Trad E0: filling the gap between HVS and E1?

The E0 Concept: E0 would be a new grade, or rather a new minor enhancement to our grading system. It is conceived to neatly fit into the gap between HVS and E1, to accurately grade routes that are currently too hard for HVS but too easy for E1, and to reduce argument and confusion about such routes. (For a completely different point of view of what E0 should mean, read Charles Arthur's article.)


How it came about:

I came up with the idea independently - in the shower I believe, whilst pondering on grades and ethics as I spend most of my life doing). No doubt many others have come up with the same idea, but only I have announced it with such pomposity and arrogance and managed to alienate so many climbers in a public forum. As follows:

Some anticipation to E0 was built up in these posts: first by pylon king, second by myself and third by myself

E0 was then revealed by a simple list of E0 routes.

There then followed an fair amount of overreaction and outright indignation which occasionally hid some genuine criticism in this thread, that thread and the other thread.

So let's put it all here.

Why E0? Because...

  • it provides a more accurate grade in an area where it's needed most
  • contentiously graded routes around HVS and E1 show that there is a need for more accurate grades in that area. E0 supplies it. Grades are about supplying accurate information to climbers so they know what they are getting and should attempt to climb. If a minor improvement in a problem area can supply that information better, that is reason in itself to make that improvement.
  • having it would resolve many classic grade debates at that standard.

Unknown climber topping out on Crescent Arete
Sure, debating grades is fun. But the arguments about many HVS or E1 grades are becoming repetitive and are so easily avoidable with an E0 grade - reading almost all of them, the idea "This wouldn't be argued over if there was a grade between HVS and E1" springs to mind with inevitable clarity. People won't have to be worried about claiming an E1 that was really too easy for that grade, they won't need to complain that an HVS 5b they tried was way too desperate. Problems solved.

Provides a smoother transition to E-grades
Climbers often regard moving into the mystical E grades as a big and intimidating leap. HVS is where normal climbing stops and E1 is where things start getting hard. Well they no longer have to be intimidated with an E0 grade that bridges the gap and provides a smooth path into Extreme climbing.

Reduces the importance of E-point collecting
Climbing...ticking...grades... It can all get a bit nerdy, especially when people start collecting E points or boasting about how they are an E-grade climber. An E0 grade neatly side-steps this issue by blurring the starting point for E-grade climbs. How many E-points do you get for E0? Do you start being an E-grade climber at E0? Forget it. It doesn't matter. Just get out and enjoy your climbing and worry less about the ticking.

Slows the continual upgrading of HVS and may encourage subtle downgrading of suitable E1s
Upgrading is epidemic. How and why it happens and how, why and whether it should be stopped are all interesting issues. Some nasty HVS 5bs have been prime candidates for upgrading, whilst some easy E1s have been overlooked as potential downgrades, but often neither need to change by a full grade. Hence E0 allows those hard HVSs to go up a little but not too far, and allows those E1s to go down a little without creating sandbags or messing up the status quo.

Fits into a historic continuum
How E0 fits in is not as peculiar as people may think. Diff - HD - VD - Mild Severe - S - HS -Mild Very Severe - VS - HVS - Mild E1(i.e. E0 E1... A "mild" grade has been used when VD and S or HS and VS have not been accurate enough E grades didn't have numbers when they were first developed; see older copies of Hard Rock), so why not the same for HVS and E1?

Doesn't break, confuse or otherwise obfuscate our very good grading system
The British grading system is excellent. Not perfect, as there are a lot of words when simple letters or numbers would do, but the combination of adjectival and technical grades gives unparalled information for trad routes. E0 slides neatly in: it does not attempt to override current grades, interfere with the adjectival/technical grade relationship, supply superfluous information, change the way the system works on anything else damaging. It's a simple, small, useful change, that's all.


The five criticisms, and their refutation

  1. "There's no such gap between HVS and E1, and even if there is such a gap, there's an equal gap between other grades"
  2. Firstly, the amount of debate about certain routes around those grades indicates there is a gap. If contested routes fitted comfortably in either HVS or E1, people wouldn't argue about them. And people argue around those grades more than other grades; hence there is either a bigger gap there or see below) a bigger issue with those grades. Secondly, the ease of grading contentious routes as E0 show it's useful for fitting in that gap. Next time you're out and you find a really soft touch E1 or a heinous HVS, try thinking of it as E0 and see how easy it is. If there wasn't a gap there it would seem artificial to think of such routes as E0, but that it works shows there's a gap there.



  3. "Even if there's more argument around those grades, that's only because more people climb around those grades. People argue most around those grades because breaking into E-grades is a big step"
  4. So what?? Grades are there to serve climbers, to inform them, to provide an accurate idea on how hard a climb is. If it happens that there is an "apparent" gap around HVS to E1 because of popularity or because of climbers' perceptions, then that is a good reason in itself to have more accurate grading at that standard. If climbers need more accuracy in a certain area and the debates show they do), then give it to them.



  5. "Adding an extra grade will only encourage twice as much debate"
  6. It shouldn't. Sure, there will be a little bit of debate, but the classic HVS/E1 debates will be resolved. And don't forget, E0 is making grading more accurate around those grades. That's the whole point - the gaps between the grades will be smaller so there will be less to quibble over.



  7. "It's stupid inventing another grade, grades are fine as they are"
  8. Actually grades have evolved continually throughout time. Easy, Moderate, Difficult. Then Very Difficult, then Severe, then adding "Hard" or "Mild" to those grades, then Extremely Severe, then subdividing that into E number grades and adding technical grades. To say nothing of sport grades, bouldering grades, P grades, deep water solo grades and God knows what else. Against a backdrop of such improvements, E0 not only fits in well but is a minor and much more innocuous improvement.



  9. "How can you possibly advocate a new grade when you moan so much about bouldering grades?!"
  10. Hush, FH.


Some E0 routes

Here's a few suggested candidates for E0, mostly in the Peak District but I'm sure there are many others elsewhere. Some routes are the classic conentious routes, others are ones which have been upgraded in recent guides with some disagreement following that, and a few are less argued-over but fit nicely as E0 climbs.


Route Crag Present grade
Aeroflot Over Owler Tor E1 5b/c
Anniversary Arete Stanage High Neb E1 5b
Billingsgate Millstone Edge HVS 5b
Cent Stanage High Neb E1 5b
Crescent Arete Stanage Plantation HVS 5b
Dexterity Millstone Edge HVS 5b
Flying Buttress Direct Stanage Popular End E1 5b
Kirkus's Corner Stanage Popular End E1 5b
The Link Stanage Popular End HVS 5b
Namenlos Stanage Popular End E1 5a
Orpheus Wall Birchen HVS 5c
Ratline Birchen E1 5b
Roof Route Rivelin Edge HVS 5b
The Sloth Roaches Upper Tier HVS 5b
Surform Higgar Tor E1 5b
Three Pebble Slab Froggatt Edge E1 5a
The Vice Stanage End HVS 5b
Pocket Symphony Beeston Tor E1 5b
Ping Pong Water Cum Jolly E1 5b
The Nails Staden Quarry E1 5b
Crease Direct Crookrise HVS 6a
Fishladder Earl Crag E1 5b
The Hotline Rylstone E1 5b
Gundabad Goblin Combe E1 5b
The Arrow St Govan's Head, Pembroke E1 5b
Rock Idol Mother Carey's Kitchen, Pembroke HVS 5a
Fool's Gold Bus Stop Quarry, Llanberis E1 5c

Welcome to the bright, happy, and accurately graded future.

What did you think?

Trad E0: Something completely different?

Charles Arthur says E0 exists as a climbing grade outside normal space-time (or somesuch nonsense). The other side to the debate!

Have you ever noticed that when children learn to count, they always start - and are always taught - from 1? It's a sign of increasing maturity when you move on to 0, and all that it implies (see note). Zero isn't really a number, in the sense that it's more the absence of a number, a place in the middle of the counting line where other numbers don't want to be. Minus one? That's a number - an anti-number. Plus one? Yup, know that. Zero? It's a not-there number.


And what has that got to do with climbing? Well, I think I've done E0 routes. Yes, they were extreme; in fact, Extreme. But they stood outside climbing, just as 0 stands (if you're into mathematical philosophy) outside the line of integers.

Nick Smith leading the marvellous offwidth Elder Crack (E2 5b) at Curbar
© Alan James
Fiend argues that E0 fills a gap in a line, so that HVS is a sort of "E -1". I don't think it works like that. It's entirely different. I've climbed all over the place, and certain routes really stand out in my memory. Is it because they wonderful marvels of technical climbing, about finding the perfect balance point for a rockover? Nope, it's because they were bloody vile struggles. Some of them enjoyably, perversely vile, but struggles nonetheless.

At a time when I could happily whizz up an E2 involving serious crimping, I cursed and squeezed my way up Grey Slab, allegedly a Severe taking the wide crack to the right of Three Pebble Slab at Froggatt. Halfway up it, solo, I began to wonder quite how feasible retreat was, because advance didn't seem that likely. It was all a far cry from the time when I had done Nanoq Slab - an E1 5b on the slab just a yard or two to its right. That is an edgy solo, but if you stick to climbing principles (such as, weight on your feet, stay calm, and so on) then you'll reach the top safely. On Grey Slab, I wondered quite how long rescue might take to reach me, and how large a crane would be needed to extricate me from that crack, whose appetite didn't seem to stop at my legs; my hips were gradually heading inward too. Eyeing Nanoq Slab, which might as well have been on the other side of the world for all that I could get at it, I knew which climb I'd rather be on.

I did manage eventually to emerge from Grey Slab, sweating rather more than I'd expected. More than Severe? You'd have trouble finding a standard Friend, or hex, to fit that crack. HVS? Well, not that sort of climbing. E1? No, not that either. As a climbing experience, it really stood outside climbing. It was a classic E0: somewhere in the line of grades, yet outside it too.

I'm sure everyone has come across routes like that. I think the first I found was Under Milk Wood, allegedly VS 4b, at Three Cliffs Bay. Unlike all the other routes (up to VS, plus one very easy HVS, which I'd soloed very happily - OK, apart from the E4), I geared up on this one, which heads upwards into the maw of the cave, hopefully to emerge from a tiny hole at the top. I realised pretty soon that there wasn't much chance I'd make it. More likely, unless I did some very smart contortionist tricks, I'd become irreparably stuck.

I turned back, and when I got the chance had another look at the guidebook to find out who the first ascenionist was. Ah - Richard McEligott of the London Mountaineering Club. I'm not saying Richard's small, but he probably gets turned away from some fairground rides when he takes the kids. Under Milk Wood is classic E0 to me - you can do it or you can't, and skill has nothing at all to do with it. Your stick-thin non-climbing noodle will do it; John Dunne will turn back.

It can work the other way too. In the essay in Extreme Rock about Elder Crack (E2 5b) at |Curbar (on the cover of the old guidebook), the writer asks Joe Brown - who did it first - what the grade should really be. "It was VS when we did it," snaps Brown. So it must be easier now, right?

Having been up it, I can say that it probably hasn't changed since Brown's day. It's a long struggle, where the principal skill required is having big legs or multiple layers of clothing on, followed by a brief technical move (it earns the 5b), followed by a slightly easier struggle. E2? Depends what sort of gear you have. With modern enormous SLCDs, it's safe as houses. But it's a fight.

Do you see a pattern emerging here? It's not about the "grade". It's just about the fight. It's "E for Effort", but 0 for technical anything. It's like an ice dancer falling on their arse. I haven't done Preposterous Tales at (more like "in") Bosherston Head at Pembroke, but the description of this HVS 5a sounds like an utter E0 to me.

Why E0? Because it's a grade descriptive of something that lies outside climbing. I think it's rather like HXS, which carries echoes of the wartime UXB - unexploded bomb - for routes whose existence is doubtful, especially if you get on them. With E0s, you know you're getting on something where your usual wall-honed skills may well be mostly useless.

So that's my case. Some routes just defy our attempts to grade them. We might as well accept the fact, and give our system a kink. If nothing else, it'll help to confuse the tourists. Not that we exactly lag in that department..

Some E0 routes for your delectation:

Route Crag Present grade
Grey Slab Froggatt Severe
Verandah Buttress Stanage Popular Hard V Diff 5b
Elder Crack Curbar Edge E2 5b
Under Milk Wood Three Cliffs Bay VS 4b
Preposterous Tales (?) Bosherston Head, Pembroke HVS 5a

OK, so it isn't nearly as many as Fiend suggests. But then again, we are talking about exceptional routes that defy normal grading. Perhaps Cave Wall (presently E3) at Froggatt should be on it? I don't know, I haven't done it. But I'm sure you'll be able to think easily of routes that merit this most perverse of all grades.

NOTE - Previously this article started off by saying "Ask a mathematician what sort of number 0 is, and you'll get what might be a surprising answer: it isn't." However, that was wrong - hence I've changed it, though some comments in the discussion refer to the earlier wrong version. Ah well - CA.

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