are becoming repetitive and are so easily avoidable with an E0 grade - reading almost all of them, the idea "This wouldn't be argued over if there was a grade between HVS and E1" springs to mind with inevitable clarity. People won't have to be worried about claiming an E1 that was really too easy for that grade, they won't need to complain that an HVS 5b they tried was way too desperate. Problems solved.
Unknown climber topping out on Crescent Arete
© Jus, Mar 2003
Provides a smoother transition to E-grades
Reduces the importance of E-point collecting
Slows the continual upgrading of HVS and may encourage subtle downgrading of suitable E1s
Fits into a historic continuum
Doesn't break, confuse or otherwise obfuscate our very good grading system
The five criticisms, and their refutation
Some E0 routes
Here's a few suggested candidates for E0, mostly in the Peak District but I'm sure there are many others elsewhere. Some routes are the classic conentious routes, others are ones which have been upgraded in recent guides with some disagreement following that, and a few are less argued-over but fit nicely as E0 climbs.
Welcome to the bright, happy, and accurately graded future.
What did you think?
Trad E0: Something completely different?
Charles Arthur says E0 exists as a climbing grade outside normal space-time (or somesuch nonsense). The other side to the debate!Have you ever noticed that when children learn to count, they always start - and are always taught - from 1? It's a sign of increasing maturity when you move on to 0, and all that it implies (see note). Zero isn't really a number, in the sense that it's more the absence of a number, a place in the middle of the counting line where other numbers don't want to be. Minus one? That's a number - an anti-number. Plus one? Yup, know that. Zero? It's a not-there number.
And what has that got to do with climbing? Well, I think I've done E0 routes. Yes, they were extreme; in fact, Extreme. But they stood outside climbing, just as 0 stands (if you're into mathematical philosophy) outside the line of integers.
Fiend argues that E0 fills a gap in a line, so that HVS is a sort of "E -1". I don't think it works like that. It's entirely different. I've climbed all over the place, and certain routes really stand out in my memory. Is it because they wonderful marvels of technical climbing, about finding the perfect balance point for a rockover? Nope, it's because they were bloody vile struggles. Some of them enjoyably, perversely vile, but struggles nonetheless.
Nick Smith leading the marvellous offwidth Elder Crack (E2 5b) at Curbar
Alan James, ROCKFAX, Jul 2001
© Alan James
At a time when I could happily whizz up an E2 involving serious crimping, I cursed and squeezed my way up Grey Slab, allegedly a Severe taking the wide crack to the right of Three Pebble Slab at Froggatt. Halfway up it, solo, I began to wonder quite how feasible retreat was, because advance didn't seem that likely. It was all a far cry from the time when I had done Nanoq Slab - an E1 5b on the slab just a yard or two to its right. That is an edgy solo, but if you stick to climbing principles (such as, weight on your feet, stay calm, and so on) then you'll reach the top safely. On Grey Slab, I wondered quite how long rescue might take to reach me, and how large a crane would be needed to extricate me from that crack, whose appetite didn't seem to stop at my legs; my hips were gradually heading inward too. Eyeing Nanoq Slab, which might as well have been on the other side of the world for all that I could get at it, I knew which climb I'd rather be on.
I did manage eventually to emerge from Grey Slab, sweating rather more than I'd expected. More than Severe? You'd have trouble finding a standard Friend, or hex, to fit that crack. HVS? Well, not that sort of climbing. E1? No, not that either. As a climbing experience, it really stood outside climbing. It was a classic E0: somewhere in the line of grades, yet outside it too.
I'm sure everyone has come across routes like that. I think the first I found was Under Milk Wood, allegedly VS 4b, at Three Cliffs Bay. Unlike all the other routes (up to VS, plus one very easy HVS, which I'd soloed very happily - OK, apart from the E4), I geared up on this one, which heads upwards into the maw of the cave, hopefully to emerge from a tiny hole at the top. I realised pretty soon that there wasn't much chance I'd make it. More likely, unless I did some very smart contortionist tricks, I'd become irreparably stuck.
I turned back, and when I got the chance had another look at the guidebook to find out who the first ascenionist was. Ah - Richard McEligott of the London Mountaineering Club. I'm not saying Richard's small, but he probably gets turned away from some fairground rides when he takes the kids. Under Milk Wood is classic E0 to me - you can do it or you can't, and skill has nothing at all to do with it. Your stick-thin non-climbing noodle will do it; John Dunne will turn back.
It can work the other way too. In the essay in Extreme Rock about Elder Crack (E2 5b) at |Curbar (on the cover of the old guidebook), the writer asks Joe Brown - who did it first - what the grade should really be. "It was VS when we did it," snaps Brown. So it must be easier now, right?
Having been up it, I can say that it probably hasn't changed since Brown's day. It's a long struggle, where the principal skill required is having big legs or multiple layers of clothing on, followed by a brief technical move (it earns the 5b), followed by a slightly easier struggle. E2? Depends what sort of gear you have. With modern enormous SLCDs, it's safe as houses. But it's a fight.
Do you see a pattern emerging here? It's not about the "grade". It's just about the fight. It's "E for Effort", but 0 for technical anything. It's like an ice dancer falling on their arse. I haven't done Preposterous Tales at (more like "in") Bosherston Head at Pembroke, but the description of this HVS 5a sounds like an utter E0 to me.
Why E0? Because it's a grade descriptive of something that lies outside climbing. I think it's rather like HXS, which carries echoes of the wartime UXB - unexploded bomb - for routes whose existence is doubtful, especially if you get on them. With E0s, you know you're getting on something where your usual wall-honed skills may well be mostly useless.
So that's my case. Some routes just defy our attempts to grade them. We might as well accept the fact, and give our system a kink. If nothing else, it'll help to confuse the tourists. Not that we exactly lag in that department..
Some E0 routes for your delectation:
OK, so it isn't nearly as many as Fiend suggests. But then again, we are talking about exceptional routes that defy normal grading. Perhaps Cave Wall (presently E3) at Froggatt should be on it? I don't know, I haven't done it. But I'm sure you'll be able to think easily of routes that merit this most perverse of all grades.
NOTE - Previously this article started off by saying "Ask a mathematician what sort of number 0 is, and you'll get what might be a surprising answer: it isn't." However, that was wrong - hence I've changed it, though some comments in the discussion refer to the earlier wrong version. Ah well - CA.