/ Pumpkin grading

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Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
Is the Pumpkin on Meaghadh ever grade V? It was a stepped-out ladder the other day, with good belays and one steep move. The guide itself acknowledges that it's a soft touch, and I would more than agree.

What interests/amuses me is that this plus its 4-star rating seems to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's always mobbed out of all proportion to other routes on the crag. And as an acknowledged soft-touch classic this shouldn't really be surprising. But with so much traffic it's surely always going to be stepped-out and feel about IV,4? Or has anyone here caught it in conditions that would justify a grade V tick?

Would it be a kindness to regrade it and lose a couple of stars for the next guide? Might spread the traffic a bit..
Scomuir on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
2 different issues there.

I thought it was easy for the grade.

If you think this particular route should lose a couple of stars to reduce traffic, then you should just do away with the star system altogether. You can't reduce the stars on a few routes because they have become a bit busy - makes a mockery of the system, which I appreciate, can be a victim of it's own success.
CurlyStevo - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
Do you know of any IV ice routes that are harder? I've only done pumpkin once but it was definitely harder than any of the other grade IV ice routes I've done. That said I'm also pretty sure it will be easier than many (all ?) grade V's, maybe it's just a borderline route. If it was in Cogne I think it would get WI3 (but not an easy WI3) on the day I did it.
CurlyStevo - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
Also I definitely thought it was a quality route probably the best ice route I've done in Scotland and worth 4 stars.
jas wood - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo: As with most routes it is condition dependant.
Done green gully at what i would class as hard 3 but also in conditions close to 5 (thin and steep in places.
I thought pumpkin last week was benchmark 4, mind you i'm taking the 5 ;o)

So in answer to your quetsion IMO green gully CAN be harder than pumpkin.
Jason
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:

> Do you know of any IV ice routes that are harder?

Yes, Ritchie's Gully which we did later that day. Steeper and more serious by far. I'd also say that Italian Right-Hand on the Ben felt pushier and that Cascade is a full grade harder (albeit at grade IV,5).
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:

> probably the best ice route I've done in Scotland and worth 4 stars.

You need to do more routes - I thought it had a certain expeditionary charm, but got a bit too rambly higher up for the 4-star treatment. To be honest I've never been a huge fan of the 4-star category as it's a bit subjective and creates an even narrower category of supposed mega-classics with even longer ques...

CurlyStevo - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
yeah but the cascade does have a reputation as being harder than most the crux pitches of the fatter grade V ice routes on the Ben, given the changes in the grading system since it was conceived (ie it should work the same as rock based on the crux pitch) does that not mean the cascade is now mis-graded?

I've only seconded the cascade once in fat conditions it was quite a long pitch but it certainly wasn't pumpy on the arms, I would also have thought WI3 in Cogne and no easier or harder than the pumpkin on the day I did it (also fat conditions).
Andy Nisbet - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

There was a general thought amongst SMC guidebook writers a few years ago that the classic old Grade V ice routes should stay at V. Polyphemus Gully on Lochnagar is another "borderline" case. It wasn't unanimous and one or two thought many should be downgraded. Equally those who wanted downgrading also wanted Grade I to be dropped as snow wasn't a climb any more. But tradition was kept. I think it's quite nice for some generosity since sandbagging is more common.
Andy Nisbet - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:

No-one denies that many of the Scottish classic ice routes are WI3, like Point Five Gully.
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:

Grade for Cascade is bang on - grade 5 climbing with grade IV commitment. I found it pumpy to lead and more sustained a pitch than anything on Point Five, but I don't think that disproves the grading system.

In balance, if one was doing the Pumpkin in gnarly conditions the length and general seriousness of the crag could easily assert itself, and even with grade 4 climbing the experience could be a grade V one. I noticed this on Observatory Buttress the other week - short lived technicality but an overall seriousness that seemed to justify the overall grade.
CurlyStevo - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet:
Sure and ice varies massively from season to season / week to week so it's hard to compare.
niallk on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Andy Nisbet:

I may be wrong, but I generally take the V, 4 grade for ice routes to be an indication of amenable climbing (for V) with only ice/snow belays available at some points (which from memory Pumpkin fits into). Armed to the teeth with modern axes and screws, that has different implications than in the past, but also contrasting implications when conditions are maybe a bit thawing or there's great snow-ice which is naff for screws.

And in that regard it's quite heplful.
CurlyStevo - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
I've heard typically the pumpkin can be poorly protected on the crux pitch which is why it's V 4 (but i've only done it once so this could be hearsay) of course when we did it, it was fat and took ice screws well.

I thought winter grades should now be similar to trad grades in that the route only gets an adj grade equal to the hardest adj grade of any single pitch and a tech grade equal to the hardest tech grade of any single pitch.

Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:

> I thought winter grades should now be similar to trad grades in that the route only gets an adj grade equal to the hardest adj grade of any single pitch and a tech grade equal to the hardest tech grade of any single pitch.

Is that the case in summer? The crux pitch of Storm in Glen Nevis would probably only get VS 5a if it was a single-pitch, but as it comes after a run-out and slightly pumpy 4c pitch the overall HVS grade somehow seems more appropriate. And on the Pause at Etive, does the E1 grade come from the well-protected 5b traverse, the bold 4c/5a climbing above, or the sum total of the route? *tangent*


RCC - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
> Is the Pumpkin on Meaghadh ever grade V? It was a stepped-out ladder the other day, with good belays and one steep move. The guide itself acknowledges that it's a soft touch, and I would more than agree.

1st time I climbed it, it, the 1st pitch was easy climbing, but pretty much unprotected (maybe 1 or two tied off screws) and very thin in places. Easy V,4 seemed pretty fair to me. When I did diadem, on the other hand, I reached the top of the difficulties, still waiting for the climbing to start!

To be honest, you probably have to climb routes like those pretty often before you get a feel for average conditions, and I don't think that you can really give them a grade based on stepped out condtions.
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to RCC:

> I don't think that you can really give them a grade based on stepped out condtions.

But the self-fulfilling prophecy that is the 4-star known soft-touch ensures that it'll almost always be stepped-out - that is average conditions!

Patrick Roman - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

The Pumpkin can feel like a big route. I did it years ago on an early midweek morning when no-one else was on the mountain. I don't remember it being particularly hard, but it probably deserves to be higher than a IV. Guidebook descriptions can help of course and note whether a route is high or low in the grade. I agree that it's rambling in it's upper half and overall I thought 3 stars.

It's interesting that out of the 12 4-star routes on the Ben (as they're listed in the 2002 SMC guide), one was downgraded in both stars and grade for the 2008 SMC Scottish Winter Climbs guide - Albatross. It's new grade - VI,5 - is certainly more in line now with the condition it's typically climbed in (although you can still choose to climb it as a VII if you want to), but I couldn't quite understand why it lost a star. It may not be an obvious line (in the way that a gully might be) but the quality of climbing is equal or greater to other 4-star routes I've climbed. That said, I don't think there's any real difference between 3 and 4-star routes; it's only on 2-star routes that I've noticed a drop in quality.

Despite Albatross's change of status, I don't think it's any less prized, and I get the feeling that The Pumpkin's appeal wouldn't lessen if it was made IV,4 and 3 stars.
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Patrick Roman:

> Despite Albatross's change of status, I don't think it's any less prized, and I get the feeling that The Pumpkin's appeal wouldn't lessen if it was made IV,4 and 3 stars.

Probably not I suppose, there's not an abundance of grade IVs on the mountain.

RCC - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

> But the self-fulfilling prophecy that is the 4-star known soft-touch ensures that it'll almost always be stepped-out - that is average conditions!

Yeah, I can see that, but I think that the grade really has to be for the average conditions that the route forms in.

The purpose of a grade is to tell someone who knows nothing about the route how hard it is likely to be. Everybody knows that an ice route will be easier if stepped out, and you can see that from the bottom. It isn't so easy to tell whether a grade comes from the climbing or the traffic (in advance at any rate).

Probably best to give that sort information in the form of a note in the description (as you would for unusual conditions etc).



neil the weak - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B: I'd just give Pumpkin IV,4 too,though I disagree slightly about the quality. It's every bit as good as the other big routes in there, just easier.

Giving it the same grade (overall) as Smith's gully, Last Post etc is definitely a bit misleading though and I don't see how it's justified as it's not any more serious than many other snow/ice routes. Point Five, Last Post, Vanishing etc are all not better protected really but don't get their overall grade bumped up.

It's not mobbed because of stars or grade I think in any case, it's mobbed because it's the easiest quality big route at the venue and often logged in good condition.
carrbridge - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Jamie, it's you who needs to get out more and do more routes. Climbing the Pumpkin at the end of an extended period of good, stable conditions, and following on from a busy half term, it will obviously be stepped out and friendly. Just like I've heard Point 5 and the Orion Face are at present.

I've climbed the Pumpkin half a dozen times, V 4 is a good indication of the tussle you'll experience on an "average" Meagaidh day and 4 stars lets you know just what a lovely route it is.
drunken monkey - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to carrbridge: Sense at last.
Simon Caldwell - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
> I'd also say that Italian Right-Hand on the Ben felt pushier

That surprises me. I've done harder IIIs! Maybe I was going well at the time :-)
skarabrae - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B: is there a prize for the first person to bring up the grade of 3 pebble slab? ;-)
Jamie B - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Toreador:

> That surprises me. I've done harder IIIs! Maybe I was going well at the time :-)

Maybe I was going badly! Seemed to me like it started thin and then went steep!

Dave P - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Does the Pumpkin not get it's V grade because of how much potential there is for ice/gear/climbers to come rattling down it on account of how busy it is? So the 4 star grade makes it a V 'cos of increased danger due to busyness... what would it get if it was a 5 star route...?

I think the odd soft touch V is a nice thing, long as people know they're a soft touch.
LakesWinter on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Toreador:
> (In reply to Jamie B)
> [...]
>
> That surprises me. I've done harder IIIs! Maybe I was going well at the time :-)

Ah but Lakes III often = Scottish IV, especially away from the popular routes on Helvellyn and Great End.

Pumpkin is a funny one to grade, it is sustained at grade 4. is it sustained enough to make easy V, that is the question I suppose. The belay half way up the first icefall wasn't great when we did it but it probably would have held a fall.
neil the weak - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to LakesWinter: I've only climbed it twice, but one both occasions I've had good rock belays at all times? Did a short 1st pitch to a good belay on the left below the "main" bit of the icefall and then a long 55m stretch to more good anchors above. Easier ground with rock pro after that both times. Maybe they're obscured when it's more snowy though.....
Eric9Points - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to LakesWinter:
> (In reply to Toreador)
> [...]
>
> Ah but Lakes III often = Scottish IV, especially away from the popular routes on Helvellyn and Great End.
>
> Pumpkin is a funny one to grade, it is sustained at grade 4.

I'm sure that years ago it used to get IV/V i.e. IV+. I think that's about right but doesn't actually exist as a real grade.
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BenTiffin - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B: Same grade as Zero for the same reasons - serious. I did them both during Feb half terms and in good condition. I did think the Pumpkin was easier technically but serious still. A grade III leader pushing into the grade IV area would not be happy going on it when it ain't in good condition and could be a recipe for a fatality.

Mind, regarding the stars, I did think it was a bit polished ;=)
rif on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:
Have to remember that the gradings for classic gullies like this date back to when ropes were shorter (35 m when I started, 45 m in 1970s), ice tools and crampons weren't as good as today (Pumpkin FA was step cutting!), people owned/carried far less gear, and ice screws in particular were nothing like as good as they are now. When I did Pumpkin in 1975 there was no choice but to belay on a single Salewa ice screw before the steepest part. Technically it was no harder than Comb Gully Buttress (which we did the next day) and slightly easier than Orion Direct (day after), but the two longer routes were way more serious than CGB.

When the split grading system came in (early 1980s?) there was a proposal to downgrade several of the classic snow/ice climbs, but as Andy Nisbet notes above it was decided to peg them and use VI, VII etc for harder climbs. That being so, V,4 seems reasonable for climbs like Pumpkin.

The other thing that's changed is the amount of traffic. Back then there were considerably fewer winter climbers, particularly on grade IV/V routes, so we were usually heading up untracked ground with no steps, hooks, or ready-excavated belays.

Rob F
Jonny Tee 69 - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Not done the Pumpkin, but think grade V is fair enough.
LakesWinter on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to neil the weak: Cool, maybe something was obscured - all the other belays were very good. IV/V would describe it perfectly really. But maybe that's what V 4 with good belays means. Grading aside it was a great route and I really enjoyed it.
Fergal - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Is this the three pebble slab of Scottish winter climbing.

solo wearing roller skates and boxing gloves, it was hard but not that hard, I could solo harder.
Tim Chappell - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to Jamie B:

Henning and I did it ages ago, except we got lost (my fault, I was supposed to be route-finding).

Consequence #1: either the "did" or the "it" in my claim that we "did it" is probably fairly squidgy.

Consequence #2: I'm not too sure about the grade, because I haven't a scooby whether we were on route or not :-)

What we did do, whatever it may have been, was gnarly and fun and could credibly have been graded either IV*** or V*** (Henning led one ridiculous corner that I wouldn't even have tried). But there was lots of mixed and there wasn't a big ice-pitch on it, so I bet we were off route.
Exile - on 08 Mar 2013
In reply to CurlyStevo:
> (In reply to Jamie B)
> Do you know of any IV ice routes that are harder?

At least a couple of Lakes IVs! But that's probably more to do with Lakes Grades than Pumpkin's.

Michael Gordon - on 09 Mar 2013
In reply to Tim Chappell:

You did well to miss the Pumpkin! Sounds like you had a good day though.
alasdair19 on 10 Mar 2013
In reply to Exile: agree on lakes iv I did I think inaccessible gully and allmost fell.seconding. a touch of the traditional if its not 500ft it can't be v.

I've done pumpkin twice and remember being concerned at the first belay . Allen fyfe has a nice article in cold climbs on meggi in general being softened by front pointing let alone nomics and 12 screw racks

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