/ A, B and C Teams of British Climbing

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mcdougal - on 18 Oct 2016
In Jim Perrin's articles from "Climber" February 2009 in he describes Ken Wilson's concept; the climbers' league table. In it Perrin describes the prerequisites for admission into divisions or teams:-

The "A" Team for "those of exceptional , immediately obvious and innate natural ability who had extended the boundaries of climbing possibility."

The "B" Team for those who "have produced a substantial body of new routes or prestigious repeat ascents in good style or better style than the original, had to be climbing consistently at the top standards of the day, but were often characterized by a certain doggedness, an attritional style rather than the free-flowing natural athleticism of the top grouping "

The "C" Team of "good or even very good climbers...who didn't produce many outstanding new routes or make important repeats but who were still around and about the top standards..."

The article contained lots of examples from the start of climbing up until the 70s, but would anyone care to suggest rankings for a modern version?

The original article didn't make any distinction between trad, sport or bouldering btw.


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deacondeacon - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:
Wads=megos, ondra, McLeod, birkett.
Punters= everyone else
1
BnB - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

I doubt I'd make the Z team
pebbles - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to deacondeacon:
>Wads=megos, ondra, McLeod, birkett, shiraishi, ojeda, digiulian, findlay

*fixed that for you
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Phil Anderson on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

Climbers = everyone who climbs.

Errr...
That's it.
2
bouldery bits - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

I think you're elite if you get to wear one of those red bull caps.
sebastian dangerfield on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to deacondeacon:

Does McLeod meet the natural athleticism criteria? I understood he self identifies as an uber try-er
DerwentDiluted - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Phil Anderson:

> Climbers = everyone who climbs.

Or, if you are a Mail hack, everyone who puffs their way up the Miners track with only a Rubber Dinghy Rapids poncho and a growing sense of confusion that despite assertions to the contrary, Subway does not yet have a franchise everywhere.
Offwidth - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

The irony that Ken was one of the most important UK voices in climbing and possibly wouldn't make his own C team shows how daft an idea it is. Climbing top trumps is for children.
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Goucho on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Offwidth:
> The irony that Ken was one of the most important UK voices in climbing and possibly wouldn't make his own C team shows how daft an idea it is. Climbing top trumps is for children.

Ken wouldn't have even made it into an E team, but the idea was a typical piece of Ken mischief and provocation, in order to trigger debate and argument.

Of course if there had been a league table for arguing, Ken would have been the undisputed league champion
Post edited at 20:55
thebigfriendlymoose - on 18 Oct 2016
In reply to Offwidth:

> The irony that Ken was one of the most important UK voices in climbing and possibly wouldn't make his own C team shows how daft an idea it is. Climbing top trumps is for children.

Is grading climbers substantially more insupportable than grading climbs?

Similar categorisations are made for every other sport. For example football, where despite having similar records and levels of success, Christiano Ronaldo has often been looked upon disparagingly as a more a product of relentless practice and self-improvement than the "naturally talented" Messi (though only one of them needed artificial doses of growth hormones!). Across sport, fan's tend to love the "naturals" rather than those who appear a result of "graft" (everyone loves the "fat, lazy, genius" footballer - say, Gazza, or my own favourite Matt Le Tissier). Why not think about climbers in similar terms?

Moose (low grade grafter).
jsmcfarland - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

in the nicest possible way; who cares?
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Scotch Bingington - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to thebigfriendlymoose:

> Is grading climbers substantially more insupportable than grading climbs?

Can't climbers be graded according to the grade of routes they've climbed? Finer grades make finer climbers. A bit like flour.
Robert Durran - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Offwidth:

> The irony that Ken was one of the most important UK voices in climbing and possibly wouldn't make his own C team shows how daft an idea it is.

Nonsense. An idea should be judged on its merits as an idea. Rather obviously.

Marek - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to jsmcfarland:

> in the nicest possible way; who cares?

At the very least, anyone who has replied to this topic.
Including it seems, you.
Robert Durran - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to jsmcfarland:

> in the nicest possible way; who cares?

I quite like the idea and criteria as a simple framework for trying to assess the significance of climbers' contribution climbing's development. You could attempt to do similarly for, say scientists, philosophers etc. I see no case for a knee jerk reaction against it.
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Mick Ward - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Goucho:

> Ken wouldn't have even made it into an E team, but the idea was a typical piece of Ken mischief and provocation, in order to trigger debate and argument.

Absolutely. He loved his football analogies and he adored debate. I suspect that, like Stevie Haston, he was an advocate of the dialectic - a sense that if sharply opposing opinions bash away at each other for long enough, the truth will emerge. Obviously the less strong-willed among us would have died of fatigue, boredom etc, long before this point.

> Of course if there had been a league table for arguing, Ken would have been the undisputed league champion

No argument about this!

Ken once described himself as 'a soldier of the middle grades' - which is about as fair as you can get. Beneath the bombast, there was such fairness and decency. As Gordon Stainforth pointed out recently on his blog, Ken just couldn't stop himself caring about the world and everything he came across in it.

Sorry, I know you know all this. I'm reminiscing, shamelessly. His passing leaves such a void.

Mick

Bulls Crack - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

The primacy of group A feels rather eugenic. Images of striving blond athletes a la 1930's Germany at the risk of invoking Godwin's Law
Goucho on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Mick Ward:

> Absolutely. He loved his football analogies and he adored debate. I suspect that, like Stevie Haston, he was an advocate of the dialectic - a sense that if sharply opposing opinions bash away at each other for long enough, the truth will emerge. Obviously the less strong-willed among us would have died of fatigue, boredom etc, long before this point.

> No argument about this!

> Ken once described himself as 'a soldier of the middle grades' - which is about as fair as you can get. Beneath the bombast, there was such fairness and decency. As Gordon Stainforth pointed out recently on his blog, Ken just couldn't stop himself caring about the world and everything he came across in it.

> Sorry, I know you know all this. I'm reminiscing, shamelessly. His passing leaves such a void.

> Mick

Sometimes Ken was dismissed by the elite - especially those snarling over a pint of tea in Eric's in Stoney - because he was seen as a middle grade climber, and therefore not in a position to comment.

However, this somewhat miopic view, ignored the reality that he made some highly valid points regarding ethics and the health of climbing.

I would have loved to have seen his league table become a reality, if only to witness the reaction's and vanity of a number of rather large ego's
Will Hunt - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

Quite a fun and interesting topic. Not sure why there's been so much negativity. A climbing related discussion? On a climbing forum?! Whatever next?

I think Ken got it wrong with his criteria - people at the top end being regarded as better if they do it with seemingly no training and effort. Provided somebody is climbing the grade, I'm likely to have more respect for the ones who've demonstrably put in the work to get there. If somebody has genuinely achieved their peak with no effort then they ought to put some in and see what they can really do (obviously they don't have to, but those operating near the top will naturally want to see how hard they can go).

It's quite hard to decide where the grade boundaries between the different categories should sit.

Team A
Men: Multiple E9 / 9a/+ / 8B+/C?
Women: Multiple E8 / 8c / 8B?

Team B
Men: Multiple E8 / 8c+ / 8B?
Women: Multiple E7 / 8b/+ / 8A+?

Team C
Punters / Those who make occasional forays into the above grades?
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Bob Moulton - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

In fact, that is exactly how I remember Ken's classifications (without those grades of course) and Ken saw himself (and me) as C team. At the time I heard quite a lot about it from Ken! Obviously my memory is different from Jim's!
Will Hunt - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

The trad stuff throws it off because there are so many variations in style possible. Doing lots of E9s is impressive, but every grit kid and his dog has headpointed End of the Affair. It's arguably more impressive to onsight consistently at E6 on a variety of rock types than it is to onsight a few grit E7s, which is in turn arguably more impressive than it is to headpoint a handful of grit E8s. Onsight/ground up/highball/headpoint. Makes it loads harder to pick out who's the best than simply looking at how may 9as somebody has done.
Michael Gordon - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

> Quite a fun and interesting topic. Not sure why there's been so much negativity. A climbing related discussion? On a climbing forum?! Whatever next?
>

Quite right. Of course the interesting bit is when you actually try and employ examples! (everyone has understandably refrained from this so far)


I think in my mind I would differ slightly from Ken on the A and B teams.

A to me is those putting up important first ascents at the top level (as well as repeats obviously but these hold less sway).

B would be those equaling the top standards or even perhaps improving on style here but mainly doing repeats of these routes while perhaps doing first ascents of slightly easier or less important lines.

C is those very prolific (first ascents) at a bit of a lower standard (E5+?)
Goucho on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

> The trad stuff throws it off because there are so many variations in style possible. Doing lots of E9s is impressive, but every grit kid and his dog has headpointed End of the Affair. It's arguably more impressive to onsight consistently at E6 on a variety of rock types than it is to onsight a few grit E7s, which is in turn arguably more impressive than it is to headpoint a handful of grit E8s. Onsight/ground up/highball/headpoint. Makes it loads harder to pick out who's the best than simply looking at how may 9as somebody has done.

I think Ken's opinion was that the best climbers were the ones who were consistantly onsighting the hardest routes across a wide range of areas and rock types.

Of course, this was in the era before 'working' routes was either an acknowledged style, or publicly owned up too

Back then, the grade you climbed at, was the grade you could onsight consistently. Thinking about it, the same probably still holds true today.
galpinos on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Goucho:

> Back then, the grade you climbed at, was the grade you could onsight consistently. Thinking about it, the same probably still holds true today.

Used in context, i.e. for trad, it holds true. If someone says, "I climbed an E4", the implication is they onsighted/flashed it, otherwise the comment would be caveated with "I headpointed...." or "I finally manage to climb it ground up" or the like.

For sport or bouldering........ who cares?

Goucho on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to galpinos:

> Used in context, i.e. for trad, it holds true. If someone says, "I climbed an E4", the implication is they onsighted/flashed it, otherwise the comment would be caveated with "I headpointed...." or "I finally manage to climb it ground up" or the like.

> For sport or bouldering........ who cares?

Agreed. My comments were only relating to trad, although today, you could argue that the best climbers are the ones consistently climbing hardest across both trad and sport.
steveriley - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Mick Ward:

> Ken once described himself as 'a soldier of the middle grades' - which is about as fair as you can get. Beneath the bombast, there was such fairness and decency. As Gordon Stainforth pointed out recently on his blog, Ken just couldn't stop himself caring about the world and everything he came across in it.

I have a sticker on my bike saying 'upper echelon of mediocrity' - that seems about right for most of us. As for picking the teams for the bigger boys and girls, it all looks so small from here looking up from the gutter I find it hard to tell
Morriss on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

Definitely a fun and interesting subject in my eyes too.

It really is tough to sort out the boundaries, Maybe the Women's bouldering grades should be a little lower? I mean in the Team B category quite a lot of woman have climbed 8b sport but not a lot have bouldered multiple 8A+ problems i don't think. Could be wrong?

Or rather than lower the grades maybe saying x number of the higher grade or x number of the grade below, if that makes any sense? For example the men's bouldering Team A could be one 8B+/c or 5-10 8B's, maybe...

Like you said a tough one.
stp - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:

I think you have to add a competition element as so many of today's top climbers spend a lot if not all their time training and competing in comps.

Team A
Multiple wins at World Cups.
Eg: Adam Ondra, Shauna Coxey, Janja Garnbret, Tomoa Narasaki, Alexey Rubtsov

Team B
Regularly make finals but haven't won.
Eg: Fanny Gibert, Sebastian Halenke, Jessica Pilz, Tyler Landman

Team C
Regularly make semi-finals
Eg. Leah Crane, Dave Barrans

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Morriss on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:

I do think this is relevant but remember we are talking top British climbers.

For bouldering it may look something more like

A
Shauna

B
Tyler, Dave and Leah.

C
Nathan, michaela, etc etc.

I've probably missed some out and I'm sure some of the younger ones could be lay claim to a place.


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Dorchester on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:
I climb mainly v diff and severes, occasionally VS. Usually with a slight hangover but always enjoy myself.

I'm guessing that's about Team k.
Marek - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:
I thought the original classification was not so much about the grade someone climbs but more about how they got there (talent vs. graft) and what they did when they got there (new routing vs. repeating hard routes). All three class could (possibly) climb much the same grades but (A) was just born to show the rest of us how to do it, (B) was there to show us that we could do it if we really worked hard at it and (C) simply preferred to spend their time climbing proven top quality routes rather than chasing the illusive future classic or getting their name in magazines.

The tendency to perhaps idolise the A's more than the B's is just a reflection of human laziness - if you believe nature wins out over nurture then you have a ready excuse not to work so hard.

The ranking of A-->B-->C (as opposed to the classification) has more to do with the resultant influence exerted on other climbers - which of course would have put KW in a class of his own ("hors categorie" perhaps).
Post edited at 19:02
FactorXXX - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

Team A
Men: Multiple E9 / 9a/+ / 8B+/C?
Women: Multiple E8 / 8c / 8B?

Team B
Men: Multiple E8 / 8c+ / 8B?
Women: Multiple E7 / 8b/+ / 8A+?

Team C
Punters / Those who make occasional forays into the above grades?



Why the gender differentiation?
If you're basing the classifications on 'Contribution to British Climbing' which is basically what Wilson was suggesting, then shouldn't it be done on merit alone?

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john arran - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to FactorXXX:

> Why the gender differentiation?

> If you're basing the classifications on 'Contribution to British Climbing' which is basically what Wilson was suggesting, then shouldn't it be done on merit alone?

Because a girl bouldering 8B, redpointing 8c or onsighting E7 is far more inspiring to far more people than a bloke doing the same grade or the same route.
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stp - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Will Hunt:

I don't think grades are the best way to categorize for younger climbers who have not had time to climb their hardest.

Team A
Men routes: Sharma, Ondra, Megos
Men Boulder: Nalle Hukkatival, Webb, Woods
Women: Ashima, Garnbret, Coxey, Puchio)

Team B
Men: Schubert, Amma, Pringle
Women: Verhoeven, Sarkany, Marcovich, Mascarenas


stp - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Marek:

Not sure it's possible to distinguish between the talent vs graft in this day and age because all top climbers are both talented and put in a lot of graft too. If you don't have both then you siimply won't be a top climber.
GrahamD - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Aztec Bar:

> I climb mainly v diff and severes, occasionally VS. Usually with a slight hangover but always enjoy myself.

> I'm guessing that's about Team k.

Don't flatter yourself. You're with me on Z shift
Marek - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:

> ... all top climbers are both talented and put in a lot of graft ...

You may be right - I'm not that familiar with 'top climbers', I guess it depends on what you mean by 'graft'. I was looking at it from the perspective of 'and exceptional level of focused effort to overcome personal limitations'. As an example I would put Sharma in A and Macleod in B.

FactorXXX - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:
Because a girl bouldering 8B, redpointing 8c or onsighting E7 is far more inspiring to far more people than a bloke doing the same grade or the same route

If the list was for 'Inspiring People', then you might well be right.
However, if you read the classifications in the original post in this thread, then it's Edit: hard to see how some of the females mentioned would get on the ABC list.
Post edited at 19:31
Michael Gordon - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Marek:

> I was looking at it from the perspective of 'and exceptional level of focused effort to overcome personal limitations'. As an example I would put Sharma in A and Macleod in B.

Why, out of interest? Is this because she trained hard to recover from a broken leg? Many others have done the same or similar.

In terms of pushing limits and covering new ground, to be honest I can think of few candidates to better belong in the A category than MacLeod.
Michael Gordon - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to FactorXXX:
>
> Why the gender differentiation?

> If you're basing the classifications on 'Contribution to British Climbing' which is basically what Wilson was suggesting, then shouldn't it be done on merit alone?

I would have to agree. "Extended the boundaries of climbing possibility" to me would have to mean in an absolute sense, not relative to a particular gender/age group.
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Ianto Bach - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to mcdougal:
I've climbed at B Team Buttress in Pembroke, definitely not a B Team climber 😉

Another Z list wannabe here...
Marek - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Michael Gordon:
No, I just seem to remember reading in his writings somewhere that he didn't consider himself to be particularly talented but that he was good at getting the most out of what talent he had. Or words to that effect. It may of course be my dodgy memory though...
Post edited at 19:51
Michael Gordon - on 19 Oct 2016
In reply to Marek:

Yes, under Ken's 'natural talent' rule I guess he wouldn't qualify but then I'm always skeptical of such 'lack of talent' claims anyway. If not naturally technically brilliant then perhaps naturally good at improving, or has a talent for trying really hard?
stp - on 20 Oct 2016
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> I would have to agree. "Extended the boundaries of climbing possibility" to me would have to mean in an absolute sense, not relative to a particular gender/age group.

Maybe that's because you're a man and so that's what interests you more? I think women pushing the limits of what's possible for women should be seen as just as impressive. The gap between men's and women's climbing has really been closed to a very small margin over the past few decades. And that has required mental fortitude by those women responsible for that.
FactorXXX - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:

Maybe that's because you're a man and so that's what interests you more? I think women pushing the limits of what's possible for women should be seen as just as impressive. The gap between men's and women's climbing has really been closed to a very small margin over the past few decades. And that has required mental fortitude by those women responsible for that.

The top female climbers are undoubtedly impressive, but they still in the main (all?), don't meet the ABC criteria.
Michael Gordon - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:

It's not because the feats of men interest me more (they don't). I'm interested in impressive climbing feats full stop, but regardless of gender, not because of it.
galpinos on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to FactorXXX:

> The top female climbers are undoubtedly impressive, but they still in the main (all?), don't meet the ABC criteria.

As a quick challenge to the "(all?)", first free ascent of the nose?

stp - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to FactorXXX:

> The top female climbers are undoubtedly impressive, but they still in the main (all?), don't meet the ABC criteria.

Well criteria A 'who had extended the boundaries of climbing possibility' one can say they've certainly extended the boundaries of what is possible for women. Of course whether one puts men and women together or not is an arbitrary choice, neither right nor wrong. But it's pretty normal to separate men and women when it comes to sporting achievements everywhere else.

Back in Ken's day things were very different. Women's achievements (and participation) in the sport back then were so far behind as to be almost irrelevant. Things are very different today though.

john arran - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to stp:

It seems that Ken's ABC criteria reflected the inherent sexism of his era. It would be wrong to persist in using the same sexist definitions without revising them to reflect the more enlightened modern views in that regard.
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Michael Gordon - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:

Why sexist? I can't see any mention in the ABC criteria of 'he' or 'men' etc, just 'those' which could surely be either?!
Michael Gordon - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to galpinos:

> As a quick challenge to the "(all?)", first free ascent of the nose?

Or Silvia Vidal's pioneering aid climbs
john arran - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> Why sexist? I can't see any mention in the ABC criteria of 'he' or 'men' etc, just 'those' which could surely be either?!

I would have hoped it would be obvious, that the definitions given make it far harder for females to be included than for males. I'm sure it wasn't deliberate but simply am oversight based on the lack of women operating at high levels on the sport at the time. I would hope that now this is better understood we could recognise the achievements and status of talented women as much as we do talented men.
Michael Gordon - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:

> I would have hoped it would be obvious, that the definitions given make it far harder for females to be included than for males.

Wouldn't be much of an A category if it wasn't 'hard' to get into! I guess (as stp says) it's perhaps a matter of opinion, but I would always hold pioneering, adventurous climbs and first free ascents above repeats of the same route in similar style. If that excludes nearly everybody then so be it - it's an elitist topic by its very nature.

1
Goucho on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:
> It seems that Ken's ABC criteria reflected the inherent sexism of his era. It would be wrong to persist in using the same sexist definitions without revising them to reflect the more enlightened modern views in that regard.

No it didn't. It simply reflected the reality of who the top climbers were at that time. The fact that none of them would have been women, is hardly Ken Wilsons fault!
Post edited at 15:47
john arran - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to Goucho:

I was careful not to imply any fault, other than to the society of the day. Doesn't mean there wasn't inherent, underlying sexism though. I'm struggling to understand why some on here seem to think otherwise or to think that only the absolute standards should be in any way worthy of recognition, when we see so many women climbers nowadays doing so many things that a great many people - particularly girls - will find really inspiring.
Michael Gordon - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:

It perhaps depends how seriously one takes the whole ABC thing. I think, looking at it as a bit of fun (many, including me, would have worded the categories differently) I would do it on absolute standards, but then no-one is really going to change their mind about what is important and what inspires them based on this.
Goucho on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:

> I was careful not to imply any fault, other than to the society of the day. Doesn't mean there wasn't inherent, underlying sexism though. I'm struggling to understand why some on here seem to think otherwise or to think that only the absolute standards should be in any way worthy of recognition, when we see so many women climbers nowadays doing so many things that a great many people - particularly girls - will find really inspiring.

True. But isn't classifying female climbing achievements within a female context, equally sexist?

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john arran - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to Goucho:

> True. But isn't classifying female climbing achievements within a female context, equally sexist?

No
1
Mick Ward - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to john arran:

> I was careful not to imply any fault, other than to the society of the day. Doesn't mean there wasn't inherent, underlying sexism though.

John, there was certainly plenty of sexism - overt, covert, any which way! For context re the times and Ken, he once told me that his proudest achievement was (along with Al and others) paving the way for women to be allowed into the CC. And that was the 70s...

Mick
john arran - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to Mick Ward:

Thanks Mick. I'm almost old enough to have been part of that generation so I'm well aware of how much things have changed (in this case very much for the better!) and I don't doubt that KW was instrumental in helping to encourage that change.

I do still find it frustrating that we're still hearing people deny or ignore the value of women's climbing achievements simply because many men have achieved higher numbers, and not 'get' that using male achievements as the sole yardstick (in a sport where physical differences undeniably have a performance impact) will inevitably be sexist.
Mark Bannan - on 21 Oct 2016
In reply to Aztec Bar:
> I climb mainly v diff and severes, occasionally VS. Usually with a slight hangover but always enjoy myself.

> I'm guessing that's about Team k.

At least you can still climb with a hangover! I gave this up some years ago! I think you merit Team H (H for Hangover!).

Is that K for "krap"?

M
Post edited at 17:35

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