/ Be wary of grades in Ariege Rockfax
The Rockfax authors note that "the Ariege area has a reputation for rather stiff grading", "perhaps the grades are good value", and "especially true on older slab pitches". This seems to be saying that they know the grades are both wrong (too hard on average) and inconsistent (some styles harsher then others) but they have not sorted them out. This seems a pity as Rockfax has often been refreshingly realistic about sorting out grading anomalies.
In my view, local French (and other) climbers can grade as they wish but an English language guidebook for use primarily by UK climbers should aim to apply grades as near as possible as they are understood by UK climbers not locals. Harsh local grades should therefore be softened for an English selected climbs guide. In the Rockfax there were a small number of reasonably graded routes by UK standards but in our experience the given grades were 0 to 3 grades harsher than those used in the UK. This guide therefore fails to properly adjust grades for a UK readership so beware.
What is the job of the author?? To basically copy the local guide book, regardless of when it was published, get your mate to take a few snaps of you on your project and thats it. I don't think Mr Berry knows how much responsibility he taking on board on these projects. People follow these guides, topos, maps, advice pretty thoroughly.
I have all the french books and found massive inconsistencies in all. So glad its been pulled up.
OK: the following are mostly given grade followed by our grade in brackets (mostly multiple corroborated opinion, I say where it is just me):
Genat: Claire de Lune p1 5+ (sustained 6a), Nameless 2 6a+ (6b),
Sinsat Grand Dalle: Silicose Man 6a (6c), Ton Autre Chemin 6a+ (6b or 6b+), Fond enchaine 6a (don't know, total failure), Haut les Mains 6b (don't know total failure), Jai Peur des Mouches 6a+ (about right but at top end)
Sinsat Telegraph Rd: Jouve en Selle, 5+ (6a) Telegraph Rd p1 6a (6b) , P2+3 6a+ (6b).
Sinsat: Do not disturb p1 6a+ (about right), p2 6a+ (6c), Frontiers du Reel 6a (6a+/6b, polished), Betapi 6a+ (6b start)
Sinsat Minor sectors: Mostly OK
Calames Murettes: Several sandbags experienced, don't have the details
Calames Presse Puree: Kilimanjaro 5+ (6a)
Roquefixade: Honore presentemente 6a (6a+ or more), Rigolo 6a+ (6b+)
Goulier: Grand Diedre 6a (6a+), La Grotte 6b+ (failure)
Baychon: Pussicat 6a (6a+), 3 others OK
Auzat: Mostly reasonable but did not see an ascent of Lenemi 6a even on TR, personally failed on Classee X (this one may be just me), totally failed to make any progress on Symbiose 6a, Bassine 5+ (6a and a bit serious)
Overall I found the guidebook to be very user friendly however my biggest gripe is the inclusion of Bedeilhac Quarry which definitely ranks as the worst crag I have ever been to. The quality of the routes were shocking but the dog pooh and dangerous blocks make it a venue to be avoided at all costs! The photo topo in the guide makes it look like a worthwhile, an easy access crag which would be worth a visit if short on time...don't be fooled...Avoid at all costs!!!!
If any locals read this please do everyone a favour and trundle the loose blocks and or remove the bolts.
Perhaps it would also be of benefit if you could list some examples of crags where you found most routes to be well graded by UK standards and give some examples of well graded routes at these crags like I did? Maybe there is a pattern? At Sinsat Lower area in particular we looked forward to doing many routes but struggled on the easiest. Various team members had been going OK in UK, Spain and Gorges du Tarn immediately before Ariege.
> OK: the following are mostly given grade followed by our grade in brackets (mostly multiple corroborated opinion, I say where it is just me):
> Genat: Claire de Lune p1 5+ (sustained 6a), Nameless 2 6a+ (6b),
> Sinsat Grand Dalle: Silicose Man 6a (6c), Ton Autre Chemin 6a+ (6b or 6b+), Fond enchaine 6a (don't know, total failure), Haut les Mains 6b (don't know total failure), Jai Peur des Mouches 6a+ (about right but at top end)
> Sinsat Telegraph Rd: Jouve en Selle, 5+ (6a) Telegraph Rd p1 6a (6b) , P2+3 6a+ (6b).
> Sinsat: Do not disturb p1 6a+ (about right), p2 6a+ (6c), Frontiers du Reel 6a (6a+/6b, polished), Betapi 6a+ (6b start)
> Sinsat Minor sectors: Mostly OK
> Calames Murettes: Several sandbags experienced, don't have the details
> Calames Presse Puree: Kilimanjaro 5+ (6a)
> Roquefixade: Honore presentemente 6a (6a+ or more), Rigolo 6a+ (6b+)
> Goulier: Grand Diedre 6a (6a+), La Grotte 6b+ (failure)
> Baychon: Pussicat 6a (6a+), 3 others OK
> Auzat: Mostly reasonable but did not see an ascent of Lenemi 6a even on TR, personally failed on Classee X (this one may be just me), totally failed to make any progress on Symbiose 6a, Bassine 5+ (6a and a bit serious)
Reading this suggests that 90% of the stuff you did was about half a grade out (top side) About par for the course in France. Whatever you do DON'T go climbing in The Dentelles ;-)
PS - Or Buoux or St Leger.
I should add that we also found the guide to be very user friendly in terms of approach descriptions etc, indeed in all respects except grading.
Intersting one this. We went last Spring before the Rockfax guide came out, so we were working off local guides. Certainly the grades were the stiffest we've encountered in one of the mainstream Euro sports climbing venues (including various locations in both Spain and France, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, Kaly etc). We felt that they were consitently at least half a grade harder than normal and, in some instances, considerably more. This meant that, in reality, there were not as many easy routes as expected. My personal view is that it is not a particularly good low grade venue although, if you adjust your grade expectations, there is enough to keep you going. Again, we had pretty poor weather so some of the higher crags were out of condition really, so maybe that would have made a difference.
Having said that, I haven't used or looked properly at the Rockfax guide. So I don't know if there have been many upgrades. My sense was that there would need to be a wholesale revision of grades to bring it into line with other euro areas and I don't suppose that happened, or will happen any time soon.
I know many will disagree and there are some who live locally who will no doubt have their own views. But I do think it needs to be treated with a bit of caution by those thinking grades will be comparable to the Costas, Provence or the usual islands in the Med.
I have been to Buoux and while I found overgrading there a) it was not in a UK guide and b) it did not have the effect of severely diminishing the amount of quality climbing available on the trip to an extent that might have changed my decision to go there. There I could just lower my sights accordingly and still do top quality varied routes. Partly because of the weather this was not the case at Ariege.
Of the routes I listed 12 were either OK or 1 grade up and 10 were 2 grades or more up. Hardly 90% within half a grade. The routes I omitted to judge were all easier warmup grades: possibly just as bad but affected us less.
Looking at my logbook and just knowing generally what grades I normally climb, I normally manage to onsidght up to around 6b wherever I go and also in the UK. That's been pretty consistent (I missed out Turkey from my earlier list incidentally). In the Ariege I managed one or two 6a+'s onsight which were some of the biggest fights I've ever had at that grade. So I would say that based on local grades, it's almost a grade a adrift from most other areas (and yes I've climbed all around your area too) in the lower grades. I'd be very interested to know if the Rockfax guide made many adjustments.
To be fair, the Rockfax grades are mostly 1 grade higher than those written on the crag nameplates (e.g. 6a+ instead of 6a etc) so they are not quite as different from UK usage as the raw local grades. This seems to have been done on a blanket basis however without ironing out inconsistencies.
Strange. We don't climb quite as hard as you - 6a max. On our visit (using local guides off the internet, as it was before Rockfax was published) we found almost everything to be on the stiff side, maybe half a grade different from somewhere like Costa Blanca. But the worst problem was inconsistency - we couldn't just add half a grade to everything, as some were a grade out, others were easier than the grade.
I got a copy of the Rockfax when it came out, as the area is so good we'll go again. I checked all the worst offenders, and all have been regraded. Though sadly the worst discrepancies were on a sector not covered by Rockfax.
My main criticism of the Rockfax guide relative to the local ones, is that the local ones subdivide the easy grades into 5a, 5a+, 5b, 5b+, 5c, 5c+. Whereas Rockfax still stick with 5 and 5+. It seems to be increasingly common for this greater subdivision (eg Kalymnos), and for we punters it's very useful - some of us can actually tell the difference between 5b+ and 5c+! It would be nice if Rockfax adopted this approach in future - though I suspect the structure of their databases wouldn';t allow it.
I too got one or two 6a+ pitches after a real fight! Telegraph Road sector had plenty more to go at but the weather dictated more roadside activity an here the choice at 6a+ and below was much more limited than if I had 6b and 6b+ to go at as well.
I used the Ariege Rockfax for two weeks recently and my climbing partner and I found the grading to be accurate (I was on 7a-7b, he was on 7a-8a) at Alliat, Genat and Calames. Our judgment was that the Rockfax guides varied from being in line with to half a grade tougher than Cheddar. We didn't see it as anything to complain about. They did not slavishly follow the local grades, as more than one local told us, and as we could see by comparing what was painted on the rock to what was in the guidebook.
You know the local grades are tough at times even if Rockfax tweak them. So adjust what you get on, and enjoy a great guidebook produced by sound people and an absolutely wonderful climbing area .
> What is the job of the author?? To basically copy the local guide book, regardless of when it was published, get your mate to take a few snaps of you on your project and thats it. I don't think Mr Berry knows how much responsibility he taking on board on these projects.
That interpretation is certainly a massive disservice to those who produced the Rockfax to Ariege. My climbing partner and I discussed loads of these routes with Anne and John Arran and they had clearly climbed loads of them, knew them intimately and had good reasons for grading as they did.
The good reasons did not, in my mind, include making the grades meaningful to UK climbers. I know I am getting older but I have just realised that it is my first ever trip to Europe in which I have not got out of the Rockfax orange grade band and before I went I was going OK.
To be fair you were on much harder routes and areas often grade differently across the spectrum, so I don't think your experience on 7a - 8a really has a lot in common with punters on 5's and into the low/mid 6's.
Again, I would caveat my comments with the fact that I am only commenting on local grades, not the Rockfax gradings.
> So adjust what you get on, and enjoy a great guidebook produced by sound people and an absolutely wonderful climbing area .
Except that the climbing is less wonderful if your local grade is 6a+ tops where you expected 6b+. This step eliminates you from a lot of attractive crags. If my grade had gone from 7a to 6c there would still have been plenty of quality routes on the same crags so as you say, just adjust. There was not much top quality at Alliat at 6a+ and below to adjust to (1 small slab sector about 10 m high plus a few scattered extras).
I'm not sure whether it is the Rockfax writer's job to make wholesale changes to local grades to bring them into line with expectations based om other areas. For what it's worth, I recently had a very similar and frustrating experience with the two Provence Rockfaxes having done very little sport climbing in France before. So maybe it is just French grading.
Only just saw this post. Well, to be fair, that should pretty much sort things out so far as I can tell. As always said, grading isn't a science so there are always going to be the odd example of obviously incorrect grading.
Out of interest, what does Le Tichodrome at Calames (I think at the far right end of the presse puree sector) get in the new Rockfax guide? That was supposedly 6a+ as per local guides but was clearly closer to 6b. Excellent little route.
> This seems to have been done on a blanket basis however without ironing out inconsistencies.
You can't imagine that of all the hundreds of routes listed every one was climbed and appraised individually? It would need > 5 people to come up with a fair result.
Here's my tuppenceworth:-
They're called French grades because they were developed in France. Over time I think grades have softened in France in general but where they have been adopted in many (not all) other countries they are often much softer still. There are many places where the French grades used are much stiffer than those in France (I seem to remember Cinque Torre being a very good example)
Human psychology has a part to play here too. It's much easier to accept a grade as being accurate when you got up it rather than when you didn't, even though there will be correctly graded routes that you don't get up when expected or that you did get up unexpectedly. Accepting the latter and not the former leads to grade creep.
Familiarity with rock types is another factor. I remember many years ago climbing on grit with a lad from the lakes. He thought all he cracks were undergraded but they weren't. Ariège happens to have a wide variety of rock types and even the limestone varies a lot from one crag to another, so many people are on unfamiliar terrain much of the time.
For my part I admit to not being able to assess grade 5 and 5+ routes accurately, which is why most of these were checked by Chris and his companions (and by Jon Stoelker in the case of Calamès)
As for just following existing grades, I don't have any figures about the number of upgrades (and sometimes there are several existing sources that already differed) but on the crags/sectors I was heavily involved with we'd have climbed maybe 75% of the routes (often near 100%) and I'd guess maybe 20% of routes went up a grade, sometimes more. Very few went down. For purely pragmatic reasons we'd climbed a higher proportion of routes on the more accessible sectors than on the higher crags.
I wonder if it is question of generally stiffer grading in the lower grades in France. This is certainly my experience of the sport crags in the Rhone area and near the alps. The grading of sport and bouldering here is undoubtedly harder than the Spanish destinations than I've been too - El Chorro, Costa Blanca and Albarracin, and I think also stiffer than the UK.
I also suspect (and this is complete conjecture on my part) that as you get closer to the Alpine regions in France, the sport crags get nails gradings, given they were historically just training grounds for the alpine wads.
I have actually found this stiffer grading a positive experience - initially upon arriving, my ego was totally obliterated and I have had to start from scratch, not worrying about where I am on the grade front: just worry about what I can do and what I cant do. However I do understand the OP's frustration when it comes to planning what crag you should go to when on a short time frame.
France - Ariege - Auzat
La Sabine - 5c [PIE 6b+]
Italy - Lecco
Poker Face - 6a+ [PIE 6c]
Just for wall rats accustomed to soft grading
John is correct above and it is something a lot of people forget - sport climbing grades were developed at the crags that many people now think of as having stiff grades - Buoux, Verdon, Provence in general. In reality it is other areas that have soft grades rather than these areas being under-graded.
It was a problem we were aware of when starting on the France series of guidebooks. The solution to shift every grade one notch is obviously not smart since this would just exasperate any anomalies, and feed the grade creep that has taken hold in many areas. The suggestion that the author climbs and assesses every route individually is also not an answer being a) pointless since one person couldn't possibly give an accurate assessment over such a short time and b) impossible anyway.
You are correct in your OP that we are refreshingly realistic about sorting out grading anomalies, however it takes time. We have 12 years worth of votes on Eastern Grit to sort out those grades. So far we have had 5 months of Ariege votes. Even with these votes though we simply can't just upgrade and change everything to suit what we think is our standard. There will always be areas with stiffer grades than others, attempting to get rid of these would create huge grading inconsistencies as well as being a one way ticket to permanent grade creep.
The solution, much as people don't like it, is to try and bring the soft areas back to the original standards. This is one reason why the 'holiday grades' policy that was deliberately run on Kalymnos for many years has done so much damage to grades across the rest of Europe by raising people's expectations of what they can do. Lead a 6c on Kaly and think you are a 6c climber, you are not, you are a 6b climber in most other areas.
As a final point, I spent an excellent week in the Ariege, climbing in the grades you mention and found absolutely no problems with any of the routes we tried. We downgraded some routes at Appy and found the supposed crux pitch of L'integral d'Anais around 6a. We gave it 6b in the guide since it seemed too drastic to give something given 6b+ locally such a huge grade change. There were some stiff routes as well but this was what we expected.
But that just isn't going to happen.
If it is France which is now out of step with the rest of the world, surely, if anything, it is more realistic for France to change rather than the rest of the world. Or even more realistically, just leave things as they are and add a grade in France in your head.
What got to me, more than the grades, on a recent trip to Provence, was the variation in the spacing of bolts from crag to crag and route to route - a 6b warm up could feel not just hard but terrifying!
> I wonder if it is question of generally stiffer grading in the lower grades in France
Higher up the thread Enty warns 'something like 'if you don't like undergrading, don't climb at the Dentelles...' Now, this is generally excellent advice. However, the outrageous undergrading at the Dentelles - and many other crags - is more prevalent in the 6th grade. Once the 7th threshold is crossed, the grading is more reasonble. There doesn't seem to be a graduated transition, either - so much so that I could list half a dozen 6bs that are just as hard as half a dozen 7as. Please note that when I refer to undergrading, it's in relation to other crags in the region - sometimes even in the same guidebook - not to UK French grades. I've always attributed this phenomenom to the fact that the majority of routes are put up and graded by climbers operating in the 7th grade. They find 6th grade routes quite straightforward (or at least don't like to admit to finding then hard) and so tend to undergrade, whereas they're quite pushed on 7s and tend to grade them more acurately. Add to this the French attitude that climbing doesn't start till 7a, and you start to get the picture.
Anyway, back to Harold's point... Writing a guidebook puts you in an awkward position. If you try to regrade routes, unless you systematically add a grade to every route, you'll end up with inconsistencies which is far worse than accepting an overall uniform harsh grading. It seems from what John says that he has addressed the problem.
What we need here is some Velominati Cyling rules but for climbing then we could apply rule 5
Absolutely not. If we did this then in 5 years time there would be another Kalymnos upsetting the applecart and in 10 years time people would be saying how hard the grades were in the 10 year-old France rock faxes - that is grade creep.
The best illustration of grade creep you will see anywhere is the list that Steve Bancroft and the BMC Guidebook Committee put together in the 1970s listing standard routes at each E-grade when they proposed the E-grade system. Without exception every one of those routes is now given the grade above with many thought of as hard for that grade.
> The suggestion that the author climbs and assesses every route individually is also not an answer being a) pointless since one person couldn't possibly give an accurate assessment over such a short time and b) impossible anyway.
Guidebook authors should assess *all* crags (say 12 routes minimum), and having also collected local opinion, would then be well placed to issue a sector warning/advice in the genre 'stiff gradings here' - while respecting the local tradition.
Grades in France are not always wrong its just certain styles of climbing there can feel harder than others.
Vertical grey walls with no chalk on them...These can feel desperate coming from indoors or coming from an area like margalef or kalymnos where you can see the chalk more for instance.
That's exactly what Rockfax did
A development of all this would be for UKC to allow 'whole crag' / sector voting (as per routes) to gain 'at a glance' collected opinions of grade style. It could be done with 5 notches, 'correct', +/- half grade, or +/- whole grade etc
> La Sabine - 5c [PIE 6b+]
Interesting example to choose. It's graded 5c+ locally, and I thought it was one of the very few routes we did that was actually overgraded! Miles easier than Grimsel next to it, which is supposedly a fraction of a grade harder at 6a. Also a lot easier than Trajectoire Quartzienne which gets 5b.
> The best illustration of grade creep you will see anywhere is the list that Steve Bancroft and the BMC Guidebook Committee put together in the 1970s listing standard routes at each E-grade when they proposed the E-grade system. Without exception every one of those routes is now given the grade above with many thought of as hard for that grade.
That's just crazy! The whole idea was that these routes represented the "standard" at a paticular grade. It's like saying the standard for 1 metre is this and then others adopting a slightly different length and then forcing the original standard to change.
You made a good point about where French grades were developed. That's what people should remember and refer back to. A Verdon 6b is a 6b. A Kaly 6b is probably a 6a.
I'll need to remember that when we go to the Verdon in September!
Gets 5c+ in local guide, felt pretty hard for the first 3 or 4 clips.
We only did pitch 1 but I don't recall it being that bad, maybe I was just having a good day. I thought Grimsel was harder which does get 6a.
Isn't this exactly the point though. You say there was no problem but actully you felt the 7's were soft. Maybe the 6's were stiff? As Jon says above, this seems to be how France grades the easier routes.
Which is often what I experience, not that I climb into the 7's, but that lower grades are often disproportionately stiff.
I actually disagree with Alan's take on this quite strongly. Why should there almost be an entry requirement to get into reasonably linear grading? Surely as a beginner, for example, you deserve to be able to measure progress sensibly.
One other factor touched upon above is the bolt spacing. My personal view is that people's perceptions of the grade of a climb are more heavily influenced by the bolting than they would admit. As said above, some of the bolting in the S France (around Toulon) creates routes almost worthy of trad grades, and we found some of those in the Ariege too but less frequently. This is often the case on easier routes because, well, they're easy aren't they so you don't need so many bolts... It stands to reason that you average punter will feel that such routes are harder than they really are. For what it's worth, I felt that *some* of the supposed soft grading at Kaly is down to this effect ie. close bolt spacing so the routes feel a lot easier than their counterparts in France. In actual fact, whilst there is a fair bit of soft grading in Kaly, there are also some very well graded routes/sectors imo.
Only just spotted this.
It gets 5c+ in the local guide. The crux is arguably 6a, but is right by a bolt so not at all serious, and the rest is significantly easier. Pitch 2 by the left hand line of bolts might possibly be serious as they're looking a bit rusty, but the pitch is 5b ish (and also a lot better).
Grades will always have a local flavour to them - just because you climb 6a-6c at Portland (say) doesn't mean that you'll immediately climb the same grade at Misja Pec or Ceuse. Don't expect to climb as hard as you do on your home crag when you visit a new crag in a foreign land for the first time.
Definitely agree about the bolt spacing. I climbed recently at some rather old-school crag near Montpellier whose name escapes me just now (has a rather attractive 8a classic up an overhanging groove, beginning with C). The 6b I was told to attempt felt about E4 to me - in fact making each clip felt very much like completing the runout on Wee Doris. At the time I thought it was the mother of all sandbags, but looking back I dare say it would only be 6b with Kalymnos/Cheddar style bolting.
You've hit the nail on the head here without realising it. It's a 'guide', nothing more. Take everything with a pinch of salt and you won't go wrong. Grades shouldn't - IMO - be adjusted for anyone's readship. The grade is the grade and these routes have presumably been about for long enough for them to have bedded in and reached consensus.
Also, relatively "easy" grades ie 5s & 6s are often felt by some to be hard, for the reasons already mentioned.
Absolutely. In other situations this is known as enabling.
> I climbed recently at some rather old-school crag near Montpellier whose name escapes me just now (has a rather attractive 8a classic up an overhanging groove, beginning with C).
I am intrigued by this John, as I'm struggling to think of any old-school crags near Montpellier with classic 8as as you describe.
Something at Claret, Le Joncas, La Cadière?
Some of the crags up in the Gorges du Tarn used to be a bit spicy with the runouts.
Russan, Collias, Seynes? But all those are nearer Nimes than Montpellier.
Actually claret is another one to avoid if you want to avoid falling off what is your usual OS grade.
Last summer I redpointed 2 grades harder at Thaurac than Claret!
Back (nearly) on topic, I don't think that the grades are really harder at Claret, it's just a very different style of climbing with lots of flat holds that punish any lack of fitness.
I think that the best one can hope for is coherent grading between routes at the same crag. If Rockfax managed to achieve this for the whole of the Ariege, then even if the grades are all a couple of notches above other areas then it's quite impressive.
Nail on head. I'm so unfit I'm useless at Claret ;-)
So having little pre-set idea of what a 5, 5+, 6a should be like other than equating them to UK Trad grades and indoor wall grades (IMO the latter is a waste of time). We went off to Ariege and found the grades pretty consistent, at Sinsat, Calames, Appy, Auzat, maybe Ax was slightly over-graded compared with the others.
I would agree with all that Toreador has said above, including comments on La Sabine and the usefulness of local guides having that bit more info (a,a+,b,b+,c,c+) through the '5' grade. But overall Rockfax was our bible and it served us well.
So maybe it is good that my first sport trip was in France, when I go elsewhere, will I think I'm climbing any better cos I can get up 6a and 6a+ routes? I doubt it.
As John Arran said, there are so many things that suit or don't suit individuals which can lead to us thinking something is under or over graded, plus I can imagine that if you build up experience elsewhere you can get a bit of a shock visiting 'correctly' grade locations.
Maybe cos I don't climb hard(by other's standards) I'm not so worried about coming down half a grade and enjoying myself rather than plugging away at a grade.
Not sure which bit of what I said you are disagreeing with here.
You might not say that if you spent a couple of weeks in the Ariege using local guidebooks!
Call me dumb, but is it really possible to grade something ' 5c+' ? I mean, the difference between that and 6a would be pretty hard to define individually, let alone find a consensus !
I've never been one for bolted routes, but I've had a few Spring trips to Sinsat , Les Cabannes and Dent d'Orlu. To be honest, I was pissed-off after a couple of hours; but then again, I've never done better than 6b !
I think it was Claret. Radically punishing unfitness sounds about like my experience. Could the route have been Catalepsie? If so I see RF thinks that's 8a+, but the local I was with said 8a. Perhaps 'overhanging open corner' would have been a better description.
I'm a bit handicapped by leaving my guidebook to the area on a tram in Montpellier and not feeling sufficiently inspired by it to splash out on another copy.
The thing about Claret was that Hugues deliberately bolted it on the runout side to scare people. I think this is more why routes feel harder there than harsh grading.
Description sounds right, but most people I know regard catalepsie as 8B (or hard 8a+). Grade inflation?
Drop me a line if you're in Montpellier again john, I'll give you the tour of some considerably more vertical local crags!
In that case it's a pity he wasn't present during my visit, because he would certainly have had his money's worth.
I agree about the grading, though I think Enty's right about the style of climbing as well.
> The thing about Claret was that Hugues deliberately bolted it on the runout side to scare people. I think this is more why routes feel harder there than harsh grading.
Thing is, it's mostly runout but safe. Once you get your head around the idea that huge falls are normal it's fine.
As long as you're confident that the bolts won't fail.
The 7s felt soft because, perhaps, I was expecting more compared to the UK 7s I've been on (not many). They still were harder than the 6c and 6b+s I climbed on the same trip (but maybe not that much harder).
The point I'm trying to make is that there's very little point getting fixated on whether or not something is the right grade, or getting too caught up in what grade a climb is full stop. Aren't they meant as a guide to finding something with about the right level of challenge? Given the mixed experiences of the posters on this thread, it sounds like in the OPs case either; they coincidently got on a bunch of sandbags, that the grades in the Ariege aren't soft (but neither are they significantly or universally undergraded), or the sandbags they did get on led them to feel negative about all the gradings of the climbs they were on and skewed their experience as a result. No doubt my positive experience is skewing my perception of the Ariege grades in favour of the guidebook writers.
Either way, grades are too subjective to be worth fussing over and in no way are the guidebook writers to blame for making what is clearly an excellent product. Quite the opposite in fact. Suggesting that the whole area needs regrading in line with what British tourists want seems fairly far fetched.
I don't think my friend had been on it; probably either he was just wrong or I misremembered.
Yes, probably right about the falls, though of course the trouble with being crap is that the routes you're on aren't that steep. This particular one had a steeper bit above a vertical bit and I was particularly unkeen to try out the fall from the former down towards the latter.
Thanks for the offer, which I will surely take up if I do return. My friends still live in Montpellier and according to my small boy the female half is the 'best cook in the world', so it's not impossible.
Yes. When your limit is 6a, the difference is obvious!
That pretty well sums up my thoughts on long alpine routes, anything difficult was always ' 5 sup' !
> Yes. When your limit is 6a, the difference is obvious!
Scratches his head !
The worst thing I've ever come across is the long run-outs in the Picos d'Europa. I've done a few routes on the Naranjo de Bulness and you almost needed binoculars to see the next bolt !
> In that case it's a pity he wasn't present during my visit, because he would certainly have had his money's worth.
I found the run outs at Eldorado etc (Switzerland) character building. Quite contrary to the popular perception of the Swiss bolting everything to death.
This Bart Shaw guy doesn't have a clue what he's talking about! :-) I think seriously Bart you were going well on that trip so found the grades pretty reasonable compared to other trips. UK sport grades are generally harder than abroad, Arabesque would get 7a multipitch at some other areas. Em and I thought them generally tough but not too bad and as you say not worth arguing about. At an individual crag the grades seemed in relation to each other which is the main thing. The granite grades did seem a lot softer than the limestone ones and Roquefixade had some reet sandbags -
http://www.ukclimbing.com/logbook/c.php?i=32956 - first route in the ARiege - felt like an old school bolted E3 5c!
even harder! mantelling on monos!
were laughably hard for the grades but still fun. I think the general message is start a few grades below normal at any crag and work up the grades till they get too hard and try and have fun, it is sport climbing after all!
PS Abosutely agree with Bart too about the quality of the guidebook too, we're inspired to return. So much to do as well, ski touring, road biking, boudlering, big mountain routes etc. Great to have all that info in one book!
I was disagreeing with what I took to be your view that the French have it right (primarily because they invented sports grades) and that everyone should fall back into line with some of the tougher areas in France.
As I think Jon said many posts above, there is almost certainly a stance in some areas in France that the easy routes are looked down upon and hence graded quite stiffly with many sandbags, and then things sort themselves out once 'real climbing' begins. The standard of bolting often reflects this as well. I don't see why every other area has to accept these views and thankfully not all do.
We weren't particularly put out by the fact we had to knock a grade off what we could climb in the Ariege. The issue was sometimes rocking up at a crag which, on paper, you'd have thought would have a fair bit in your range only to find it didn't really. Plus some complete sandbags eg. les pierres a feu at Calames which I think may have been given 6a locally but was nowhere close to that and I struggled to do it on a TR even (bear in mind I did get up the 6b+ next to it).
As I understand it, the spaced equipment at Claret is because in the early stages of development, the crag was discovered, equipped and "owned" by an extremely tight-knit band of climbers (Hugues B. being the main figure).
It was a real locals crag. Part of the group ethic was to always go for it on lead and take big falls. There is even a sociological study published - a book titled "Les 'voleurs' de falaise" http://www.lcdpu.fr/livre/?GCOI=27000100523220 (this study : http://www.virtualburo.fr/telechargements/articles/deleseuleuc_violence.pdf from the same author gives an idea of the content, I think).
Claret is still directly looked after by surviving members of the band, and the original character of the routes is maintained. The three principals: Hugues, Pierre and Lucien, have now died and there are three olive trees planted in their memory below the crag. The crag is not "conventionée", that is to say that the FFME and landowners have not signed an agreement to assure the re-equipment and maintenance. This may change one day, but for the moment Claret is a rare monument to it's developers.
That's awesome! My French isn't up to the whole thing, but this passage...
"Rock climbing in Claret is the theater of conflictual relationships between a group of climbers, self-defined as " locals ", and those they
call "foreigners". At first, this conflictual dynamic seemed to participate in the processes of social construction and the imposition of a
climbing style, which are characteristic of the history of this physical activity. However, a ethnographic analysis based on participative
observation demonstrates that, on the one hand, this group's interventions go far beyond the practice of climbing, and aim at orienting
the climbers' behavior with respect to the cliff's natural environment and the relational behavior among the climbers; and on the other
hand, it shows that they only take place at this site and are not aimed at the expansion of a model of rock climbing practice. Moreover,
it appears that these interventions, some of which take on a ritual dimension, are used to select those of the " foreigners " who can
integrate the locals' group if they accept to conform to the group's expectations, and to exclude those who refuse to do so. To the extent
that Claret's cliff is situated on a municipal property, accessible to all, this dynamic of aggregation and exclusion, which is expressed
around the practice of climbing, raises the question of the privatization by a group (appropriation) of a public space."
deserves wider publicity.
If only I'd known I was taking part in a "theater of conflictual relationships between a group of climbers, self-defined as " locals ", and those they call "foreigners"", I'm sure I'd have been a whole lot less gripped.
Actually I suppose I did know that. I just didn't verbalise it to myself quite like that.
Interesting history, though. Guidebooks really should have this stuff in them. Then perhaps people wouldn't leave them on trams so easily.
It's a real shame you've lost yours as it is a classic. Beatifully drawn and sadly, out of print.
> ...Suggesting that the whole area needs regrading in line with what British tourists want seems fairly far fetched.
That is not what I suggested. I suggested that guidebooks aimed at British tourists should regrade in this way. I specifically said that locals could grade how they liked (obviously their grading choices are none of my business).
I just had the Rockfax. I did see a local one in the shops, but obviously you mean another one again.
> Call me dumb, but is it really possible to grade something ' 5c+' ?
I didn't ever suggest using this grade. I called attention to the use of 5c on one route and then 5+ on an adjacent route. I thought it was obvious without spelling it out that a single system should be chosen and used and that the simultaneous appearance of these 2 styles was anomalous.
It was re-published in 2011 and can be found in at least Soescalade near Avignon and Le Yeti in Jacou, with a few extra routes and a bigger selection of Pierre Rouzos cartoons in the back.
That's good to know!
> The grade is the grade and these routes have presumably been about for long enough for them to have bedded in and reached consensus.
I dont accept that. If the local Ariege consensus would call a move 6a and the British consensus would call the same route 6b+ then at least the guidebook needs to make clear which system is in use. I would contend further that it makes most sense for an English language guidebook aimed at British climbers to use the British not the local consensus. This was admittedly done in a vague way in a fairly obscure place but it was only noticed by me well after I had committed to going on the basis of lots of enticing routes that in fact I had no chance of getting up and far fewer equally enticing alternatives at the grades I could do. I suspect that those who recommend just dropping a couple of grades and manning up are operating in different grade ranges where the consequences in terms of access to quality routes are less significant.
My comment wasn't directed at you !
It's not real climbing anyway ;-)
> I dont accept that. If the local Ariege consensus would call a move 6a and the British consensus would call the same route 6b+ then at least the guidebook needs to make clear which system is in use. I would contend further that it makes most sense for an English language guidebook aimed at British climbers to use the British not the local consensus. This was admittedly done in a vague way in a fairly obscure place but it was only noticed by me well after I had committed to going on the basis of lots of enticing routes that in fact I had no chance of getting up and far fewer equally enticing alternatives at the grades I could do. I suspect that those who recommend just dropping a couple of grades and manning up are operating in different grade ranges where the consequences in terms of access to quality routes are less significant.
Well, if you can't get up it, it's hardly a disaster ! You at least had the pleasure of trying !
I still think it would be wrong for Brits to come along and regrade everything. At best, the guide should publish a warning that the grades are those of the locals who opened the routes.
> We only did pitch 1 but I don't recall it being that bad, maybe I was just having a good day. I thought Grimsel was harder which does get 6a.
Oh well, shows the difficulty of grading. I thought that Grimsel was relatively soft (with the crack finish) and easier than Bassine. I guess it might mesh with the discussion about bolt placement as I thought the fall from fluffing the 4th clip on Bassine was potentially awkward whereas Grimsel had no such issues. Maybe you were more confident about the clip?
Come on Harold, this is nonsense. You can't be serious. Why not go further and abandon the French grades and use British grades?
So it looks like I will have to use UKC votes rather than the guidebook to decide if an area is worth visiting at my grade?
Well looking at your logbook you appear to have had at least half decent time in the area?
> Out of interest, what does Le Tichodrome at Calames get in the new Rockfax guide? That was supposedly 6a+ as per local guides but was clearly closer to 6b.
I didn't really say that. What I did try to say was that the only real standard that has ever been set for sport grades, was set on the crags in France that happen now to be the same crags that many people find to have lots of under-graded routes on them. Instead of pushing those grades up to match perceived grades elsewhere though I think we should leave them exactly as they are and just comment that the area is generally thought of as having hard grades. That way we may at least have a kind of anchor on the grade creep.
It is true that easy routes have suffered from a lack of attention to detail but this is true for every area in the world. This is where the RF and UKC databases can be a great help but, of course, that needs time.
Well there you go. Les Pierres a Feu was climbed by at least 3 of our party when we were there. We all thought it a bit stiff for the local 6a, but not really hard enough to warrant 6b, hence the 6a+ in the guide. I stand by that grade since I climbed the route without falling off. I was not very fit at the time so 6b+ was about my top grade and it certainly wasn't that hard! I'm afraid to say that if you fail on a route then you almost relinquish your vote on the grade since you may just have been doing it wrong.
> For what it's worth, I recently had a very similar and frustrating experience with the two Provence Rockfaxes having done very little sport climbing in France before. So maybe it is just French grading.
I guess the guidebook writers have also made good points about the difficulty of getting grading consistent. So is the answer to scour guidebooks for clues about relative grading before committing to a visit and if necessary avoiding areas that don't have much below your usual grade to fall back on? This seems a rather unadventurous approach and I have not found it necessary up to now. I have encountered hard grades before but the reduced grade alternatives have previously been more satisfying.
I didn't fail on it; I said I struggled (I was only taking clips out). I would agree that to grade it 6b would put it out of line with other routes there (and I certainly wasn't suggesting it was 6b+ lol). But it sure as hell isn't what most would think of as 6a, even compared to many other 6a's there. At 6a+ it is still on the stiff side imo but at least that's probably consistent with other routes in the area. I was just using it as an example of Ariege grading "naughtiness" (as someone who had climbed a lot there referred to it). If you were a 6a leader and set off up that I would predict a smacked arse.
you could say exactly the same if you succeed but find it hard for the grade. Should the only people to vote be those who found it a soft touch?
And further, without wanting to labour the point, Rockfax isn't just bought by Brits. You'll see them being used by numerous other nationalities, so doing what you suggest really is a non starter.
> Well there you go. Les Pierres a Feu was climbed by at least 3 of our party when we were there. We all thought it a bit stiff for the local 6a, but not really hard enough to warrant 6b, hence the 6a+ in the guide. I stand by that grade since I climbed the route without falling off. I was not very fit at the time so 6b+ was about my top grade and it certainly wasn't that hard! I'm afraid to say that if you fail on a route then you almost relinquish your vote on the grade since you may just have been doing it wrong.
Even I did that one, in searing 40 degree heat. So you're right, it can't be that hard. I can't remember my thoughts on grade at the time, and if I thought sandbag it'll have probably been because I was working off the local guide.
My thoughts on this are that it was tough but not ridiculously so (and I'm in that low to mid 6's bracket). Like anywhere there's a bit of inconsistency, but you get this between Dinbren and the Orme, nevermind between Portland and Ariege. Peppermint certainly seemed fair, and it's probably more important on the longer stuff. Anyway, I found the quality of some of the bolts more harrowing - at Sinsat I got on one route that had what looked like a rusty M8 hex bolt holding the hanger on!
Having seen the Rockfax it would have been hugely useful for us when there. Working from stuff printed off the internet was hard and somewhat limiting, and as a result we spent most our time getting spanked in the heat at Sinsat. I definitely want to go back, anyway.
Well I am still a little confused. You say you were happy to knock a grade off, then as an example of an outrageous local grade you quote a route given 6a locally, which you thought was "no where near that" but which you now say was probably okay at 6a+, and which was given 6a+ in the Rockfax.
I am not quite sure where the problem is here.
This has made me think about it some more however. I would agree with a couple of people above who have suggested that a better way to deal with this sort of issue is perhaps to leave most grades as they are (just tweaking the odd route clearly out of kilter with the rest) but give an area and even crag by crag appraisal of overall gradings. A simple throwaway in the opening section about grades not being soft doesn't really tell enough of a story. As others have said, this can genuinely have a v marked impact on the enjoyment of a trip abroad when I suspect the bulk of your market are the punters doing holiday climbing in the 5's and 6's..
I have to confess I've been waiting for a thread along these lines since we went to the Ariege early last year (pre the RF guide).
I think the OP is feeling a little inadequate ! A bit like kids comparing the length of their willies !
I don't know Harold. If you don't consider 46 routes, in 11 days of climbing, between the grades of 5 and 6c as enough to keep you happy then I wouldn't know where to suggest you go. It sounds like you had a pretty good trip to me with some great ticks.
If you read my post again I said it was probably consistent with other 6a+'s in the area. However, I found other 6a+'s in the area more like 6b's elsewhere (due to the general area undergrading in the 6's). So, this one felt closer to my experience of 6b in other areas (albeit at the soft end of that I would agree - so stiff 6a+ works for me too).
Hence why at 6a I thought it was a complete sandbag if you did it (say) as you 1st route in the Ariege - which is not impossible as it's an inviting 6a at the start of Calames which is probably the best limestone crag at which to start in the area. If you are a 6a leader then getting on a 6a+/6b is going to be a rather rude awakening. I was not alone in my party in making this assessment.
Bit bored with this now but felt the need to at least give my view rather than be a sheep.
Fair enough. Agreed, going in circles now.
> That is not what I suggested. I suggested that guidebooks aimed at British tourists should regrade in this way. I specifically said that locals could grade how they liked (obviously their grading choices are none of my business).
Are you joking?
Also, some of the routes mentioned (Silicose Man for example) are very bouldery/one move wonders, and it's certainly true that grading these is tricky, You will tend to find a single move way harder than what would be typical for a more homogenous route at that grade - Petit Monstre, genat, 6b+ anyone?
Still, the good news is that I might clean up if I ever went sport climbing anywhere else!
> And further, without wanting to labour the point, Rockfax isn't just bought by Brits. You'll see them being used by numerous other nationalities, so doing what you suggest really is a non starter.
Yes I can just imagine all the nudge nudge wink winks and the sniggering when you pull the latest overgraded Rockfax out of the rucksack.
> Interesting example to choose. It's graded 5c+ locally, and I thought it was one of the very few routes we did that was actually overgraded! Miles easier than Grimsel next to it, which is supposedly a fraction of a grade harder at 6a. Also a lot easier than Trajectoire Quartzienne which gets 5b.
Fair point, I failed to complete Trajectoire - then promptly onsighted Lilith at 6b+ to the right. Heroically my wife Christine led Trajectoire for what was probably her hardest ever lead my some margin
Trajectoire Quartzienne may be graded for an indirect finish (to the left IIRC). Still quite hard for 5b, though.
Do you really think a suggestion that a guidebook should aim to use the grades that its primary target audience are most familiar with is too preposterous to be serious? I have accepted the practical dfficulties faced by writers but still think this should be the aim. Non Brits may also buy the guides but they are surely not the primary market?
Some have suggested that simply shifting the grades by the average difference would cause anomalies but I don't see this. If the ranking is correct it is not affected by a shift/renaming of the subdivisions. This approximate adjustment could go a long way towards harmonising grades with minimal effort.
> Do you really think a suggestion that a guidebook should aim to use the grades that its primary target audience are most familiar with is too preposterous to be serious?
Yes. Do you really think the grade of the route changes because you're a Brit?
None of my ticks exceeded 6a+, although I would contend that the routes were harder and your comment appears to confirm that you agree.
The disappointing thing was the inability to climb other than flanking routes on some of the steeper crags such as Murettes which I would have enjoyed more (and have been able to do elsewhere). A few bolted slabs is good but 2 weeks of them is too much.
I freely admit that another contributing factor was the mediocre weather which confined us to accessible crags on many days. I would have been well happy with more visits to the Telegraph Road sector as it was obvious I could enjoy class routes there and, even if the given grades were lower than expected, the actual grades would be just what I needed (i.e. the nominal 6a+ routes there looked great and, judging by Telegraph Road itself, were probably near my limit).
Do you understand the purpose of grades?
More than you do, it would seem Harold.
112 replies, 2532 looks
Ariege and/or Rockfax and/or sport is clearly where its at
Do you understand what is meant by a grade? Clearly the actual difficulty of a route does not change because you are a Brit or a Yank or an Aussie but the numbers or letters you prefer to use to signify it does change. Is that so difficult to understand. Have you never heard of 5.10 etc?
If there was to be an American selected climbs book for Europe are you saying that Yanks who have only encountered the YDS system would be best served by French grades for the French routes, UIAA grades for routes further east and Brit grades for our trad routes all in the same volume? Surely they would be better able to understand things if it was all converted to YDS for their benefit. I am saying that a similar approach would be of benefit for our selected climbs guides as well.
You're obviously taking this too hard. I can't be bothered to respond further.
> Yes. Do you really think the grade of the route changes because you're a Brit?
Where's that bloody like button?
I'm pretty certain a selective guide for europe produced in the states would use french grades
> More than you do, it would seem Harold.
I'm not sure that's true. The purpose of a grade is to tell you how hard a route is (and, of course, to confer appropriate bragging rights onve you've climbed it). If grades are consistent they do both jobs more effectively.
I doubt it ! Anyone who is climbing 6c at Buoux is going to stroll anything of that grade on Kalymnos.
As far as I can see, the French apply their grading system pretty fairly but more often than not, but other venues are graded easier leading to people finding the French grades as applied by the French to be a bit stiff.
> I doubt it ! Anyone who is climbing 6c at Buoux is going to stroll anything of that grade on Kalymnos.
Careful Graham, you'll awaken the KHGDL (Kalymnos Holiday Grades Defence League). But I agree, you're absolutely right.
I stand corrected :) What I wanted to say was that it's hard to compare grades of extremely technical slabs with grades of long, overhanging routes.
> What I wanted to say was that it's hard to compare grades of extremely technical slabs with grades of long, overhanging routes.
But that is not really what is being discussed.
In a ideal (though arguably slightly boring) world "identical" routes (of any style) would get the same grade on Kalymnos, at Buoux or anywhere else.
Yes, the grading system seems to vary in its application within France more than across the rest of Europe put together!
Only just noticed this thread...
For f*cks sake - we're talking bolted routes here, right? I can understand your concern as retreat can indeed be almost impossible from such adventurous climbs... Just the very thought that you may have had to leave the odd krab in place, or adjust which routes you attempt - how unthinkable!
To my mind the problem isn't with guidebooks, but with your obsession with grading and the fact that it should be some sort of exact science.
Do you reckon ? admittedly I'm only talking punter grades up to 6b here, but I reckon grades anywhere I've climbed anywhere in France have always felt tough but fair to me (but then its the French system, so what it really says is that I should recalibrate my perception of a 6a). The only exception I can think of is that Buoux is tough full stop !
Surely it is all relative. You go to the crag on day 1 see how you get on and then decide what to do from that point on. Getting back to the original point I would expect Ariege to provide as much if not a great deal more than most sport climbing areas for someone climbing at the level you suggested you were looking for.
This whole debate is no different to the difference between the correct level of grading in the Lakes and all the soft-touch grading in Wales.....
The last time I was at Orpierre there were several new routes in the 6a to 6c range that felt stiff compared to many of the older routes. This was a joint CC/FRCC meet and the sentiment was shared by all. Apart from Boux the only area where I have had an issue was on the Costa Daurada but then it's hard to know if the routes are indeed harder or if you are just off form.
Why should only Brits have their own grading. Every route should have grades considering different nationalities. So for a French a route could be 6a, for a Spanish it could be 6a+ and for a English it could be 6b. What do you think?
Well, actually the British do call it 5b, but then we just need to stick an E1 in front of that just to make sure everyone knows it British. The E1 could conceivably be replaced with a small Union Jack instead. :)
Brits or English?
> Well, actually the British do call it 5b, but then we just need to stick an E1 in front of that just to make sure everyone knows it British. The E1 could conceivably be replaced with a small Union Jack instead. :)
you do not want to call it only 5b for a french grade of 6a! That will only increase the problem of stiff grades... :) but using E1 also does not seem reasonable since it is a bolted route, so the Union Jack seems like a very good idea!!!
Ha ha! The routes in the Lakes would feel soft touch too if they were clean enough to climb! At least we know how to get our star system right in North Wales... ;-)
> Brits or English?
I am sorry, I do not want to leave anyone out, so lets say Brits :)
In my experience, Lakes grades are softer than Welsh. But Scottish grades are the softest of them all.
Not at E2, E3, E4 and E5! They can be nails in the Lakes, mainly because they don't get done very often.
My experience ends at VS ;-)
> Yes, the grading system seems to vary in its application within France more than across the rest of Europe put together!
Really? Point me at the French equivalent of Kalymnos and the French equivalent of Montenejos and I'll book a trip to the former and make a note to avoid the latter.
> Why should only Brits have their own grading... for a French a route could be 6a, for a Spanish it could be 6a+ and for a English it could be 6b.
Ideally all would grade the same but as grade usage already seems to have drifted apart I think this could well be the case.
The Pyrenees have such a lot to offer, it beats me why anyone would go there just to climb on bolted-routes. I've taken many sport-climbers on long alpine routes and they've shitted themselves on seeing the exposure and the long run-outs ! A 5+ pitch on a 600m route graded TD is another World compared to the games they play !
There are a few fairly long bolted routes in the Ariege...
I know what you mean though - The details of the fine multi-pitch routes we did at Calames are already fading from memory, but several years after the event I can still picture in detail most of the routes we did in the Picos.
Ooh get you! You're not alone in liking long alpine length rock routes you know.
But I fail to see what that really has to do with this thread. When I visited Ariege the weather meant we had to stick to low level cragging anyway.
> I'm pretty certain a selective guide for europe produced in the states would use french grades
I have Stewart Green's selected European Climbs book (Falcon) and it uses YDS grades plus local grades (French, British, etc.) as appropriate.
> There are a few fairly long bolted routes in the Ariege...
> Yeah, I know ! I've done a few on the Dent d'Orlu ! Best ones I've done were in the Ecrins at Ailefroide- 15 pitches ! But it's still not real climbing ;-)
> Ooh get you! You're not alone in liking long alpine length rock routes you know.
If you think the Ecrins is good (and it is),try Septumania or Motorgead at Eldorado, Switzerland. Must be around 16 pitches of granite slabs up to about 6a+ but the bolting's so exciting you can't help mentally giving yourself E grades.
> it beats me why anyone would go there just to climb on bolted-routes... I've taken many sport-climbers on long alpine routes and they've shitted themselves
Think you've just answered yourself!
Point me at the French equivalent of Kalymnos...
I recommend Rocher Baron, in the Briancon area of the Ecrins. I reckon you can find a pretty wide range of grading across the Ecrins sports crags, but who cares, it's a lovely place to climb.
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