/ VIDEO: "I don't know if E10 exists," Dave Birkett
When Dave Birkett was a young climber a friend told him that to climb as hard as his grandfather, Jim Birkett, he would have to climb E10.
In this exclusive UKClimbing.com interview by Alastair Lee of Posing Productions, Dave Birkett gives his view on top end grades that may go against the grain of conventional wisdom.
Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/
First person to transcribe this interview and post it on this thread will get a copy of Alastair Lee's new climbing film, PSYCHE.
"I donít think Iíve ever climbed an E10. Cos I jusí donít think they exist like, as yet. Well how Ďards E10? Itís like death. Youíre gonna die jusí looking at, arenít you, really? You know it like, er, a big benchmark thing isnít it? You would imagine likeÖ I dunnoÖ you gotta be right up in the high f8cs, with no gear I would imagine, Ďknow what I mean to be E10?
When I first started climbing this guy said to me, to be as good as me Grandfather, youíre gonna have to climb E10, Ďcos he climber the first E1 or whatever. And the grade at that time then, I think Indian Face had just been done, and that was E9.
And er, you kinda think it is like almost kinda thing. Itís a big, a big, itís such a big number, and you get certain routes, which you can fall of some bits, but you canít fall off other bits, type scenario. And Iíve always had in me mind that E10 is, form the ground youíre gonna hardly be. You know, itís gonna be very dangerous and very very hard. And I donít, well there are obviously very dangerous route on certain parts and I know we have all these, kind of, grade charts. And I dunno, jus the image of E10, to me, conjures up the image of some thing thatís very bloody hard indeed and very, like, dangerous yíknow. And I dunno I just donít think itís there yet, to be honest."
But this does bode the question - if E10 is death as Dave Birkett is saying then E11 isn't E11 but E9?
I'm not 1 to judge just interested, as I doubt I will ever be able to climb E7 upwards.
Doesn't DB's comments fly in the face of the theory that there can be v dangerous but tech modest high E grades and there can be relatively safe but v technically hard high E grades? As with any grade.
Witness Dave M's E11. Relatively safe (as in not death on a stick at any rate) but tech v hard.
Well I would think any sport routes graded 9a or 9a+ would translate as E10 if anyone bothered to use E grades for sport routes still.
Not sure how he works out E10 would have to be a death route of f8c. Safe 8c/8c+ would already equate to E9. Make them runout/longish falls and you've got an E10 I'd have thought. Very long falls would be E11 (Rhapsody) and death routes E12.
Dave Macleod thinks Birkett's E9, If 6 Was 9, was 8a+. So why would a route have to jump a full 3 french grades just to make it up to the next E grade? This interview doesn't argue this point at all. It's all just pure opinion.
I can see why Birkett might feel a bit pissed off about the lack of recognition his routes received at the time. The comment from the other article: "Those in the know, knew at that time, the significance of Dave's achievement, but the climbing media in 1992 was a bit of a "closed shop," is not just true for '92 either. When Ben Moon did Statement of Youth in '84 it was probably the hardest route in the country at the time, and one of the hardest in the world. Far from lauding Moon's achievement the UK climbing media instead took the piss making an issue about how many bolts there were and not a single photo of the route appeared any magazines. Talk about out of touch.
What Birkett didn't touch on was that in his opinion within a given grade there is a broader range of technical difficulty, pumpiness and boldness than most think.
Most top climbers, the few that are operating in that realm, grade in comparison to their past experiences. Dave's argument is that all because someone thinks a route is harder than their previous E9 ascent that doesn't mean that it is E10.
I suppose a good example of this is Dave Pickford's, The Brothers Karamazov E9 6c which Birkett repeated this summer. Basically Dave Pickford graded Brothers in comparison to other routes he has done in Pembroke, it was harder than the E8's he had done, hence E9.
This is what Dave Pickford said,
the first ascensionist is simply a reflection of how difficult the climb felt for that individual, and should not be treated as anything more than a rough guide to the nature of the climbing.
Dave Birkett is right to say that grades in Pembroke are often a bit easier than in other parts of the UK: the combination of good rock and solid gear mean that many climbers end up Ďpushing their gradeí up a notch on those fantastic cliffs. Having climbed a significant number of Pembrokeís harder routes over the past decade - many of them onsight - I gave ĎThe Brothers Karamazoví a grade that reflects how challenging I found it to be, both in comparison to the harder routes in Pembroke and to other difficult routes in the UK I have climbed.
Whereas on the Birkett scale it is not E9, it is less than that.
There is another factor at play here. Dave Pickford makes his living from climbing, or his attempting to. Dave Birkett does not.
That commercial pressure is also a factor in grading routes, and non other than Dave MacLeod has agreed with me on this in the past.
Fair enough if he thinks that people are overgrading at the top end, but why cloud the issue with this spurious idea that 'hard' routes have to be 'dangerous'?
It also begs the question, if DAve Birkett is so adamant that E10 doesn't exist, does that mean that his E9s may be upgraded in the future?
In Birkett's opinion it sounds like it does. Grades are opinions are they not?
As Dave Pickford said,
"the grade suggested by the first ascensionist is simply a reflection of how difficult the climb felt for that individual, and should not be treated as anything more than a rough guide to the nature of the climbing."
There is no official with a clip board and a grade-ometre measuring the difficulty of the ascent.
the problem with this interview is that it is now out of date since macleods new Death E10 and repeat of I6W9..
I thought it was interesting that Dave M graded his 'death-on-a-stick' E10 in the 'gorms as he did - considering Rhapsody had felt E11 for him. Dave M obviously doesn't subscribe to the subjective grade being a pure 'soil factor'.
Also interesting that Dave B can say there is no such thing as E10 without having climbed a few other peoples E10s. Not that many have.
At the end of the day, if you look at the Rockfax/UKC Logbooks, we are all still arguing about the grade of routes that have been done a million times, so we are never going to get closure at the top-end. Interesting discussion though.
As far as I'm aware no E9, E10 or E11 has ever been onsighted. This being the case, these grades are purely speculative, aren't they?
Definitely, and not a very effective one. He said nothing to convince me of his view that an E10 must necessarily result in death if fallen off.
Dave Mac repeating a route which Dave B rates as one of his hardest and Dave Mac confirming the E9 grade, shortly after he had a total mare on his new E10 makes Dave B's statements a bit irrelevant.. no? I think Dave Mac has proven E10 as a grade is possible and of course that E11 as a grade is possible as he hasnt downgraded Rhapsody.
I think it a tad more complicated than that.
As I keep pointing out, at this level, grades that measure the experience are proposed. It is only when they get a repeat and the repeat ascensionist agrees with the proposed grade that the grade is confirmed. Although there is more weight on a proposed grade if that climber has multiple ascents at that grade, Dave MacLeod being a good example of that.
A few years ago Wills Young wrote an article and tallied up all the the 5.14 claims, when that grade was new. There were about 10 or so, a couple have stuck at that grade, i.e., they were confirmed by subsequent ascents.
The two Dave's seem quite keen in repeating each others routes, but it does appear that they have different thoughts on grades.
Then we have a spread of difficulty within one grade, easy E1, standard E1, hard E1. Some climbers may think that because let's say their new route is harder than their previous E7, then it is E8, when it may be hard E7.
Our E system is odd.
Which is the harder route? An E3 6a or an E4 5c?
These seems to be a difference in the approach that these two climbers took to this route - it was pretty close to the highest sports grade that Birkett had climbed when he led it, whereas Macleod said that he only felt it justifiable for a climber who had led F8C or so. Plainly Birkett's first ascent was an outstanding achievement, but things have moved on a little in the past 15 years.
Nah - its a well executed media strategy between the pair of them to get both of them more coverage... maybe
After all the E system is based around Onsighting.
I think -I think- I think, we all have an opinion on how to interpret the interview with DB including myself but "I think" that Dave said several times that "his" idea of E10 is death all the way. It doesnt mean it is for others. Some people take this grade chasing so far that they loose sight of the climbing they are doing its the constant struggle to be better than others that pushes them.
The best bit of advice I ever got was." You can and will climb some routes, you cant and wont climb others! Just forget about what grades they are and enjoy them all".
Happy climbing everyone
I'm slightly dubious of Dave's assertion that E10 would have to be 8c/8c+ with no protection. Talking about routes where E grade reflects fall danger, then his grade argument doesn't really stand up. If you assume that everyone is now happy with Indian Face at E9 then this is thought to be 7b+ with fatal fall potential. E7 was always thought to be around 7a/7a+ with fatal fall. To jump all the way to 8c/8c+ to get the next E grade seems to be pushing it a bit. I think most people would be happy with assuming that 8a with fatal fall would give a rough guide for E10, in which case there may well be a few contenders. That would also agree with 8b+ with nasty fall being fair at E10 of which there may well be a few contenders.
E10 could also equate to around E5 at Callerhues, but that is another story.
> In Birkett's opinion it sounds like it does. Grades are opinions are they not?
Yes, but how the grading system works is not.
And the idea that we need to wait until these routes are onsighted before we'll know the true grades is also unnecessary - how many established (ie repeated) E7s, or routes of any other grade have had their grade changed purely on the basis of the first onsight? There may be a few examples, but not many. Even though the grade may be for the hypothetical onsight consensus opinion does a good job of getting it right without one.
Interestingly, both John Dunne routes. I don't know if Dave B passed comment on the grades.
> Yes, but how the grading system works is not.
> Even though the grade may be for the hypothetical onsight consensus opinion does a good job of getting it right without one.
If these E9-E11 routes are graded for an onsight, as some suggest, what headpoint grade are they?
If they are graded for an onsight does this mean that no one has actually climbed E9-E11 yet?
Are there actually two grades for these types of routes?
A grade for ascents that are top roped and pre-inspected with intimate knowledge of the gear, and another for starting ground-up with no knowledge of the moves and gear?
Who knows, sounds like only people working at this grade range know what is going on!?!
A good arguement, apart for mone point. Indian Face is 7b+ climbing on potentially snappy rock, therefore is a bit of a special case as the top-rope grade alone doesn't telll the whole story. Also, although there is no consensus yet it could end up being right at the bottom of the grade.
I think on positive holds mid-grade 'death E9' could be more like 7c+ giving a more logical progression. Therefore at the absolute top of the grade, 8a+ climbing is fair for bold E9.
All conjection though....
Sounds like the same old argument about that you can't get any harder than English 6c. So you get loads of 7a/b/+ moves being given 6c and making a mockery of the progress of the grading system.
The grading system isn't that complicated. Take into account the many factors as people have pointed out in this thread, and a pretty sensible result can be acheived.
Take his example of Countdown To Disaster. He agrees the 6b move in a "death" position fits in with E8. Make it a 6c move in a "death" position, you get E9 (e.g. If Six Was Nine). Make it a 6c move in an even worse position (yeah, I know) and stick a load more hard climbing around it, you get E10 (e.g. To Hell And Back).
Dave B's probably capable of E10 himself, he's done enough solid E9s, he might be able to do the next step up....whether he's driven to is a different matter.
Mmmmm grades, delicious AND nutritious.
No, not particularly. I don't see great deal of point in speculating about what the on sight grade of a route is until a few folk have actually on sighted it.
One other thing that affects an E grade is the sustainedness of a route. Just to another another dimension into the equation.
Thanks for the breaking news.
But if we follow your "sensible" approach we'll miss out on the traditional approach of cramming a pre-watershed grade with loads of sandbags. Like with HVS (back in the day) and 5.9 in the states - everything gets rammed in no matter how hard for a decade or two. The 'width' of these grades can be limitless (according to DB) so no matter how hard things get, unless you nearly drop dead just looking at the guidebook it's not E10. The true E10s will surely come from the Lleyn...
Yes yes, I admire the spirit, but it's not necessarily a GOOD idea!
I think we need a parallel and possibly nerdier thread.
I agree with a lot of what is said here.
I reckon Dave Mac is the main man to listen to here. He has most experience here I would say, and I think he is a touch stronger than Dave B(?). He ticked Breathless and Divided Years swiftly, gave 'em both E8. He does stuff like Trauma and If 6 was 9 in a day or two, says E9 for both. Takes 2ish days on To Hell and Back, has a wobbler on it, and goes for E10, seems fair enough. And he spent was it 100 days on Rhapsody?? Seems fair enough to go for E11 at least there. Remember, the E grade is overall how hard it is to do the route, so maybe it should even be E13!
Don't agree with Dave B's thinking that E10 is 8c death. If top end E9 is 8a+ death, then where do 8b death and 8b+ death come in?
Does anyone have any opinion on which (speculative) E10 would be the most onsightable?
> When I first started climbing this guy said to me, to be as good as me Grandfather, youíre gonna have to climb REAL NASTY B********, Ďcos he climber the first OO-ERR or whatever. And the grade at that time then, I think Indian Face had just been done, and that was F*** THAT WAS SCARY.
> And er, you kinda think it is like almost kinda thing. Itís a big, a big, itís such a big number, and you get certain routes, which you can fall of some bits, but you canít fall off other bits, type scenario. And Iíve always had in me mind that BIG NASTY B****** is, form the ground youíre gonna hardly be. You know, itís gonna be very dangerous and very very hard. And I donít, well there are obviously very dangerous route on certain parts and I know we have all these, kind of, grade charts. And I dunno, jus the image of BIG NASTY B*******, to me, conjures up the image of some thing thatís very bloody hard indeed and very, like, dangerous yíknow. And I dunno I just donít think itís there yet, to be honest."
The E4 is always harder because it represents the overall difficulty of the route and not just one little subsection of it. (Obviously grades are meant to apply to climbers of well rounded abilities.)
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