Following on from the "English grades are crap" thread which appears to have degenerated somewhat. Here is a non jaundiced view and recent history of the UK grading system.
In the beginning there was the adjectival grade. This covered everything that could affect the grade of the route: technical difficulty; exposure; protection (or lack of it); quality of rock; etc. Through the early post WW2 years various new adjectival grades were added to extend the system: Hard Very Severe; Extremely Severe; Exceptionally Severe. These grades were still all encompasing. There were one or two attempts to introduce numerical systems but these never really became popular except on Southern Sandstone where top-roping was the norm so there was little need to account for lack of protection or danger.
During the 1970's as a more athletic climber emerged on the scene, it became apparent that further extension to the grading system was needed: the Extreme grade was becoming too broad. Note that Exceptionally Severe never really caught on. With Pete Livesey's ascents of Footless Crow and Right Wall the pressure on the Extreme grade became too much. Cenotaph Corner and Right Wall were both given the same grade!
The answer came from a Carlisle climber, Pete Botterill who proposed that the then current Extreme grade be subdivided into five numbered grades: Extremely Severe 1; etc. The current state of the art was to be given Extremely Severe 5. The novel part of Pete's system was that future, harder, climbs would simply increment the number part, but still be "Extreme" climbs. With time of course, the grades contracted to E1, E2, and so on.
The "new" grading system was still all encompassing, i.e. it included technical difficulty, boldness, and all the other factors. What was also gaining acceptance around the same time was the splitting out of the technical difficulty into its own grade.
This of course was the numeric system. And it was not long before climbers realised that particular overall grades tended to have the same technical grade. So an E1 would typically be 5b technically, E2 => 5c and so on both up and down the grades.
Note that the grade was still: VS, HVS, E1,.... So to grade a route E2 5c is wrong: the route is graded E2 and it has a technical difficulty of 5c.
Around the same time this happened, people like Pete Livesey and Ron Fawcett began making rock climbing trips to France where another grading system was beginning to emerge, what is now known as the French or Sports grade. This simply states the difficulty of climbing from the start of the pitch to the top excluding all other factors. Whether a pitch is pumpy or technical is irrelevant.
Pete Livesey made the connection of subtracting 2 from the French grade to get the UK technical grade so F6a <=> 5b. This was fine for the grades at the time where F7a or so was the maximum and 6b was the hardest UK technical grade.
However if Pete had made the link between the French grade and the overall UK grade it would have made more sense. If we accept that routes with a technical grade of 5b with reasonable or good gear are usually E1 in overall standard; and ignore the +/- of the French system; we have:
Which overall seems to fit much better (at least to me) as E7 has usually been stated as being equivalent to 8a and both 9a and E10 are at the cutting edge of what is currently being achieved.
But back to my original point, what does E1 (5c) mean? Well it is an E1 that is technically harder than the average though by definition that means that something else has to be "easier", usually the gear is better or the difficulties are short lived. The converse is also true: an E1 (5a) may be sustained or bolder than normal. These may equate to F6a+ and F5c/6a respectfully though the lack of gear on the latter would be unnerving to someone used to bolts.
The interplay between the two parts of the UK grade is rich and provides a lot of information to those looking at it. Whether a route/pitch is bold or sustained is usually obvious when looking at it and with some experience it is rarely too far out. There are regional variations of course: Lakes routes are often bold for their grade; Welsh ones less so but more technical.
The problem with the British grading system is that it doesn't apply to the climb, it applies to an onsight-lead. It's meaningless if you solo, top-rope, headpoint, lead it onsight but with the gear in place, eventually it lead clean after a couple of falls, or do anything other than lead it onsight. A good grading system should tell you how hard the CLIMBING is, and not be specific to a particular style of ascent. That's why the French grade is often applied to trad route grades - people want to know how hard the actual climbing is.
Thank you, Bob, for that most interesting history lesson.
Anonymous22 Oct 2003
In reply to anon: I disagree it *DOES* tell you how hard the climbing is, thats what the tech grade is for. BUT it ALSO tells you how bold the climbing is, this means that it shits all over any other grading system about.
> Pete Livesey made the connection of subtracting 2 from the French grade to get the UK technical grade so F6a <=> 5b. This was fine for the grades at the time where F7a or so was the maximum and 6b was the hardest UK technical grade.
> However if Pete had made the link between the French grade and the overall UK grade it would have made more sense.
The UK tech grade still applies to the hardest move, whereas the French grade can nclude a pump factor for sustained moves at a slightly easier standard. Hence the combination of Uk ajectival and tech grades gives a more complete picture
Yawn, yawn re. the grading system debate, but I quite like the idea of using BOTH the English and French technical grades on certain routes that are very sustained (eg. The File, The Rasp, Cemetary Gates, London Wall etc etc). The mere presence of the French grade would tell you in advance that it was this kind of route - but I say keep the English grade too, for informative as well as patriotic reasons. The English grade will still tell us, in theory (ha, ha), exactly how hard the hardest move on the route is, irrespective of length, exposure or danger.
In reply to bob
Didn't Tech grades get used before E grades ? Paul Nunn's Peak guide (with Adjectival & tech grades) was my first taste of the system but I think it was also used in a Cloggy guide much earlier. I think Nunns book was published before nthe article on E grades in Mountain (but both were a long time ago)
In reply to Bob:
Good bit of history there Bob. I think people should just accept the system how it is. There are obviously (with hindsight) more complete ways of grading a route but how far do you go? You can grade hardest move, overall difficulty, boldness, quality of rock and don't forget the star (quality rating) of the climb overall. But then it just gets silly, you'd be climbing a 5b-F6a-B1-5-***.
Obviously this is being extreme and most people may argue for simply a french grade with the addition of a grade for boldness, but then there are problems with this. People argue that it is difficult to grade the absolute difficulty of a move using an english tech grade, well yes it can be but this also applies to french grades. If a climb has a single hard move it can get the same french grade as a sustained pitch with lots of slightly easier moves. So in this way (if the protection can be assessed from the ground) then a uk adj + tech provides more information.
The second problem i could forsee with the addition of a french grade would be the potential for beginners to hurt themselves. Taking Bobs example of F6a = average E1. Would we really want people fresh out of the wall (where its easy to climb 6a) attempting to lead E1 straight away?
Due to the lack of bolts on most UK crags its appropriate that we have a different grading system to reflect this. It really isn't that hard to understand, and unless we really want absolutely all doubt on what a climb might involve removed why bother adding more grades. After all these new grades would not be any less subjective than the ones we have already.
Indeed, I am "fortunate" not to remember those days.
To other respondents:
When I wrote: "Note that the grade was still: VS, HVS, E1,.... So to grade a route E2 5c is wrong: the route is graded E2 and it has a technical difficulty of 5c." I was also intending to say that the technical part of the grade is not removed from the overall grade.
Tech grades were around for some years before E grade. The current system started in the early 1960's I believe. However there were other systems around as early as the 1930's. The common acceptance of tech grades only really began in the 1970's though (away from Southern Sandstone).
I agree that going from a wall F6a to an E1 would be somewhat shocking! However going from F6a inside to F6a outside is also a big jump and those grades really are meant to be equivalent!
'I agree that going from a wall F6a to an E1 would be somewhat shocking! However going from F6a inside to F6a outside is also a big jump and those grades really are meant to be equivalent!'
one big difference is that holds outside are not colour coded so there is some doubt as to what to use. Chalk does the same job as colour coding, but only to an extent as it often gets patted about fairly liberally in the search for the correct hold.
In reply to Dave Hunter, Rock + Run:
Another big difference is outside you have to use your feet in very different ways to inside as they rely on friction much more. Also holds inside tend to be of a certain type unlike outside where they vary more, especially across rock types.
The thing is that by introducing the extemes at a time that technological advances made climbing hard routes much safer and quite a bit easier the adjectival grades became locked in. Then disproprotionate changes in protection got overlooked, especially on less popular low grade routes or the committes favorites (that they all had wired). Hence, the biggest problems with modern UK grades are of their own making, the system is great but it is has not been consistently applied. Even Gordon who is one of the most experienced climbers here did not appear to realise HVS 4c could mean a safe pump fest when its perfectly obvious a pumpy protectable highly sustained 4c should be HVS.
In reply to Offwidth:
>Even Gordon who is one of the most experienced climbers here did not appear to realise HVS 4c could mean a safe pump fest when its perfectly obvious a pumpy protectable highly sustained 4c should be HVS.
Do you know of one like that though? I've never come across one, it would just be known as a tough, sustained VS. I know it happens much more with E grades, but with HVS you don't have E for effort (yeah - I know there is no E in HVS but you see what I mean...).
Maybe its wrong, but lower grades seem to only use the high adjective grade/lower tech grade to show danger, not sustainedness.
Of course I realise that HVS 4c could in theory mean a pump fest but as you say TobyA it's a very rare beast so it is not the normal inference for that grade (usually implies lack of pro). Searching for examples ... very difficult. We've all agreed that the File doesn't make the grade, but is simply top end VS; and Cemetary Gates would be a bit harsh at HVS 4c, though possibly true. Maybe E1 4c? Bond Street? A bit harder than 4c at crux. Jean Jeannie? Doesn't warrant HVS.
Like you, TobyA, I'm stuck!
Woker23 Oct 2003
In reply to TobyA:
rubbish just look at all the well protected HS 4a's and VS 4b's on grit, that's whay they are graded as such
In reply to Woker: Haven't done so many grit routes of that grade so can't comment the VS 4bs I've done in Scotland that come to mind tend to be rather nerve wracking affairs though. But what about a safe but pumpy HVS 4c? Like I said I can't think of one, Gordon can't either...
In reply to Woker:
Yes plenty of pumpy HS 4a and VS 4b but not many HVS 4c. There's Great Harry - but Rockfax has downgraded that to VS. And I think Crabbie's Crack at 3rd Cloud is HVS 4c. I can't remember noticing any others.
There's a difference between difficult and strenuous. A 4c move that involves pulling hard enough to get tired is probably 5a.
> You might as well say that everything 4c or below should be graded VDiff asd it's so easy.
I suspect some simplification of that kind is highly likely over the next 10-20 years as wall-training becomes ubiquitous. There was all sorts of hair-splitting around the lower grades like Hard Diff, Mild Severe, etc that has essentially fallen out of usage already.
> Well here's an explanation which should offend someone: 4c moves are just too easy to be pumpy, however much 4c you string together.
I agree with your reasoning but I think the limit is probably closer to 4b. This means that you shouldn't get well protected Vs 4bs no matter how long (they should be HS 4b) and well protected HVS 4cs need to be long in order to be sustained enough. There are still relatively few well protected E1 5as but E2 5b is getting pretty common.
> This means that you shouldn't get well protected Vs 4bs no matter how long (they should be HS 4b)
I agree with you (to an extent). But there are dozens of them, probably hundreds. Off the top of my head:
Right-hand crack (Brimham)
Central Crack (avoiding direct finish) (Brimham)
Stable Cracks (Shining Clough)
SOS (Agden Rocher)
Gargoyle Flake (Bamford)
Big Ben (Bamford)
Twin Cracks (Bamford)
The Nose (Stanage)
Inverted V (Stamage)
Mutiny Crack (Burbage N)
Brooks' Layback (Burbage N)
Greeny Crack (Burbage N)
Left Embrasure (Dovestone Edge)
Velvet Cracks (Gardoms)
and of course
Night Watch (Whitestonecliffe)
Really? OK. Stick hand in crack, arrange to make perfect handjam as per, say, Outlook Crack. Place two smears, pull up briefly and skip up to perfect ledgey foothold.
Now imagine removing the perfect ledgey foothold and just making the first, brief pullup. Hold and repeat for a ropelength, pausing to place gear as appropriate. I’d say even the aerobically-mighty TFK might find himself a little out of breath.
All depends what exactly you call a move, of course, but then hey, what doesn’t?
Additionally if you remove the finishing hold on the first move, you've made that first move harder. Surely the set-up, reorganisation of limbs and body AND finish holds are all implicit parts of the 'move'?
In reply to tobyfk:
If your limit is 4b, then you're going to want to place more gear on a 4b route than if you're (for example) an E5 leader. To keep stopping and placing gear makes the route more strenuous than if you can just keep moving. Also, if 4b is your limit your definition of what constitutes a good rest point is going to be different.
Woker23 Oct 2003
In reply to GrahamD:
"4c moves are just too easy to be pumpy, however much 4c you string together. "
Oh come on how long could you hang on to some overhanging 4a holds, as this is not an infinite period of time they must have got too pumpy for you....
Stu Tyrrell23 Oct 2003
In reply to Bob: STONEY - Pearly Gates VS 4C, is one with exposure and should be HVS 4c.
You've been doing your research with that list. I used the word 'should' rather than is, though. I don't see why routes like inverted V, for instance, warrant a grade harder than Central Groove (Dewerstone)which is pretty spot on HS 4b. Other routes like Himmelswillen are arguably harder than 4b.
Obviously if you choose to hang off holds half way through a move, you can make any route strenuous. My point is though, it is very rare that 4a or 4b moves do not start and terminate in a rest position and certainly not a whole routes worth. I'm sure there may be an exception but I can't think of one off hand.
pmc23 Oct 2003
In reply to tobyfk:
Bovine, Nant Gwynant HVS 4C but the final pitch has mainly 4b or less moves up a steep, overhanging?, wall that can tire you in far less than a rope length.
Not really, they're just routes I've done this year. Some have been regraded in Gritfax, eg Mutiny Crack HS 4b, Himmelswillen VS 4c. But apart from that, I agree that they should all be either VS 4c or HS 4b.
I'm just intrigued as to why there appear to be very few strenuous HVS 4c's.
I apologise as I appear to have mis-represented you. The lack of HVS 4c routes is not an issue if the rocktype doesnt lend itself to that. Sand Buttress gets HVS 4c for stamina but I think its nearer VS 5a. Grit does seem to have more E1 5a and E2 5b routes which are stamina tests. Pembroke, Gogath and other high steep places with big holds are the obvious home of this sort of thing.
As for the elitist arguments I dont see too much change at the top: if we could use a time machine and put some of the pioneers on grit E5 slabs with modern sticky rubber (after a few months bouldering to get used to the limits of friction) I think we would see a fair few onsights and no-one has onsighted E8 yet.
> (In reply to Gordon Stainforth)
> I apologise as I appear to have mis-represented you. The lack of HVS 4c routes is not an issue if the rocktype doesnt lend itself to that. Sand Buttress gets HVS 4c for stamina but I think its nearer VS 5a.
Sand Buttress for stamina??????? I don't remember it being remotely strenuous, except for a funny move over the final bulge (which can be avoided by a variation on the R by the unsporting.) I've never understood why this route is still given HVS. Obviously before Friends etc. it was badly protected, but it's fine now. Just a very pleasant VS 4c.
In reply to Richie Guest:
I would say that the layback pitch on Anvil Chorus, Bos should be HVS 4c. Loads of gear, but easy to fall off at the top if you have spent too much time placing it. Fallen off too much to be VS.
I'm afraid it must be stamina as the pro is really good. Your right about VS and I'd be happy with hard 4c but the top of the initial crack is hard work. The top is amazing but only 4b moves on hidden jugs.
Sad no-one's biting on my counterattack 'troll'. I do think people seriously underestimate the strength boldness and technique of some of the pioneers. This all ties in my my low grade arguments as I think most extemes are more likely to be overgraded than undergraded and diffs the other way. Bring them to the 21st century at their best, train them up on some boulders in modern kit, get them to watch hard grit and explain the changes in grading rules and I think some very big grades would go onsight.
> Sad no-one's biting on my counterattack 'troll'. I do think people seriously underestimate the strength boldness and technique of some of the pioneers. This all ties in my my low grade arguments as I think yada yada yada
Perhaps no one's biting because 1. they agree with you but 2. fail to see the connection with the topic?
I was meaning links for other explanations of the UK grading system or if you knew of articles about it. For instance, I'm sure that there was an article about introducing E-grades in Mountain but do not have copies going back that far.
In reply to Bob: Didn't Ed write one in Crags, or was Botterill's article in there? I used to have virtually all 30-odd copies of Crags (including the tabloid sized no.1), but mrs andy chucked them away during one house move, I think.
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