UKC

Grades on Southern Sandstone

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When we published Southern Sandstone in 2017 we chose to give all the routes a sport grade. This was a big move since traditionally the area has developed its own unique grading system (although one previous book had used sport grades).

The standard in the area for years has been the UK Tech grade more commonly seen as the second part of a UK trad grade ie. 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c. Additionally, the only accepted climbing style on Southern Sandstone is top-roping and a sport grade is more generally used for lead routes.

Our thinking for this change was for a number of reasons.
1) The rise in standards means that the top UK Tech grades have become very compressed with an ever-increasing gap between 'easy for the grade' and 'hard for the grade', especially at 6b and 6c.
2) The UK Tech grade was intended as a measure of the hardest single move on a route, a function which it does admirably on trad routes throughout the country. On Southern Sandstone the grade has morphed into something that tried in places to take account of the overall difficulty of a route. This made it confusing to grade something with a single 6a move compared to one with five 6a moves on the trot. Giving both 6a is confusing, but giving the second one 6b is taking the UK Tech grade away from its intended use.
3) Sport grades are excellent at giving a single difficulty rating as to how hard a route actually is. In our example case the one-move 6a might be given sport 6b+ and the five-move 6a might be given 7a or more.
4) Sport grades are well known to all climbers now being the standard method of grading at climbing walls.

Having said this we recognised in the print version in 2017 that this was not a perfect process and it could take some time to establish accurate sport grades. To aid in this process we published both grades on routes in the book and have put out an invite for feedback to help establish a consensus on sport grades.

Guidebook author Daimon Beail has written more about this here - http://www.southernsandstoneclimbs.co.uk/p/grades.html

When we released the digital version of Southern Sandstone the technical requirements meant that we were unable to include both grades so we opted just for the sport grade as this is more familiar to the bulk of our users.

There has been some negative feedback on this so we wanted to open up the issue to debate. The poll I have attached is deliberately narrow and is only to give us a rough indication.

We welcome input from everyone.

Alan

Post edited at 15:18

What is the best grading system for routes on Southern Sandstone?

UK Tech Grade
121 votes | %
Sport Grade
196 votes | %
Login to vote
 nomisb 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

If it ain't broke....

Not all climbing is sport climbing. Most SS routes tend to be short anyway so the hardest move argument is usually voided by a quick look at a good guide book like the climbers club one.

This appears to be change for change sake.

 Jamie Wakeham 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

If you can't give both as 'official' grades within the app, why not leave the grade as sport grade (as it currently is) but begin the text of every route description with the UK tech grade? That's a way to distinguish between the sustained and the crux-y. 

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

Give 'em V/font grades, like what they'd get in t'peak

Post edited at 16:48
 Fishmate 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

> If you can't give both as 'official' grades within the app, why not leave the grade as sport grade (as it currently is) but begin the text of every route description with the UK tech grade? That's a way to distinguish between the sustained and the crux-y. 


This is a good workable solution. The difference between the softer 6a's, Forget-me-not and the harder end, e.g. Sossblitz is exactly the reason why the sport grade works. By telling someone you've climbed both routes at 6a simply doesn't mean anything due the difference in difficulty.

I appreciate that for those who have climbed with the tech grade for decades, the system may be fine as it is and we know for many climbing a route is more important than the grade it represents. However it's equally ok to request greater definition when establishing a routes difficulty and the sport grade offers this.

To add, a lot of SS erosion is obviously caused by people dogging routes. On more than one occasion I've politely asked someone not to hang on the rope and this has been met by, "I climb 6a indoors". The newb climber not understanding that they are climbing 6a tech and not sport. This suggests to me that using the sport grade will help those who feel learning the SS code isn't necessary to pick more suitable routes in their ability range.

 Brown 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

My big problem with the use of sports grades related to the huge inconsistency in their adoption.

I struggle to see how you can have arrived at sports grades for the whole of Southern Sandstone (inclusive of out of condition routes which appear not to have been climbed for years) without just guessing them based on the tech grade.

As such it appeared pointless revisionism.

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

While the regular Sandstoners may understand the nuances of our old grading system Sport Grading goes more with the feel of the whole route and is probably more accurate...

 deacondeacon 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

A sport grade gives much more accuracy to the difficulty of a route. The English technical grade is far too wide in the higher grades. I've said this before on other subject but if a route is graded English 7a  it could be anything from weekend warrior level to world class professional level. English 6c isn't much better where it could be anything from Font6C to Font 7C.

Personally I think routes that usually get climbed above a mat should get a Font Grade and routes that usually get climbed on a rope should get a sport grade. It'll only confuse the beginners on their first visit. 

 PaulW 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I would have thought it was more of an issue if it was a problem at novice level grades.

If you are climbing 6b+ to 7a sport you must have an idea what you are doing.

And southern sandstone is not like alpine routes where confusing grading can lead to dangerous situations.

Does it really matter?

 deacondeacon 29 Jan 2021
In reply to PaulW:

The whole point of grades is to give the climber an idea of how difficult a particular route is.  In your case you may as well not have any grades at all. 

 mcdougal 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I can't understand why UK tech grades can't be fixed. If Rockfax have found it possible to assign French sport grades to old routes, then why not transpose back again and start to fix UK tech grading? 

 john arran 29 Jan 2021
In reply to mcdougal:

> I can't understand why UK tech grades can't be fixed. If Rockfax have found it possible to assign French sport grades to old routes, then why not transpose back again and start to fix UK tech grading? 

For me the question to be asking would be: why?

Tech grades should always have been cumulative difficulty rather than hardest move, since the difficulty of the hardest move in isolation is pretty much irrelevant unless it's straight off the ground or from a no-hands rest. That's the reason sport grades - or V/font grades for short lines - have become so ubiquitous, as they describe the actual difficulty of getting up a route by someone actually trying to do so. Not by someone hanging on a rope thinking 'I wonder what this would feel like if I hadn't just done the unavoidable moves into it?'

It isn't rocket science. The only hard thing to understand about it is why it's taken/taking so long for UK tech grades to die out.

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I've just deleted my last post, because even though I climbed on s/e sandstone for 50 years and made what I thought were some valid points, I was immediately told to f off. This website really has become a waste of time. A literal WASTE of time.

I see the same negativity runs right through this thread. There seems no point whatever in anyone making a positive contribution. It's all about sneering and aggression now. Conversation next to impossible.

Post edited at 22:57
 Munch 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

My main issue with using sport grades is that people coming from indoor walls think they can climb grade x on plastic, so must be able to climb it outside. Earlier this year, there was a guy dogging the Flakes at Harrisons over and over, jumping around and yanking on the flakes. When it was suggested that he should treat the thin flakes carefully, his reply included some choice words about how he comfortably climbs 6c normally, so it should be easy for him.

The argument that people get the grades confused is pretty thin in my opinion. Someone climbing F6a will quickly find that UK 6a is a good bit harder and try something else. 

Post edited at 22:57
In reply to Munch:

What a brilliant, beautiful route The Flakes was. I say 'was' because I can't see it lasting much longer in this modern age of selfish aggressive thickos.

Post edited at 23:18
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

By applying a sport grade people approach ss routes as sport climbs, dogging and working the routes to death.....this ain't sustainable and should never have been introduced. Sport grades are for sport routes that you lead why anyone ever thought they should be applied to ss is beyond me.

 wbo2 29 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH. or rather those objecting to sport grades - then why not a Font boulder grade? Again it tells you how hard a route is rather than the not especially useful single grade.  And personally I feel a Font grade is more in character

 gallam1 29 Jan 2021
 gallam1 30 Jan 2021
In reply to carnie:

> By applying a sport grade people approach ss routes as sport climbs, dogging and working the routes to death.....this ain't sustainable and should never have been introduced. Sport grades are for sport routes that you lead why anyone ever thought they should be applied to ss is beyond me.

People have been working Southern Sandstone routes in the same way that French sports climbers started working limestone since at least the early 1960s (and almost certainly before that).  That is why there were so many world-class technical standard routes on Southern Sandstone.

Post edited at 00:13
In reply to gallam1:

That's good. What's so funny about that bloke Munch mentioned is that the flakes part of the route is not even the 6a bit! It's sustained 5c. The bulge at the top is good solid 6a.

 Bbq 30 Jan 2021

While we are at it lets just pointlessly  change the grit to sport grades or Hueco to font grades as well. 

 ChrisLeigh19 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

In my (brief) experience sandstone routes are both short and incredibly specific, with the smallest of details-whether that be conditions, the degrading holds or key beta-having a huge impact over a successful send. When I first started climbing on Southern Sandstone, one of the first things I asked my partner was why they didn't use sport grades. At the time-having never trad climbed before-I struggled to understand the UK tech grading system, but as my competency (slowly) improved, I really started to appreciate its relevance.

Due to the short nature and somewhat awkward technique, two sandstone routes, both graded at the same sport level, can IMO be drastically different. Although 2 or 3 5c moves might equal the same sport grade as a single 6a move climb, due to the fickle nature of the rock these climbs can feel drastically different due to the large range that the technical grades cover. However, having used the Rockfax guide extensively, I have found the combination of both the sport grades and the technical grades to be extremely useful in determining what type of climb one is tackling. I personally think the best move is to just use both grades in conjunction as together they portray the best picture of the climb.

 Michael Gordon 30 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

> Tech grades should always have been cumulative difficulty rather than hardest move, since the difficulty of the hardest move in isolation is pretty much irrelevant unless it's straight off the ground or from a no-hands rest. That's the reason sport grades - or V/font grades for short lines - have become so ubiquitous, as they describe the actual difficulty of getting up a route by someone actually trying to do so. Not by someone hanging on a rope thinking 'I wonder what this would feel like if I hadn't just done the unavoidable moves into it?'> 

UK tech grades work really well for most trad climbers. The sustainedness/strenuousness is taken into account in the E grade. And grades are usually assigned by climbers leading a pitch and saying 'that felt 6a', not by hanging on a rope.

As for Southern Sandstone, that's a different kettle of fish. I guess people will vote with their wallets re different guidebook options.

 Blanche DuBois 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> I've just deleted my last post, because even though I climbed on s/e sandstone for 50 years and made what I thought were some valid points, I was immediately told to f off. This website really has become a waste of time. A literal WASTE of time.

That makes no sense.  You made an (apparently) decent post, yet someone told to to "f off"?  So you deleted the post, but decided to post about you deleting the post and in so doing repeated the offensive phrase directed towards you?  That's nuts. Either leave the post so we can all see what a dick this other person was, or delete it and keep quiet, or leave it and get the mods to delete the offensive reply (I assume you did the latter at least, as it no longer appears to exist - unless you have some mechanism of deleting other people's posts, in which case please share - there's lots of other people's posts on here that I'd like to delete!).

> I see the same negativity runs right through this thread. There seems no point whatever in anyone making a positive contribution. It's all about sneering and aggression now. Conversation next to impossible.

followed by:

>  I can't see it lasting much longer in this modern age of selfish aggressive thickos.

Err - a bit self-referential, but OK.

 john arran 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon:

> UK tech grades work really well for most trad climbers. The sustainedness/strenuousness is taken into account in the E grade. And grades are usually assigned by climbers leading a pitch and saying 'that felt 6a', not by hanging on a rope.

Sport grades work really well for most trad climbers. The danger is taken into account in the E grade. And grades are usually assigned by climbers leading a pitch and saying 'that felt 6a', not by hanging on a rope.

I'm not seeing any argument in favour of tech grades there.

Post edited at 09:44
 wbo2 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Michael Gordon: The different kettle of fish. that's the issue isn't it.  There's no overall grade that the tech grade supplements.

 LJH 30 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

Maybe subjective to you personal strengths/weaknesses.

I tend to like the tech grade. I know I just can't do trad tech 6c moves (pumped or not). I often find peak trad can be pretty cruxy, split with more than reasonable rests.

On sport at 7b/7c it can be difficult to know if it's a pump fest or if there could just be a stopper (6c) move. Obviously you soon find out, but I can't see it in the grade.

Have always thought a pump grade would help. Suppose that's maybe just my perspective because little short of power but have decent fitness/recovery rates.

 Martin Hore 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> That's good. What's so funny about that bloke Munch mentioned is that the flakes part of the route is not even the 6a bit! It's sustained 5c. The bulge at the top is good solid 6a.

This reminded me of my own attempts to climb The Flakes when I was a "local" back in the 70's. For several months I would try the route every visit. I could get up to and across the flakes first attempt most times but would then fail at the bulge. I could never get a second attempt at the bulge because my ethic then was to be lowered right down (and if I remember correctly, failing at the bulge left you hanging helplessly in space anyway). I was then too knackered to reclimb the flakes! Eventually I strung it all together - yipee - and never failed on the route afterwards. (That was then, of course. I would certainly fail now......)

Martin

 djlex 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I think the UK tech grade works really well, of course you can get sandbagged by some climbs but that's half the fun! The sport grades for ss seems a bit like a vanity thing for those who like to hear higher numbers in their grades.

 deacondeacon 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> I've just deleted my last post, because even though I climbed on s/e sandstone for 50 years and made what I thought were some valid points, I was immediately told to f off. This website really has become a waste of time. A literal WASTE of time.

Who told you to f-off? If that was the case, there's a little 'report' button at the bottom of each post. That's what it's there for.

I'm not going to big up UKC too much but there's a Lot more to UKC than just the forum (which is great anyway, if people don't get their Knickers in a twist and take things personally).

The logbooks are an absolutely amazing resource giving us more information than any other climbing website on the planet (unless I've missed some).

In reply to deacondeacon:

Agreed. The logbooks are brilliant.

 deacondeacon 30 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

> Sport grades work really well for most trad climbers. The danger is taken into account in the E grade. And grades are usually assigned by climbers leading a pitch and saying 'that felt 6a', not by hanging on a rope.

Exactly! Technical grades work well up to about English 5c or 6a. Above that they're useless. 

 Martin Hore 30 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

> For me the question to be asking would be: why?

> Tech grades should always have been cumulative difficulty rather than hardest move, since the difficulty of the hardest move in isolation is pretty much irrelevant unless it's straight off the ground or from a no-hands rest........

> It isn't rocket science. The only hard thing to understand about it is why it's taken/taking so long for UK tech grades to die out.

UK tech grades actually were originally about cumulative difficulty. I've quoted this sentence from Alec Sharpe's 1976 Cloggy guide before on here, but it's worth repeating. "The numerical grades refer to the difficulty of top-roping the climb and so the strenuousness of the climb is an important factor on the steeper routes." 

I've been happily relying on UK tech grades for trad ever since, and haven't been unduly affected by the switch from their original to their current (hardest move) meaning, as I don't generally climb routes steep enough for it to make a big difference. But I now agree with you it's time to seriously consider abandoning the UK tech grade completely and grading trad with an overall "E" grade and a "Sport" grade defining the difficulty of top-roping or seconding the route. The relationship between the E grade and the Sport grade would then just measure seriousness, rather than seriousness + strenuousness as at present. 

To those who say Sport grades are for leading and can't be applied to top-roping, I would suggest, controversially I appreciate, that leading a sport route, especially with the draws in place, is closer to top-roping on southern sandstone than to leading on poorly protected trad.

I think it will take a guidebook publisher willing to publish a trad guide with a new grading system for the change to take place. It's not likely to be achieved by debating - politely or otherwise - on here.

So, to answer Alan's original post, I'd say go for it. Try grading Southern Sandstone with Sport grades only. It's interesting to read Alan saying that somehow the southern sandstone grading has "morphed" into something describing the difficulty of the whole route. I think it was always so. The southern sandstone grades existed before UK tech grades, and the first UK tech grades were based on those already in use on sandstone, which in turn had been brought to southern sandstone from France. I believe by Nea Morin. If I'm right, both UK trad grades and Sport grades have the same origin, somewhere in France - possibly Fontainebleau - sometime before the second world war. 

Martin

In reply to Martin Hore:

> So, to answer Alan's original post, I'd say go for it. Try grading Southern Sandstone with Sport grades only. It's interesting to read Alan saying that somehow the southern sandstone grading has "morphed" into something describing the difficulty of the whole route. I think it was always so. The southern sandstone grades existed before UK tech grades, and the first UK tech grades were based on those already in use on sandstone, which in turn had been brought to southern sandstone from France. I believe by Nea Morin. If I'm right, both UK trad grades and Sport grades have the same origin, somewhere in France - possibly Fontainebleau - sometime before the second world war. 

I stand corrected - thanks for that Martin. That is a good historical perspective.

Alan

 deacondeacon 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Martin Hore:

I'm right, both UK trad grades and Sport grades have the same origin, somewhere in France - possibly Fontainebleau - sometime before the second world war. 

I wonder why we ended up messing ours up so much when both the French and the Font grade system works so well (mostly🙂). 

I guess we were just stubborn about breaking into English 6c and then again into English 7a.

Thanks everyone for the good discussion so far.

Overall I am not seeing much in the way of argument for continued use of the single UK Tech grade here. Nostalgia and "it's not broke" don't really cut the mustard since it obviously is a bit broke from any perspective. It is also not without precedent to have a fundamental change in grading systems as we have done with both sport climbing and bouldering in the last 30 years. I certainly don't buy this idea that it encourages an overt 'project' approach since that is inherent in top-roping anyway.

I find John Arran's opinion very interesting. I don't share his idea that the UK Tech grade is fundamentally broken and should be replaced since I think it still serves a purpose in trad climbing, especially in the middle grades, and that purpose is best served by it retaining its now clearly latter-day meaning of 'the hardest single move'. HVS 4c, HVS 5a, HVS 5b and HVS 5c are clearly different things that most slightly experienced trad climbers will instantly be able to appreciate.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that John, as much as anyone, has come close to literally breaking the grading systems (if such a thing were possible) with some of his first ascents. By pushing the top standard to a point where the trad grade simply didn't work he was even forced to come up with a new 'H' system at one point to keep quiet those harassing him for a grade of his latest new route. H meaning 'head' since E and a tech grade didn't really cover it anymore.

So he certainly a person we should listen to when it comes to top-standard grades. And it is the top-standard grades where the UK Tech system was failing on Southern Sandstone which is acknowledged even by those posting in support of it.

Alan

In reply to mcdougal:

> I can't understand why UK tech grades can't be fixed. If Rockfax have found it possible to assign French sport grades to old routes, then why not transpose back again and start to fix UK tech grading? 

To do that you would add a load of grades above 6c which would be in the format 7a, 7b, 7c, 8a, etc. and shove the other grades back down a bit. Sort of looks like a sport grade by the time you have done that.

Alan

In reply to ChrisLeigh19:

> However, having used the Rockfax guide extensively, I have found the combination of both the sport grades and the technical grades to be extremely useful in determining what type of climb one is tackling. I personally think the best move is to just use both grades in conjunction as together they portray the best picture of the climb.

I can see there is merit in this. It would be possible to do it in the app however we are very reluctant since it adds a level of complexity to something that is already getting over complicated. Basically it would mean creating a new grading system specifically for Southern Sandstone (even if it looked like UK Tech on the surface) and that has numerous knock-ons with regard to filters, graphics, etc.

Alan

 Michael Gordon 30 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

> Sport grades work really well for most trad climbers.>

On sport routes, yes.

 Trangia 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> That's good. What's so funny about that bloke Munch mentioned is that the flakes part of the route is not even the 6a bit! It's sustained 5c. The bulge at the top is good solid 6a.

Completely agree. I used to be able to reach the bulge, as you say sustained 5c, but never succeeded on the bulge. It felt like 6a when struggling on it, but I never discovered how much of his was due to an increase in difficulty, or an increase in knackeredness on my part! 

The example of Slim Finger Crack given in the OP is interesting. I found getting into the off balance layback by far the hardest move at 5c. Conversely, I never found the finish so difficult as by then I had recovered my strength enough do it.

The Niblick at 5b was, in my opinion, perfectly graded, and could be used as one of the best yardsticks on grading at Harrison's. In over 60 years of climbing on Southern Sandstone it became my favourite followed closely by Birchden Wall (5b), Diversion (5c), Isolated Buttress Climb (4c), Birchden Corner  (5c) Cowborough Corner (5c) , Wailing Wall (5c), Far Left (5c), Elementary (5c), Unclimbed Wall (5b), Bulging Wall(5c)and Zig Zag (5a). at other outcrops the grading pattern was consistent Banana mostly (5b with a 6a finish) at Bowles, Sapper  (4c) or (5b) depending on the start, and the variety of routes on Henesey Wall/Larchant (varying from 4c to 5b) This consistency in grading extended to High Rocks eg Hut Boulder with routes varying from the "easy" Crack Route (4c) to put the route up to Pussy Foot and Swing Face (both at 5b) and Roof Route (5a) on the back wall.

Similarly the grading at Bulls Hollow and Stone Farm is consistent, although I always felt many of the routes at Bulls Hollow were undergraded due to the almost permanent dampness there, and patches of soft rock.

Overall I found the Tech grading on SS was perfect and worked very well for me over the 50 years that I climbed there. SS is unique anyway, the type of rock and style of climbing is unlike anything else I have climbed on. It takes a bit of getting used to, and I think it's a mistake to try and compare it with anything else.

I have most of the guide books published in the last half century or so including Pyatt's  1956 guide. The Introductions discuses grading and shows the following table:-

Moderate(and easy)                       1A

Moderately Difficult                        1B

Difficult ,easy                                   2A

Difficult, hard                                   2B

Very Difficult, easy                            3A

Very Difficult, medium                      3B                             

Very Difficult. hard                             4A

Severe, easy                                       4B

Severe, medium                                 5A

Severe hard                                        5B

Very Severe                                          6                                   

There is no doubt that by today's standards this old grading system has lost it's way particularly for the higher grades from about 3b onwards, and it is a mistake to even attempt to compare grades with traditional trad grades, and has been for decades. However the existing tech grades are good and consistent even if they are now unique to SS. 

So long as as this is realised by people climbing there, they work well, and I would be in favour of retaining them, because changing them now over half a century on would lead to confusion, and would make comparisons with historical SS climbing even more confusing. 

As has been shown by the emergence of sport and tech grades which vary from country to country it is impossible to have a "one size fits all" unless comparing like with like when it comes to trying to compare differing crag features, types of rock and climbing techniques (top roping, leading, sport, bouldering etc.

And to return to my choice of a representative climb for the grade The Niblick was graded as (5c) in 1956, it is now (5b) in my Climber's Club 7th Edition of 2008  ! And Slim Finger Crack was (5c) in 1956 and was still (5c) in 2008! 

 willpitt07 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

To be honest I think the 'if it's not broke' argument is actually pretty valid in this case. IMO the tech grades on SS work. 5c is 5c and 6a is 6a. As another poster has already said the grades are consistent within the bracket of SS climbing. I'm not defending the tech grade because of nostalgia (I'm 19 and have only been climbing for 4/5 years), it just works...

Admittedly, I haven't climbed harder than 6b on SS so I can't comment on the upper grades.

I think you found a workable solution to those not familiar with the intricacies of SS tech grades in applying both the sport and tech grade in the most recent guidebook. I can only speak from my experience but despite owning your guide I haven't once looked at the sport grades, which I would have done if I thought it would make things easier. With SS the routes are short so I find the tech grade actually works well and has become its own micrograding system. 

Just my opinion.

 ZacMoss 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I'm local to sandstone and over the summer I used the rockfax book every day - never used the sport grades once.

Having said that I think sport grades are a far more sensible way of grading than just tech grades - there is so much variation within a UK tech grade, Forget Me Not and Toevice are the same grade as Right Unclimbed and Crucifix - how does that tell you anything about the difficulty?

One problem with the current guidebook is that the grades are not accurate or really representative of the difficulty and are clearly applied very loosely in bands, with UK 6a getting anywhere between French 6c ('soft' 6a) and 7a+ ('hard' 6a). Once you realise that it's difficult to take them seriously, especially once you start comparing them to grades around the country. Completely subjective, but Forget Me Not is not French 6c of anyone's money (French 6a+ or 6b tops surely!!), and the Flakes, despite having a properly thuggy and genuine UK 6a crux, is not French 7a at all, probably more like French 6c.

The flipside to all this is that once you climb on sandstone for long enough you start to learn what is soft and hard for the grade anyway from the community, so you get that information through word of mouth.

Getting it right would take someone with a strong familiarity not only with southern sandstone but with sport climbing grading to be able to marry the two in a way that makes sense to everyone.

 ChrisLeigh19 30 Jan 2021
In reply to ZacMoss:

Can't comment on Toevice but Forget Me Not has to be a misgrade

 willpitt07 30 Jan 2021
In reply to ZacMoss:

Forget Me Not is more like 5b. I think it's just a mistake. Unless the top out was a 6a move before the great concrete jug was installed.

> Getting it right would take someone with a strong familiarity not only with southern sandstone but with sport climbing grading to be able to marry the two in a way that makes sense to everyone.

Or we could just use an established grading system that makes sense on SS. Uk tech? Maybe that is a ridiculous suggestion ;)

In reply to Jamie Wakeham:

Agreed. You have to give both..well not have to but....

sport grades aren’t at their best for either short routes or cruxy routes, which seems to sum up most 0f SS, but with tech grade inclusion it makes more sense even with ‘compression’ (which seems to have been around a 6b/6c for about 30 years - I think we can safely say it’s extended a bit!)

Post edited at 21:10
 ZacMoss 30 Jan 2021
In reply to willpitt07:

I mean, it doesn't really make sense, hence this entire discussion.

 Martin Hore 30 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

> I find John Arran's opinion very interesting. I don't share his idea that the UK Tech grade is fundamentally broken and should be replaced since I think it still serves a purpose in trad climbing, especially in the middle grades, and that purpose is best served by it retaining its now clearly latter-day meaning of 'the hardest single move'. HVS 4c, HVS 5a, HVS 5b and HVS 5c are clearly different things that most slightly experienced trad climbers will instantly be able to appreciate.

I think you can add HVS 4b to that list. Sunset Slab is correctly graded in my view. You're right that the UK trad grading system works well at around HVS. But, as it happens, HVS encompasses a range of technical grade where a conversion to Sport grade in place of UK tech. grade is I think quite straightforward - just add 2. We would have HVS f5a through to HVS f6a+. It would feel strange for a while but, like decimal currency, I think we'd probably soon get used to it. Yes, it would mean adjusting our concept of the numerical bit of the grade to from "hardest move" to "cumulative difficulty on a top-rope" but I'm not sure myself that that would be a disadvantage. 

I can see the "if it's not broken, don't mend it" argument. But perhaps we should weigh that against the fact that at (much) harder grades most climbers seem to think it is broken, that at (much) easier grades it's never been effectively implemented. And it must be confusing for today's new climbers starting out on climbing walls - and possibly off-putting if they consider moving from walls to trad.

I don't have a strong view. As a trad climber happily operating around VS/HVS I'm quite adequately served by the current system, but I can see the logic of a move in this direction.

Martin

 willpitt07 30 Jan 2021
In reply to ZacMoss:

It makes sense to me...

In reply to gallam1:

Theres a difference between working and dogging, especially taking ss ethics into account. Why was body belaying and tieing in around your waist the norm for ss regulars? In recent times especially since the introduction of sport grades with the rockfax guide there has been a marked increase in brushing, and working of individual moves whilst hanging in a top rope as opposed to to lowering to the ground to try again. You may feel that this is splitting hairs but the evidence at the crags is plain to see, the rock is getting hammered, people may argue that this has nothing to do with the grading system and in some respects it doesn't but if you apply a sport climbing grade to ss don't be surprised when people apply a sport climbing ethic......ie working individual moves, brushing, tick marks etc etc

Post edited at 00:12
In reply to john arran:

As others have said, tech grade is fine in practice until you get to about 6b, then it gets compressed.

Why? well it's because a lot of the time, when (in years gone by) someone suggested a route was 6c, and then in later years 7a, others would come along and with a bit of "scorn" it would end up being downgraded. So it became hard for people putting up harder routes to expand the grades. Look at the equivalent E grade furore when James Pearson suggested E12.

Surely you must have had first hand experience of this since you were at the leading edge at around the time that 6c & 7a weren't being properly used; i.e. when 6b & 6c were being abused.

The first step if we were to try and sort out the higher level tech grades would be to include "+" grades and maybe "-" grades as well. This was suggested by someone on UKC a little while ago, but unfortunately, although it would be possible to do, it's probably too late - the opportunity has been missed.

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

As I'm sure you're aware, two grades (that measure slightly different things) are always going to give more information than a single grade. When a single grade isn't doing it's job properly (i.e. upper level tech grades), using a different single grade in its place is almost certainly going to cause lots of problems - they'll just be different to the old ones.

What you've done by adding a different grading system to give two grades is an effective, pragmatic solution to problems within a single grade system. I think you should retain both grades in both print and app versions. The solution someone posted of having the tech grade as the start of a climb's text is a pragmatic way around the technical problems of the app not being able to deal with 2 grade systems.

If this means that the tech grade can't be voted on, or easily changed, or other features that the app ideally "wants" for grades, then fine, call it the "historical" tech grade and let people know that it's fixed, but losing the information from the guide will only make it a worse guide.

 john arran 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Michael Hood:

> The first step if we were to try and sort out the higher level tech grades would be to include "+" grades and maybe "-" grades as well. This was suggested by someone on UKC a little while ago, but unfortunately, although it would be possible to do, it's probably too late - the opportunity has been missed.

But what's the merit in fixing a grade that's of limited value in the first place? A cumulative 'physical/technical difficulty' grade is something that is directly relevant to potential ascentionists. I have always been of the opinion that a 'single move in isolation' grade, even were people to be able to agree on what actually constitutes a single move, is of far less value in practice except on notably short grit-type routes or routes having cruxes right after good rests. 

In reply to john arran:

I tend to agree that the tech grade should be for the hardest move when you get there rather than being considered in isolation - so in a sequence of identical moves without complete rests in-between, the last one would set the tech grade.

Speculating here because such grades are outside my climb-zone, but are "routes having cruxes right after good rests" less common in the "higher" grades?

If so, on lower grade routes, there will be less occurrences of a difference between the two ways of setting the tech grade, but on harder routes this difference will occur more often and the disparity between the 2 ways will become more obvious (e.g. a 6b move off a rest ledge will be easier than the last of the 25 continuous 6a moves that then follow, so knowing the grade of that 6b move is not as useful as knowing how difficult that last 6a move is - which of course wouldn't be 6a if tech grades were for cumulative difficulty).

 john arran 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Michael Hood:

> If so, on lower grade routes, there will be less occurrences of a difference between the two ways of setting the tech grade, but on harder routes this difference will occur more often and the disparity between the 2 ways will become more obvious (e.g. a 6b move off a rest ledge will be easier than the last of the 25 continuous 6a moves that then follow, so knowing the grade of that 6b move is not as useful as knowing how difficult that last 6a move is - which of course wouldn't be 6a if tech grades were for cumulative difficulty).

I presume you realise that you've outlined a compelling argument for assessing how hard a whole pitch feels in practice rather than how hard the trickiest bit might be in isolation, i.e. a sport grade rather than a hardest-move tech grade.

In reply to john arran:

Yes, I suppose we were really using the grades like sports grades. It's quite rare on sandstone to get a 'one-move wonder'; they tend (huge generalisation) to be quite sustained at a standard. Many of the classic climbs are around 5b with one or two moves a bit harder. For me it was almost like a 'flavour', what it felt like (not unlike the adjectival grades in the mountains). Almost like a 'colour'. It's a kind of connoisseurship. Something like Slab Crack at Harrison's was 5b because it was very sustained and strenuous with a surprising number of moves, each virtually identical in difficulty. If it had been shorter it would have been 5a. Something like Fandango, though high in the grade, still felt like 5c, whereas Fandango RH definitely felt like 6a. Slim Finger Crack was almost yardstick 5c (possibly about 2/3 of the way up the grade) because getting into the layback position was definitely 5c, and the rest very sustained at 5b. The crux of Hate was most definitely 6a, and then very sustained 5c (harder than it looks). I don't think I'd have any trouble converting to the sports grades now, but at the standard I climbed (up to 6a, though I failed on many) the old tech grades worked just fine. It's always sad overthrowing tradition. You know, you can easily replace our mountain adjectival grades with numbers: i.e. III V Diff, IV Severe, V VS, VI Hard VS and above, but it's so dull by comparison, with wonderful things like 'Just mild severe'.

In reply to Trangia:

Thanks, another good historical perspective.

> So long as as this is realised by people climbing there, they work well, and I would be in favour of retaining them, because changing them now over half a century on would lead to confusion, and would make comparisons with historical SS climbing even more confusing. 

I do have a comment about this bit though. Surely it is the other way round with the current system actually creating confusion?

Unless you are a local with experience of the area, then the current grading system looks like a trad tech grade, but isn't quite the same, and also looks like a sport grade but isn't the same. That's confusing from the outside looking in.

As for historical perspective - again, I think the opposite is true. Surely only by adopting a widely used system are you able to make a realistic comparison to the true difficulty levels of sandstone routes compared to other areas and other eras?

Alan

A question for those who are adamant that the traditional UK Tech grade is the best way to grade routes on Southern Sandstone....

What system do you think is best for boulder problems in the area? Font grades or the UK Tech grades used in the 2008 CC guide?

Alan

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

>...with wonderful things like 'Just mild severe'.

'Just Mild Very Severe, on one move only...'

You can treat yourself to a sticky bun, Gordon, if you know who wrote that about what. (I can't remember what it was written about. Wouldn't be mad keen on the move though.)

Mick (I'm probably misquoting anyway, usually do these days!)

In reply to Mick Ward:

At a guess, Menlove Edwards. Was it Holly Tree Wall in Idwal? Or perhaps Belle Vue Bastion.

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Menlove Edwards indeed! It's got an Edwards ring to it, hasn't it? Sadly can't remember where.

Mick

 mutt 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

to my mind sport grading the 'feel' of the whole route is also pretty pointless on top roped routes. What is important is the grade of the hardest move as that is the only think that determines whether one gets to the top or not. Trad grades do that.

This is a specific observation on sandstone as its pretty short. 70m sport pitches should not adopt the UK trad grades for the same reason.

So, leave well alone please.

 Martin Hore 31 Jan 2021
In reply to john arran:

> I have always been of the opinion that a 'single move in isolation' grade, even were people to be able to agree on what actually constitutes a single move, is of far less value in practice except on notably short grit-type routes or routes having cruxes right after good rests. 

I think you've hit the nail on the head there. What "actually constitutes a single move?"

I've thought for a while that the only thing you can logically define for grading purposes is a "sequence of moves between rests". Provided you're prepared to recover fully at the rests, it's the grade of the hardest "sequence between rests" that determines whether you can physically climb the route. 

Interestingly, on easier routes, say up to Severe, there's usually a rest after every couple of moves, so there's little difference between the "hardest move" and the "hardest sequence between rests". On hard routes, where there may well be no rests between bottom and top, there's little difference in concept between the "hardest sequence between rests" and the sport grade for the overall physical difficulty of the route.

Martin

In reply to Martin Hore:

I think that's pretty much what I was trying to say but you've expressed it better.

In reply to john arran:

To some extent yes, but people's strengths and weaknesses come into as well.

If you've got great endurance but aren't particularly strong, then you'll have more need to know that there isn't a technically harder "stopper" move that you'll never get past no matter where it is on the route.

Conversely if you're strong but have rubbish endurance then the "stopper" move won't be the main concern, it'll be "will I run out of puff" for which a whole pitch difficulty will be more useful.

This whole debate, which goes round and round, shows one thing for sure - nobody has found an ideal grading system (or combination of systems) that works for everyone in all places without being too cumbersome to make it worthwhile (otherwise Mr Drummond's multi-grade system - Avon late 60s? - would be what we all use).

 Jay83 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

I am in favour of using UK tech grades on SS and scraping completely the use of sports grades for the following reasons.

1. The "translation" issues between UK tech and sports grades can by and large be resolved, as discussed by Martin, John and others above.  However the disconnect, as it seems to me, is between sports grades indoors and sports grades outdoors. This can tempt climbers onto routes they are unable to climb. The impact of this on SS is the use of climbing styles detrimental to the rock.

2. Although the BMC do a good job at pointing out the fragility of SS and the preferred climbing style, understanably not every visitor is aware of this. Therefore some climbers do bring an indoor/sports crag approach with them when visiting SS using climbing styles detrimental to the rock.  I think retaining the UK tech grades on SS helps remind all of us that it is a different place from a sports crag or indoor wall and a different climbing style is required for the sake of the rock.

Happy to be persuaded by evidence to one way or the other- is there any?               

 Oliver Hill 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

What is the purpose of a grade?

To allow you to choose a route. To make a Sports Plan for the day or holiday. To stop you killing yourself.

Secondarily.  To compare yourself to others, to set goals for the future. To monitor progress, or even observe woefully decline.

For any crag in any country grades are not consistent, but somehow they seem to work. Hopefully they integrate the experience you suffered or enjoyed, judged shortly after your ascent.

I started climbing at Avon gorge with French presumably, Fontainbleau, grades. I climbed on Southern sandstone again with French grades. I moved to States with American grades where I learned to climb better, unfortunately before Sport climbing had arrived . Then back to Sandstone grades in wet winter. Then Spain with Spanish French sport grades and Spanish French trad grades, the most useful being the obligatory grade because it helped you to plan a challenging day and survive. I was always trying to compare my progress with different systems more often than  not pessimistically. Oh, for a universal system!

In 1965 I was enlightened by Hugh Banner who along with Rodney Wilson invented the Cloggy Trad grading system. He said more or less:’There is very little difference between 5c and 6a’ What did he mean? I assume he was trying to define to himself  the difference. How close was the foot to not slipping? A little bit 5c; a lot 5b; practically nothing 6a. Things have changed and now grades have been added. We have got stronger and climb more. We know more what we are doing with experience and mileage.

When I go to a new area, the first thing I do is calibrate myself using the local guidebook. What does a grade mean? Is it consistent? Sometimes yes . Sometimes more often than not, no. What do I want? Routes with a lot of stars at my grade or just above, how to protect, interprete potential risk of harm.

Southern sandstone is southern sandstone. When you arrive for the first time you will be surprised. If you come from an indoor climbing wall you will be used to French Sport grades. You will still be surprised. But you will adapt, and choose easier routes, especially if it is winter.

Using the now universal French sport grades makes things easier. As a bonus it allows locals to correct the misgrading of the past.  Exactly how one manages the first 10 feet past the vanishing/ed original holds is another question: Font Dyno grades anyone? Trampoline style bouldering mats?

There is no Holy Grail of grading, because we are all different, different skill set, size, strength, experience. See views above.

What I have used for myself is a graded list, ie a list that integrates the difficulty of a route and then somewhat arbitrarily input French Sport grades, with great difficulty in the lower end and arbitrarily in the upper end. I suppose that is how effectively everyone does it, be it French or Cloggy.

In summary local, traditionalist can keep the old system, Cosmopolitan climbers the French system and Americans the American system. For German climbers the Dresden system, as that is where the earliest sandstone climbing was done. Personally, for Southern Sandstone guide book writers I would suggest the most commonly used system, French Sport. That way the majority of non-local climbers can start at the appropriate grade and cause less damage to the rock. Long time local climbers do not use the guide books anyway, except to reflect on their past glories.

 Munch 31 Jan 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

> Unless you are a local with experience of the area, then the current grading system looks like a trad tech grade, but isn't quite the same, and also looks like a sport grade but isn't the same. That's confusing from the outside looking in.

I know it's counterintuitive, but is that necessarily a bad thing? Given the delicate nature of the sandstone, is it really in the best interests of the rock to make it easy for people with little inclination to educate themselves on the local grades and ethics? Obviously it is in your interest to make it as easy as possible for people to get out climbing and therefore buy guidebooks, and the hundreds of folk heading outside for the first time this year are certainly a better market than us tight fisted locals. 

"I certainly don't buy this idea that it encourages an overt 'project' approach since that is inherent in top-roping anyway." 

If you'd walked along Harrisons when the weather was nice and gyms were shut with every route occupied, and most being dogged by people that "could easily climb this grade at The Castle", you might change your mind. 

Rockfax guides are great, and there is certainly is an argument for using sport grades, particularly above uk6a, but from what I've seen, the vast mojority of bad practice on SS last year, was by people spouting off sports grades. 

In reply to Martin Hore:

> I now agree with you it's time to seriously consider abandoning the UK tech grade completely and grading trad with an overall "E" grade and a "Sport" grade defining the difficulty of top-roping or seconding the route.

> I think it will take a guidebook publisher willing to publish a trad guide with a new grading system for the change to take place. It's not likely to be achieved by debating - politely or otherwise - on here.

It's already happening, in part. Some guidebooks are supplementing high-end Trad grades with a sport grade. If it goes down well, it's not hard to see that creeping down the grade range. And if that happens then eventually it will seem ridiculous to be giving routes 3 grades and the UK tech grade will start to disappear as the least useful of the 3. I'm not saying it will definitely happen, but if it does I think that's the way it will go. Not with a bang but a whimper.

In reply to Oliver Hill:

> Long time local climbers do not use the guide books anyway, except to reflect on their past glories.

So true!

Mick

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

What must be clear is that protecting the sandstone has priority. If the grading system used makes any difference to that (and I suspect it does) then that should be the determining factor, not whether people straight out of the gym find one system or another more convenient.

One argument against commercial guidebooks, of course, is that in their production the latter tends to play a larger role than it should.

jcm

In reply to Jay83:

> I am in favour of using UK tech grades on SS and scraping completely the use of sports grades for the following reasons.

> 1. The "translation" issues between UK tech and sports grades can by and large be resolved, as discussed by Martin, John and others above.  However the disconnect, as it seems to me, is between sports grades indoors and sports grades outdoors. This can tempt climbers onto routes they are unable to climb. The impact of this on SS is the use of climbing styles detrimental to the rock.

> Happy to be persuaded by evidence to one way or the other- is there any?               

Obviously, all theories here are bound to be speculative since I am not aware of anyone putting in any real research into this. Whilst I can see a case for what you suggest, I think there is also a counter case to be made for the fact that those coming from walls having climbed sport 6a might be tempted onto SS UK Tech 6a thinking it was the same thing and getting their arse kicked. Both these scenarios though would probably be self-correcting as the climber became used to the system.

What appears to be a far bigger problem to me is the vast range of difficulty that each UK Tech grade can cover on SS. I have attached the table below we used in the 2017 book. I would caveat this by saying that the table itself is a first attempt and not perfect but we did spend a lot of time putting it together and the ranges we came up with were from existing routes.

The fact that a UK Tech 5a can be sport 5b up to sport 6a+ is going to lead to people getting on things too hard for them even if they have read the small print of the local grading system. You can roll that out for most of the grade bands with the range of 7a to 8a for UK Tech 6b being the most jaw-dropping. The difference in this situation though is that the wide discrepancy only feeds the mistake making it a potential problem on almost every route until the climber learns the individual routes and sandbags. It isn't self-correcting like the ones caused by a mis-match between indoor/outdoor or area-to-area sport grades.

Alan


In reply to johncoxmysteriously:

> What must be clear is that protecting the sandstone has priority. If the grading system used makes any difference to that (and I suspect it does) then that should be the determining factor, not whether people straight out of the gym find one system or another more convenient.

I think that the fact UKC Directory lists 78 climbing walls within 50km of London many of which (especially the better ones) didn't exist 20 years ago might be a large contributing factor to the increase in traffic. Giving these new climbers a grading system that they are familiar with, and one which has sufficient sub-divisions to enable them to pitch their ability accurately, is a distinct benefit in at least moderating the impact of this inevitable onslaught. 

Alan

Post edited at 10:39
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

No particular view on Southern Sandstone but would venture that UK Tech is the least well understood grading system amongst newer climbers. People starting to venture out are likely to be used to Sport and V grades from the wall. It doesn't help that 6a, 6a and 6A sound an awful lot alike spoken out loud

Post edited at 11:50
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

Since UK tech grade and Sport grade aren't measuring exactly the same thing I wouldn't expect a 1-1 correspondence - but it does seem like some of those are rather wild.

If you consider the Sport grade as sort-of equivalent to the Adjective/E grade for trad, then you'd expect a mid-point UK tech for a Sport grade, 1 higher UK tech for cruxy, 1 lower for sustained. You wouldn't expect such a wide range of UK tech grades as you get in trad because factors like gear/bold/loose etc don't come into it because we're generally considering top-roping.

Similarly a UK tech grade would expect a mid-point Sport grade, 1 higher Sport grade for sustained, 1 lower for cruxy.

On your chart, UK tech 5a seems to be a bit of an anomaly, but the spread from the top of UK tech 6a is just a consequence of those upper grades being too compressed - and of course where the real problem with UK tech grades lies.

On a more general grading note - I know some guidebooks have tried 3 grades (e.g. Yorkshire P grades) - but has any guidebook tried using Adjective/E grade (overall grade as used for trad) + Sport grade (physical difficulty of whole pitch) + UK tech grade (difficulty of hardest move) - for Sport routes & SS you'd drop the Adjective/E grade, and the UK tech grade compression would still need sorting out (add + & - from 6a or 6b upwards).

Edit: it also sounds like there's a distinct problem with indoor grades - I'm used to indoor V grades (at least at my punter level) being probably 2 grades easier than outdoors, is there the same issue with indoor sport grades being way easier to outdoors? If this is so then almost whatever's done in a guidebook will not sort this out - if you use inflated indoor grades then they'll be out of step with other areas' outdoor grades.

Grades - the ever-giving source of debate 😁

Post edited at 12:17
In reply to Michael Hood:

> Edit: it also sounds like there's a distinct problem with indoor grades - I'm used to indoor V grades (at least at my punter level) being probably 2 grades easier than outdoors, is there the same issue with indoor sport grades being way easier to outdoors? If this is so then almost whatever's done in a guidebook will not sort this out - if you use inflated indoor grades then they'll be out of step with other areas' outdoor grades.

I don't think this is true, at least not at the walls I go to (Awesome Sheffield anyone?), I just think that it is different.

The transition from indoor to outdoor is always a shock in spring when I go from 7a inside to having a hard time on a 6b+ outside. Then in November/December the first visit to the wall is a rude awakening when my outdoor confidence on sport and trad doesn't help me hang on the plastic for long enough and the reverse grade switch occurs.

Alan

 Jay83 01 Feb 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

The argument runs that;

i) indoor sports grades are out a kilter with outdoor sports grades and,

ii) that this contributes to the number of climbers inadvertently attempting climbs in a style damaging to SS.

In the absence of any research into either assertion, we rely on our own experience and observations and testimonies of others. Based on this evidence I think the assertions whilst not universal, are broadly correct.      

What can be done given that;

i) perhaps uniquely to SS, the priority of the grading system is not to protect the climber from avoidable difficulties, but to protect the rock from overuse and,

ii) the application of sports grade is already widely used and is highly unlikely to be discontinued on SS?

Well, could not Rockfax amend its sports grades for future publications to put SS sports grades in line with indoor climbing grades? Therein helping to reduce those detrimental climbing styles and with the added secondary benefit of helping climbers' esteem.

Jay 

 Oliver Hill 01 Feb 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

The transition from indoor to outdoor is always a shock in spring when I go from 7a inside to having a hard time on a 6b+ outside. Then in November/December the first visit to the wall is a rude awakening when my outdoor confidence on sport and trad doesn't help me hang on the plastic for long enough and the reverse grade switch occurs.

When you change the style/area so must you re-calibrate to the new style and different muscle groups. Indoors: fingery pebbly stuff. Sandstone: open handed, rounded holds 'romos', and shoulders and pecks, Harrisons's moves, long reaches, mantleshelves, vertical, hidden holds, non-obvious sequences ( of course pretty obvious to locals as they have done the routes thousands of time, even blindfold) and guide book writers and graders are usually locals.  Different rock: re-calibrate and learn the craft, strengthen new muscles. Strange that sandstone is different to plastic!!. The all round climber, particularly in the SE has a very limited type of climbing. Probably why some climbers find some routes hard, others soft. One hopes the guidebook grader has a broad experience to even this out, using whatever system. Easier if one grading system were universal. Most sandstoners and indoor climbers will be non-plussed by a jamming crack. Jamming cracks are best graded with sport grades because they may be sustained but not cruxy. That's a good thing about climbing: lots to learn and surprises to conquer. Beats the shit out of running round a track, only goal the clock. Generally it always seem to boil down to finger strength. Ah, but different types of finger strength. Viva la variety.

In reply to Jay83:

> The argument runs that;
> i) indoor sports grades are out a kilter with outdoor sports grades and,
> ii) that this contributes to the number of climbers inadvertently attempting climbs in a style damaging to SS.

No, I don't think this is the case. Indoor and outdoor sport grades are not out hugely out of kilter, they are just different climbing experiences. For example, bald slabs and tufa overhangs - same grading system, different technique and strengths required. We are all good at what we do more of.

As I stated in my last two posts, the problem of people getting on routes that are too hard for them is far more likely due to the wide range of difficulty within one Sandstone UK Tech grade. If Sandstone 6a can be sport 6c or sport 7a+ is it any wonder that people sometimes end up on the wrong route following that system?

Alan

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

After reading through the debate I'm leaning towards the opinion that both grading systems are perhaps most suitable, though formerly I would strongly have been in favor the original Tech system. 

Grades are always subjective to the climber and I've never tried to take them too literally. The obvious concern among Sandstone climbers is that Sport climbing grades bring Sport climbing tactics, unsustainable and detrimental to the rock's soft nature, which an increase has been observed since the Rockfax guide BUT was already an existing concern. I think there is also a concern for the increase in popularity the familiar grade brings to an area which is already a victim of it own popularity. 

The period of last years lockdown when climbers were released but gyms were still closed saw some of Sandstone's busiest season on record and highlighted the fact that 1) alot of first time Sandstone/outdoor climbers were completely unaware the code of conduct/practice, and 2) the grading in the guide left some confusion, though maybe on some climbs more than others. These circumstances lead to an unprecedented rise in damage to the rock, completely altering some climbs as we know it. (Just to be clear, I think blaming anyone/or group of people in particular for this is just a waste time.)

I would agree that confusion could be made from BOTH the Tech and French grading systems on Sandstone. The Tech system has its place here and is valid for the majority if not all of the routes of its era. Inevitably, a less informed climber might mistake the Tech grade for the French grade and get their ego knocked when they choose a 6a route. This is probably the easiest scenario to fix with little more research and quick flick to the earlier guidebook pages, though arguably this case could be a concern for hangdogging too. If the climb was of a sustained or technical nature then a suitable description would be given. Good examples can be found in the CC guide which almost every climb has a description, compared to the Rockfax guide which descriptions can be few and far between (always disappoints me). 

The confusion of the French system is probably more down to the variety of climbing styles and difficulty on Sandstone. More often than not upon completing a climb I can't agree with whatever the French grade its given in the guide. However, I do think that there are a selection of harder pumpfest routes that are worth a French grade, but again sometimes in disagreement with the guide. I still find the Tech grade useful on harder Sandstone routes and boulders for breaking down the moves though this is just a personal preference coupled with my understanding of the system. Actually, for bouldering the Font grade is quite suitable on Sandstone and is the grade I count on the ascent (though maybe we should ditch that too after the rediculous damage seen last year!)

Ofcourse the level of which you consider to favour one system over the other would be different for everyone. For me I wouldn't acknowledge a French grade on Sandsone until 7a and there still would be harder climbs that I would only acknowledge the Tech grade for. The crags are so small in comparison to most sport crags and I bet that if you asked most (certainly not all) the climbers who made the first ascents of Sandstone Tech 6a/b/cs what French grade they would give it, they'd proabably tell you that it just doesn't deserve one or give you a Font grade instead.

The high standards of modern routes don't really occour on Sandstone and though we have some mighty local beasts, few top level climbers visit here for our climbs. However, if someone wanted to try their luck on a High Rocks 6b and had some 'confusion' then trusty local knowledge would sure fill the gap since we are a friendly (and nosy) bunch.

It seems that everyone is just going to use whatever grading system the prefer, though I'd suspect that most long time Sandstone climbers (with or without a guidebook) will to continue to use the Tech grade. However inaccurate it might be in its early use on Sandstone, the French grade itself, in my view, is not the problem, it's the issues it represents, such as unsustainable sport climbing tactics and increase in popularity. Sandstone climbers might be more lenient to the use of French grades alongside the Tech grade if more attention could be brought to these matters in the guidebook and more French grade users could show a better example of good Sandstone practice. 

That's my take on it anyway, hope you found it useful!

 Sean Kelly 02 Feb 2021
In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

Post Brexit we should ditch all French grades in favour of British Trad.

Post edited at 16:32
In reply to Michael Hood:

> has any guidebook tried using Adjective/E grade (overall grade as used for trad) + Sport grade (physical difficulty of whole pitch) + UK tech grade (difficulty of hardest move)

I'm not aware of anyone doing it across the grade range but the Wired Pembroke guide does exactly that at the top end.

In reply to Luke90:

> I'm not aware of anyone doing it across the grade range but the Wired Pembroke guide does exactly that at the top end.

I think it might have appeared on some Yorkshire Limestone at some stage as well

In reply to Alan James - UKC and UKH:

.

> As I stated in my last two posts, the problem of people getting on routes that are too hard for them is far more likely due to the wide range of difficulty within one Sandstone UK Tech grade. If Sandstone 6a can be sport 6c or sport 7a+ is it any wonder that people sometimes end up on the wrong route following that system?

Alan, do you mind me asking if you made it down to the SS this summer?

The SS was the busiest its ever been in my 20 years of visiting it (I used to live nearby, then moved away, then moved back 4 years ago) and yes I was one of those adding to the congestion. But when I started, back when Trevor Panther was still knocking about and Frank had dreadlocks, there was no dogging, chalk was still discouraged and you got used to the sandstone topout, above the carabiner, knowing a slip will hurt a bit as the static rope went tight on your waist belt (no leg-loops back then). Anyway I digress.

This summer the majority of the 'bad' behaviour was people turning up, knowing they could 'do a 6a+/6b+' at their local wall and jumping on something like long layback, dogging there way up on a tight rope not extended. Their problem wasn't confusion over the grades, it was they didn't have the sandstone technique, nor the knowledge of how to climb on SS without causing more than the minimal damage possible.

I saw zero people, zero, trying a UK tech 6a as they had confused them with a French 6a, all the wear and abuse was on the easier climbs of people who understood the grading, but not how to climb on SS.

The majority of the problem was people turning up with no clue about the sandstone ethics, about the importance of extending your sling and cleaning your shoes. f6b at your local wall is not the same as f6b on SS for those who don't climb SS regularly. I did notice a correlation with these groups and those using the app and upon investigation of the app there is no meaningful notice about the importance of extending a sling, something I would like to see in bold font at the top of every topo. These people weren't malicious, and were happy to have a chat and receive friendly advice (and borrow the odd sling) so I do lay part of the blame at the feet of the app, as in the rush to make a user friendly experience, it didn't display the sandstone code of ethics clearly enough.

At the end of the day, its your website, its your app, so do what you want, but just remember you are coming into an area and changing the long established tradition simply for your convenience.

Imho UK tech grades work well, SS is short and climbs normally have a single crux, so describing the difficulty of that crux makes sense. Yes the top end has a wide range per grade but those who are climbing at the top end generally know enough about stuff to know this and will chat to locals or read the BMC guides (with good route descriptions rather than a line on picture) to get the idea of what's what.

Post edited at 14:59
 willpitt07 06 Feb 2021
In reply to sourthern_softy:

> This summer the majority of the 'bad' behaviour was people turning up, knowing they could 'do a 6a+/6b+' at their local wall and jumping on something like long layback, dogging there way up on a tight rope not extended. Their problem wasn't confusion over the grades, it was they didn't have the sandstone technique, nor the knowledge of how to climb on SS without causing more than the minimal damage possible.

> I saw zero people, zero, trying a UK tech 6a as they had confused them with a French 6a, all the wear and abuse was on the easier climbs of people who understood the grading, but not how to climb on SS.

> The majority of the problem was people turning up with no clue about the sandstone ethics, about the importance of extending your sling and cleaning your shoes. 

I agree. To be honest, if people are using the Rockfax guide I don't understand where the confusion over grading is coming from. The grade in bold next to each climb is given as a french grade, the top 50 list is given solely in french grades and the app is given in French grades. So essentially Rockfax has already made a full transition to using sport grading on SS. 

Of all the people I spoke to over the summer I also did not have a single conversation with someone who was confusing the two grading systems. The main issues were: people lowering off, not extending slings and dogging routes. Seems to me the issues are people not caring about the ethics or not being aware of the ethics. Not the grading system. 

 Fishmate 07 Feb 2021
In reply to willpitt07:

Good points made by Sourthern Softy and yourself, Will.

Perhaps a concerted effort by walls to ensure the need to observe and adhere to ethics is needed.

Will, let's have a chat next time you get into TCE. I'm sure there is more that can be done in this respect.

In reply to sourthern_softy:I am generally to n agreement with you, and I believe your words highlight a deeper issue , areas such as as and from my have their own unique style and ethics and visiting climbers need to embrace and understand them rather than try and apply a generic  approach based on their experience at other areas. Why anyone would believe that applying a grading system used for leading sport routes that in general are 20-50m long would be applicable to top roped and soloed routes that are 6-10m long and where the ethic all be it being forgotten was to lower off upon failing rather than working the move, hence the lack of harnesses and belay devices is simply beyond me. Yes the ss grading system may be an anathema to many but that doesn't justify replacing it to suit the masses,  as climbers we have a duty to learn and adhere to local ethics. Applying sport grades to ss is akin to applying v grades to font or sport grades to trad routes....unnessecary. 

Post edited at 23:25
 willpitt07 08 Feb 2021
In reply to Fishmate:

Hiya Martin. I'll give you a shout when we finally get back 

 daimon Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 09 Feb 2021
In reply to Southern Softie Sam:

Hi Sam

Just want to address the below items you raised.  

  • "If the climb was of a sustained or technical nature then a suitable description would be given. Good examples can be found in the CC guide which almost every climb has a description, compared to the Rockfax guide which descriptions can be few and far between (always disappoints me)". 

Sam, I’m not entirely sure you're referring to the Rockfax guide here. Rockfax uses symbols to help portray this information like sustained or technical. Additionally, when looking closer at a CC guide, most of the text is descriptive of where the climb is. The Rockfax guide uses text to help describe the actual climb. Descriptions in the Rockfax guide are certainly not few and far between.  

  • "French grade itself, in my view, is not the problem, it's the issues it represents, such as unsustainable sport climbing tactics and increase in popularity. Sandstone climbers might be more lenient to the use of French grades alongside the Tech grade if more attention could be brought to these matters in the guidebook and more French grade users could show a better example of good Sandstone practice".

Again, I’m not sure your referring to the correct guide or ideas here. Looking at the intro, it is jampacked with sandstone climbing information covering every aspect possible.

https://rockfax.com/wp-content/uploads/intros/southern-sandstone-intro.pdf

All climbers that come to sandstone will bring some kind of mentality with them  but this does not come from a grade. What it does come from is an abrupt transition from indoor to outdoor climbing, like what COVID brought, and individuals not obtaining or seeking out the correct information. Its circumstantial and post lockdown 1, many peoples had there first time outside with no transition time given.  

Regarding the popularity of sandstone. It has always been popular to a degree due to its location.  In the 90s there were about five main climbing walls in London and now almost 31 walls, plus may more around London bringing the total to well over 70.  So universal grades (French) that give more information to a climb does not create people with a specific attitude, coming straight from an indoor climbing wall without any ground work, might. What people witnessed regarding mass numbers in 2020 was obviously due to COVID and someone who does not know anything about the conservation of outdoor rock would just do what they think is best and relate that knowledge to what they know of indoor climbing.

Those who invest in guidebooks though and read the code of practice item either in the BMC leaflet (Supported by Rockfax and the CC) or through the rockfax app, are better informed and more ready for sandstone climbing as a whole.

Cheers  

 daimon Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 09 Feb 2021
In reply to sourthern_softy:

> At the end of the day, its your website, its your app, so do what you want, but just remember you are coming into an area and changing the long established tradition simply for your convenience.

Some what far from the truth....

 Its worth looking at the history of how the grade has been tackled through various guides including the CC guide over time regarding sandstone. UK tec grades were only introduced in its current form in 1981 and 20 years later the Jingo guide applied the + grades to help deal with the issues it currently faced at that time. the Font grade has been used to combat the issue and in some guides, they have moved completely away from the uk Tec Grade especially where bouldering is concerned. The grade was based on the fontainebleau system after all for over 50 years. Font grades are now used widely for bouldering and French grades for top roping. 

> Imho UK tech grades work well, SS is short and climbs normally have a single crux, so describing the difficulty of that crux makes sense. Yes the top end has a wide range per grade but those who are climbing at the top end generally know enough about stuff to know this and will chat to locals or read the BMC guides (with good route descriptions rather than a line on picture) to get the idea of what's what.

Worth noting that there is actualy no BMC guide, but think your refering to the 2008 CC guide. The app you may have seen could have been 27 crags which does just have lines on it and not much else? The Rockfax app has a lot more than just a line on topo. The code of practice is in the app and is the first thing users come to when opening up an area as well as a big access box noting the code of practice. There are further improvements to this in the works.  

cheers

 daimon Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 09 Feb 2021
In reply to carnie:

Its worth pointing out that sport grades are used for top roping at indoor walls, crags all around the world (Trad as well) and some climbs which are only 5m high. They are even noted on gritstone. If it requires a rope then its fare to say a top roping grade would work well, not necessarily a grade that describes one move. A description of flakes earlier on complements this fact well. 

I would also like to add, that I have also grown up with the UK Tec grade on sandstone, but upon closer inspection, you can see the cracks appearing. 

Cheers

 deacondeacon 09 Feb 2021
In reply to daimon:

> I would also like to add, that I have also grown up with the UK Tec grade on sandstone, but upon closer inspection, you can see the cracks appearing. 

Same here, I started on Southern Sandstone and then moved away, but Im pretty sure I've climbed over different 500 routes there (but probably a lot more). The idea that people are more likely to dog around trashing a route with a French grade rather than British grade is mental. 

Also a French grade allows people in the higher grades more of an idea on wether the route is likely or impossible, which is much better for the rock.  

This may seem a little elitist (and I'm definitely in no position to be elitist, I climb about VS these days), but it seems that the majority of people who want the grading system to stay using the original system are those climbing at English 5c or lower, where the system still works pretty well! 

You have people coming out of climbing walls bouldering in the F7's on their first year. The original system is outdated and broken. Its time for a change. 

In reply to daimon:

> Some what far from the truth....

What you're saying is far from the truth, if you're referring to technical grades rather than sports grades

>  Its worth looking at the history of how the grade has been tackled through various guides including the CC guide over time regarding sandstone. UK tec grades were only introduced in its current form in 1981 and 20 years later the Jingo guide applied the + grades to help deal with the issues it currently faced at that time. the Font grade has been used to combat the issue and in some guides, they have moved completely away from the uk Tec Grade especially where bouldering is concerned. The grade was based on the fontainebleau system after all for over 50 years. Font grades are now used widely for bouldering and French grades for top roping. 

The Font grades were being used on SS sandstone in the 1930s by the small handful of regulars, having been brought over from Font by Nea Morin.

They first appeared in Sandstone Climbs in South-East England published by the London section of the JMCS in 1947. They were then incorporated in the CC's South-East England by Edward Pyatt in 1956. The truth is that SE sandstone led the way in the UK with technical grades. They were first introduced to mountain crags by the Holliwell brothers (for the Carneddau guide, I think, in the early 1970s). Ed Drummond's eccentric system at the Avon Gorge had appeared in c.1970. 

So: technical grades have been used continuously in British climbing guidebooks for 74 years.

Post edited at 18:15
 daimon Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 09 Feb 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Yes, I’m very aware of the history, but for southern sandstone, they stayed more French until 1981. 

In reply to deacondeacon:

>

> This may seem a little elitist (and I'm definitely in no position to be elitist, I climb about VS these days), but it seems that the majority of people who want the grading system to stay using the original system are those climbing at English 5c or lower, where the system still works pretty well! 

The majority of the carnage I saw was on grades below 5c, where like you said, they work pretty well.

Like carnie said, why are we trying to homogenise the climbing experience? Due to the fragility of the rock there is a strong argument for SS deviating as much as possible from norms provided by indoor gym climbing, so that people new to the area have to stop, read, think and learn the ethics that will result in the rock being protected. 

In that respect I am more than happy to be considered elitist if people who have done as little preparation as seen this summer have some barrier to entry that results in them educating themselves over and above mindlessly thumbing through an app looking for a 3* f6b (or whatever grade they normally on sight in the gym). which they rig poorly and dog their way up.

In reply to daimon:

Eh? I bought all the guidebooks to SE sandstone from 67 onwards. Nothing changed with the grading system whatever. A few routes got up and down graded, that's all. Ditto with the N Wales guides. The technical grades there were always, from the start, about a full grade milder ... I guess because toproping e.g. sandstone 5a on sight did feel about the same as leading 5b on sight on an exposed mt crag. It always seemed about right. Milburn didn't change the pre-existing Hollywell/Drummond, etc system in any obvious way.

In reply to sourthern_softy:

Yes, it's a tradition that worked perfectly well, in fact very well, for over half a century, with no one having any problems with it at all that I can remember. In fact, I always thought it was one of the most consistent grading systems in use anywhere. I mean, I can't see that even now there would be anything incomprehensible or remotely controversial about these grades, taken from a sample page of my first sandstone guidebook (Pyatt's SE Sandstone 1963, bought Jan 67): 

https://www.gordonstainforthbelper.co.uk/images/SEsandstone1963guide-sample

 daimon Global Crag Moderator  UKC Supporter 09 Feb 2021
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Sure, but the work done in the 81 guide was to bring the routes in line with the UK technical grade used elsewhere in the uk. Niblick is a good example. 

In reply to daimon:

You mean from 5c to 5b? That was just a minor tweak. IIRC, for several years (with advent of sticky boots) Niblick was felt to be a bit overgraded. Much more so was the traditionally graded Unclimbed Wall 5c. But other things, like Slim Finger and Fandango have always remained at 5c.

Another one that changed out of all recognition with sticky boots in the 1970s was Slab Direct at Harrison's. A very tough 5a, suddenly became an easy 4b. All to do with those new soles.

Post edited at 19:18
In reply to daimon:

I've got the Jingo guide and the CC (not BMC - thanks) from 1987.  The jingo has both font bouldering and UK tech. IMHO font bouldering makes sense due to the short nature and that its on sandstone.

No it was the rock fax app. I would want to see READ THE SS CODE at the top of every topo. I'm glad to hear that you are increasing the visibility of the SS ethics, cause whatever you had before evidence from being on the ground on weekends was that it was not enough. Like I said, the majority of the 'bad' behaviour were climbers operating at or below uk 5c and there being a high correlation with using the app or Rockfax guide (causation is harder to show, and it may be the case it is simply more popular and newer).

Also I gotta say, your chart on the southernsandstoneclimbs linked at the top of the thread is a little one-sided - are there no overlaps at all in either the sport or bouldering grades? A f7a slab is always easier than a f7a+ roof? sounds like an agenda is being pushed...

In reply to sourthern_softy:

David (Jones) did an extremely conscientious job trying to correlate all the grades ... with some success (even though one's eyeballs did swim a bit with all the numbers and symbols )

In reply to daimon:

> Some what far from the truth....

>  Its worth looking at the history of how the grade has been tackled through various guides including the CC guide over time regarding sandstone. UK tec grades were only introduced in its current form in 1981

Does Gordon have a time machine? His book is from 1967 with uk tech grades! I can see he has changed the numbers a litte, but not by much, it hardly seems broken.

Edit, just read your post about bring grades in line with rest of uk in 1981. I would say bringing grades in line is hardly a large change, like say, replacing it entirely with a different grading system for a ethic of climbing which isn't even practised on the rock.

Post edited at 19:30
In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> David (Jones) did an extremely conscientious job trying to correlate all the grades ... with some success (even though one's eyeballs did swim a bit with all the numbers and symbols )


Smiley faces, devil faces, climbs ordered in difficulty rather than physical location and more importantly, an argument in favour of pof in the front!

In reply to sourthern_softy:

> Does Gordon have a time machine? His book is from 1967 with uk tech grades! I can see he has changed the numbers a litte, but not by much, it hardly seems broken.

> Edit, just read your post about bring grades in line with rest of uk in 1981. I would say bringing grades in line is hardly a large change, like say, replacing it entirely with a different grading system for a ethic of climbing which isn't even practised on the rock.

We used that guidebook for about 2-3 years, before getting (I think) the Panther one and then the Holliwell one. So those ticks etc relate to about 1967-69.

In reply to sourthern_softy:

The point is that this 'bringing in line' is mostly nonsense, because some were downgraded and others (fewer) upgraded. Nothing remarkable. As for the Milburn Llanberis guide, I don't remember any of us having to do any 'recalibrating' at all. In fact, we found it so good that it simply confirmed what most of us had been thinking about various routes for several years.

Post edited at 19:53
In reply to sourthern_softy:

> Does Gordon have a time machine? His book is from 1967 with uk tech grades! I can see he has changed the numbers a litte, but not by much, it hardly seems broken.

> Edit, just read your post about bring grades in line with rest of uk in 1981. I would say bringing grades in line is hardly a large change, like say, replacing it entirely with a different grading system for a ethic of climbing which isn't even practised on the rock.

I don't have a time machine, I have shelves of old climbing guides. I'm old (71) and get almost dewy eyed when I look back to that wonderful first climbing when I was 17.

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

Completely agree, its not as if there isn't large variation between different regional areas, or even different types of rock with a single region that still exist today.

In reply to sourthern_softy:

Something I find quite sad is that for many punters climbing seems to have drifted away from what it's all about into an obsession with, and endless discussion of, grades. How is it that it was all just so much simpler when I first started in the late 60s? Another fact, that few here probably realise, is that the average standard was actually HIGHER then! People who weren't good didn't bother with it, particularly in the mountains, because it was just so dangerous (pre- harnesses, belay plates and modern gear). Ditto at Harrisons. There were very few huge club trips, mostly just one or two rather elitist groups of fanatical regulars. I remember John and I were very flattered at our young age to be accepted into that core group of characters like Grant and 'Smoker'. There were no waistbelts: we all just tied in with the rope around the waist with a simple bowline. It took c. I second (John could do it with one hand!) So there was no faffing about. You couldn't hang about; you were just lowered off almost immediately if you failed. There was also a lot of spectacular soloing. There was one oldish guy with grey hair (I think Johnny Lees) who would just solo up and down the three Hangovers with the greatest of ease.

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

> ....There were no waistbelts: we all just tied in with the rope around the waist with a simple bowline. It took c. I second (John could do it with one hand!) So there was no faffing about. You couldn't hang about; you were just lowered off almost immediately if you failed. There was also a lot of spectacular soloing. There was one oldish guy with grey hair (I think Johnny Lees) who would just solo up and down the three Hangovers with the greatest of ease.

...Small boys...in the park...jumpers for goalposts...mmm...isn't it?

In reply to Gordon Stainforth:

That is why trad climbing is the pinnacle of climbing - its not just about grades and feats of physicality up the rock, its about the experience, assessing risk and having trust in your abilities. You get in exposed positions, run it out when the ground looks easy and hope there is a good placement before the ground looks hard again.

You get a similar feeling from soloing on the SS. I normally find after some time away trad climbing I have a soloing spree - nothing too far outside my comfort zone - when you have climbed unclimbed wall 25+ times the rope becomes a distraction - but saying that, I don't think I will ever have the mettle to solo something like inspiration or digitalis, not with the mantle finish at the top of the wall.

In reply to sourthern_softy:

That final mantel is awesome: surely one of the best, purest moves at hard 5c in the UK! Agreed, I never contemplated soloing that. Even when you knew them well, they were surprisingly heavy duty as solos. Even things like the top of Pig's Nose and Sapper. 


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