A group of top UK trad climbers including Neil Gresham, James Pearson, Steve McClure and Tom Randall have developed an online grade calculator - the eGrader - to help straighten out a grading system that they say is compressed. Mark Bullock spoke to the group to determine why they feel it's necessary, and how their system might help to inform trad grading.
The eGrader is an algorithm that combines the technical difficulty of a real or hypothetical route - using a French sport grade - with the perceived danger of the route - using so-called 'Danger Points' - to come up with an E grade which is either at the Hard or Easy end of the spectrum.
It sounds like an April Fools joke but our trad grad system simply doesn't work in the higher grades. I expect its too late to sort out now but it'd be great if it could be fixed.
English 6c can be anything from Font 6C (a grade I'm likely to flash) to Font 7C+ (a grade I won't get up with 5 years of training/a tight rope rope/ the good lord assisting me).
English 7a is even worse. It means impossible but who knows how impossible.
When climbing E6 or above most people try to gain a bit of extra info on the boulder or sport grade of the particular route, mostly to give them an idea of wether they can actually climb the route or if its going to kill them lol.
The standard grading system could have given this information if it hadn't been stretched into uselessness.
Don't really know why I'm waffling, it's not going to change 😅
Not sure if an April fools or not, and I’ve only skim-read the article, so please forgive me if this is covered. Initial thoughts are that I think the general adjustment of E grades is possibly/probably a good thing as there are large inconsistencies, however not everyone who climbs trad necessarily has enough sport experience to be able to judge the corresponding french grade? I can think of several routes I’ve climbed in the E1-E2 range where I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether they were 6a, 6a+ or 6b, and yet this would apparently change its rating. Also, do we all agree on a definition of safe or run-out? Some people like to have a lot more gear than others!
This being said, definitely a good attempt at defining something that is contentious! Good effort, if indeed this is a serious article!
"The French grading system is linear in nature, so hypothetically there should be the same difference between 6a and 6a+, as there is between 9a and 9a+."
Well, it's not. I mean, you can call it linear if you want but it's measuring something that is subjective and ill-defined. What is meant here by "difference"? It's like calling the Decibel or Moment Magnitude scales "linear" because the numbers go up by the same amount.
This is all fun and provokes discussion but ultimately you're trying to assign a number to how hard a totally arbitrary person finds it to scale totally arbitrary features on a bit of rock.
E grades, with the odd outlier, seem to suit the vast majority of UK trad climbers. I suspect those at the upper end will get by with a combination of E grades, boulder grades and a French sport grade. Isn't that what they all do anyway?
> "The French grading system is linear in nature, so hypothetically there should be the same difference between 6a and 6a+, as there is between 9a and 9a+."
> Well, it's not. I mean, you can call it linear if you want but it's measuring something that is subjective and ill-defined. What is meant here by "difference"? It's like calling the Decibel or Moment Magnitude scales "linear" because the numbers go up by the same amount.
I get what you're saying but I disagree. Each grade represents a reduced proportion of climbers able to succeed. If the proportional reduction is the same for 6a to 6a+ as it is for 9a to 9a+ then there's a very good case for calling it linear.
More generally, on first encounter I expected to find this initiative overly geeky, overly complex and not that useful at all. Instead, I'm really quite impressed.
I suspect quite a few routes of E8 and E9 will come out as deserving upgrades, which I don't see as a bad thing as grade compression around there I think is notable.
The one thing I'm less sure about is how to account for marginal gear, meaning that the outcome of a fall cannot reliably be predicted. This doesn't seem to feature at all in the danger descriptions and is a pretty significant factor in many of the UK's hardest routes.
Edit: Just thought this through and realised that my 'proportionality' argument above is effectively the definition of logarithmic, so I retract my objection! I think rather than calling it 'linear', maybe 'consistent' would be more appropriate.
> I get what you're saying but I disagree. Each grade represents a reduced proportion of climbers able to succeed. If the proportional reduction is the same for 6a to 6a+ as it is for 9a to 9a+ then there's a very good case for calling it linear.
Well that's what you're *trying* to measure - and indeed is probably the only really objective measure of difficulty. But that's always going to be difficult when there are so many other factors involved as to why people choose to climb certain routes.
Pedantic note - if the *proportional* reduction from 6a to 6a+ were the same as from 9a to 9a+, then that would make it geometric, not linear
Any route that more than a handful of people have done (and isn't at froggatt. Don't start.) lands on a consensus grade that everyone is fine with. Or at least knows the story behind. The new style of putting a f grade in the guidebook works fine for most things a few dozen people are likely to get on. For anything newsworthy you'll be getting detailed beta directly from one of the people mentioned in the article before a serious attempt anyway.
> Any route that more than a handful of people have done (and isn't at froggatt. Don't start.) lands on a consensus grade that everyone is fine with. Or at least knows the story behind. The new style of putting a f grade in the guidebook works fine for most things a few dozen people are likely to get on. For anything newsworthy you'll be getting detailed beta directly from one of the people mentioned in the article before a serious attempt anyway.
That's what people would have presumed (and possibly even stated) about tech grades about 30 years ago, and look what happened to those?
I think most of the obvious limitations of the tool are pretty well covered in the article.
The conclusion seems about right: for most routes this will only serve to confirm that they're graded about right, but it may help to raise the question of why outliers are outliers.
I tried applying it to a new route I did last year. I'm not sure if it would be 7b+ or 7c. As a headpoint it would be a danger rating of 1.5 or even arguably 1 but it's one of those with non-obvious specific gear, so for an on-sight could be 2.5...so it comes out anywhere from hard E6 to E8!
> I get what you're saying but I disagree. Each grade represents a reduced proportion of climbers able to succeed. If the proportional reduction is the same for 6a to 6a+ as it is for 9a to 9a+ then there's a very good case for calling it linear.
I would call that logarithmic🙂
> Edit: Just thought this through and realised that my 'proportionality' argument above is effectively the definition of logarithmic, so I retract my objection! I think rather than calling it 'linear', maybe 'consistent' would be more appropriate.
Oops. Should have read down further!
I agree that the only way of being objective about grades is to take them as some sort measure of the proportion of climbers who would attempt and succeed in an onsight. The grade boundaries are then arbitrary though. A linear scale where the same number of people can onsight E(x) but not E(x+1) as can onsight E(x+1) but not E(x+2) would obviously massively compress the upper grades, so I actually think your logarithmic idea would make total sense.
For modern climbing what does it really matter, and who it’s this calculator for?
Most climbers will see a grade in a guide that’s about their level and get on it. Sometimes they’ll be sandbagged and have an experience and sometimes it’ll be soft and they’ll feel they’ve cheated the system. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter and no one really cares.
For the types of climbers who made the app, it seems like a way of better contextualising their achievements to be able to communicate it to the rest of us. If an article came up saying someone had climbed a 7b no one would care, but if that 7b was Indian Face then it would be newsworthy. Thats not to say that I don’t like it for noting that some Dave Mac E10 is harder than some other E11…
Interesting. I think it's something which could only really be of use at the top end (headpoints). For onsights at lower standards the gut feeling is always going to be more important - does it 'feel' E1 or E2? Fat lot of use having an algorithm which comes to a different conclusion as the consensus. After all, routes are climbed by humans, not computers.
For the top end, it does assume that there's not going to be any disagreement over the sport grade! Then there's other issues such as potentially snappy rock which in a dangerous situation would usually give a higher E grade than if the holds were beyond reproach.
It seems to me that this tool is more to confirm the grade of routes than to work out the grade of routes, simply because the algorithm is based on existing grades which are presumably considered benchmarks.
So don't expect the UK grading compression to all of a sudden dissapear.
However, it looks like it'll be great for ensuring consistency - basically if route A is currently graded higher than route B, then there should be some factor(s) in the calculator to support the difference - if not then maybe one or both E grades are wrong. Similarly if two routes of the same grade have large differences in the factors in the calculator, then should they have the same grade.
Increasing consistency will of course help reduce any outliers that do not have factors to justify them being out of step.
Having said all that, this article should have been on the 1st - would have led to a lot of doubts 😁
Anyway, what I found odd, apart from the concept itself, was the statement that “The French grading system is linear in nature, so hypothetically there should be the same difference between 6a and 6a+, as there is between 9a and 9a+.” Really? I’m not even sure how this linearity can be measured but the concept that every grade increment is of the same difficulty is amusing.
“French grades than the generation of the late '80s and early 9'0s were. So why haven't E grades progressed?”
Well, because although the article tactfully avoids stating it, one major reason is that when James Pearson tried to progress things on Walk of Life he was so savagely dogpiled that he literally left the country. Nobody else wants to go through something like that, so here we are - absolute heroes like Gresham and Ste Mac being anxious about trusting their own vastly superior judgment because various keyboard punters who haven’t got a clue what they are talking about feel entitled to propose a downgrade of a route they couldn’t even pull on to.
do we need an eCalculator, or is the problem also that there is a certain amount of prickery in UK trad culture?
This has given me something to occupy the mind on a long drive to the Lakes.
I think that, just because something can't be measured directly, it doesn't mean it can't be a thing.
John Arran's point linking route difficulty to the proportion of people who can climb a route makes instinctive sense. However in my view you wouldn't expect a linear relationship between route difficulty and the proportion of people who can climb it; nor indeed would that be the definition of a linear grading system. In a field that is linear and can be directly measured, such as powerlifting, the proportion of people lifting a certain weight is not linear (or negatively linear) to the weight. There is a distribution.
The mapping from difficulty to population proportion might be logarithmic, in which case (for example - if you take the halving rate as 1.5 E Grades) you might get 4 E1 leaders for every E4 leader; 4 E4 leaders for every E7 leader, and so on. I don't know enough decent climbers to know whether that mapping works. And I won't reignite a discussion on what an "E4 leader" is...
I suspect just as likely is that difficulty/route grade should map, if an optimal system, onto a normal distribution or one of the other standard distributions in nature that I can't remember, because school was a long time ago. I'm guessing if someone took the "max worked grade" from the UKC logbooks there would be a curve that would look familiar to statisticians.
Another way to look at this is instead of having one thing to disagree about (the British trad grade), it gives three things to disagree about: the French grade, the danger rating, and the British trad grade.
In the list of 30 well known routes in the pdf, which you would think would be chosen as solid examples, as there are quite a few numbers I don't agree with: Cockblock is definitely 'slightly runout', more so than London Wall which somehow gets a higher number. Is the first half of Lord really only 'more scary than dangerous'? Dervish is (was) not a hard E3. Etc.
Anyway by this reckoning we have three E13s and at least a couple of E12s, so E10s can stop being news now.
Yeah I agree. Tried it on some local routes that I have done a few times and a couple I did the other day at the E1-E3 grade. Seems to overinflate the grade by 1 E point at this lower end of the scale. It is still subjective though in terms of how runout someone might consider things. I would suggest that the runout feels bigger / more significant the higher the grade.
Another explanation for a halt in E-grade development is people's general ballsiness. Take a look at the climbers in the 80s and 90s onsight soloing big E4/E5s in the mountains regularly. I don't know anyone who does that anymore, not even close, the standard of the French grading system has risen but the standard for bold routes hasn't in some ways.
Another factor worth adding to find a more accurate E-grade proposal is accounting for how pumpy it is to place gear, insecurity/low percentage moves (means you'd have to be operating beyond the suggested French grade), and also exposure will increase nerves.
Yeah good point. I guess I was trying to say relative to how hard you're trying ie for me a 2m runout on an HVS doesnt feel bad but starts to feel further the harder I'm having to pull. It works the other way as well (which i think you're alluding to) that someone whos comfortable taking falls in the E grades will barely notice a 2m runout at their given grade.
Given a) the E grade is supposed to be for an onsight (that being one of the key things that distuinguishes British trad grades from other systems - E grades factor in tricky sequences and gear, intimidation factor, etc., rather than the physical difficulty when all nuances are dialled) and b) vanishingly few hard trad ascents in the UK are onsight, and so at the top end pro climbers are pretty much always doing mental acrobatics relating to what a route would be like for a hypothetical onsight when talking about grades, this seems to me like it misses the point. Yes British trad grading is nonsense at the top end, but surely that's a function of the fact that people are using a grading system designed to describe how difficult something is to onsight to mediate their experience of headpointing a route and relate this to what it would feel like to onsight?
This isn't a criticism of anyone's decision to headpoint, by the way, or even an argument for a return to the good old days of everything being onsighted; I just think that it's a useful thing to be aware of when talking about British trad grades as compared to other systems.
Grades are supposed to give an indication of the experience a climber might have: if I've climbed lots of E1s in the past then I know what to expect of a route graded E1, as well as a route graded E2 or E3. They allow me to make decisions regarding the level of challenge and danger. And it's quite important for E1s to be correctly graded because punters all over the country try to onsight them every week, and so ironing out grades that are wrong or dangerous is a really important thing when people are going for onsights, in terms of both enjoyment (it's no fun getting sandbagged even if everything is safe) and not breaking one's legs or dying. But I see less of a 'need' when it comes to E10s and E11s given how few onsight attempts on these there are - what does it really matter whether something is a sandbagged E9 or a fair E10 if 99% of engagement with that route is on a toprope and the other 1% is either headpoint ascents or someone like Caff having a ballsy onsight go?
The cynic in me wonders if this is a move to unclog the blocked drain that is British trad grades not in order to have more accurate grading for top-end climbers, but in order to be able to communicate regarding big ascents more clearly and impressively - in a sense to give climbers operating at the top end the kudos they deserve, but also so that people who are obsessed with big numbers can talk about big numbers even more, and use these big numbers to sell products and services to the general public.
On another note, the line about Tom Randall "approaching" REYT is pretty disingenuous given TR is listed as one of the directors of the company...
>Well, because although the article tactfully avoids stating it, one major reason is that when James Pearson tried to progress things on Walk of Life he was so savagely dogpiled that he literally left the country. Nobody else wants to go through something like that,
Seriously? ....."so savagely dogpiled that he literally left the country"!!??
He was was simply wrong on WoL due to lack of experience on that style of climbing, and he acknowledges that. The Groove in contrast remains unrepeated (because of the top bit!).
I'd add such 'hot air' didn't hurt Franco.
My view on slowing progress in UK trad was that it was by far the most fashionable game for elite climbers until the 90s and it's far from that now.
I'd love to see UK tech re-written into more sensibly gradated steps above 6a and if such tools help enable that then good for them. It could easily be done with a link to Font grades (as a single crux f6A equates roughly to UK 6a, just change all UK tech from 6a upwards to single crux Font grades of the same difficulty). Anything that helps preserve what is so special about trad climbing would be a good thing IMHO, and for me that includes care about grading at all grades.
> I get what you're saying but I disagree. Each grade represents a reduced proportion of climbers able to succeed. If the proportional reduction is the same for 6a to 6a+ as it is for 9a to 9a+ then there's a very good case for calling it linear.
> Another way to look at this is instead of having one thing to disagree about (the British trad grade), it gives three things to disagree about: the French grade, the danger rating, and the British trad grade.
This looks like an interesting and welcome tool which no doubt will give lots of fodder for internet/pub talk as Andy says above.
However I think there are a couple of underlying assumptions that need to be clarified:
2. When we are deciding on the French grade of a trad route are we sure that we are talking about the same thing? Are we applying the supposed grade to the route 'as if' it had bolts in it or are we applying the French grade to the overall 'feel' of the difficulty of the route including carrying and placing runners (regardless of danger)? I have seen both examples used to arrive at a French grade.
I see the converter gets round the old problem of E6 encompassing F7b+ to F7c+ sport climbs by making F7b+ 'Hard E5'. That would be a very hard E5 indeed!
> Yes British trad grading is nonsense at the top end, but surely that's a function of the fact that people are using a grading system designed to describe how difficult something is to onsight to mediate their experience of headpointing a route and relate this to what it would feel like to onsight?
That's a decent stab at articulating what I couldn't be bothered to. It doesn't explain everything that may be funky in the high grades (other human factors are obviously also at play), but it is the most obfuscating aspect of trying to grade routes that don't get on-sighted, and in this regard the tool doesn't help in the slightest. It's effectively two grading systems overlaid on each other that don't sync properly.
> The cynic in me wonders if this is a move to ... use these big numbers to sell products and services to the general public.
> On another note, the line about Tom Randall "approaching" REYT is pretty disingenuous given TR is listed as one of the directors of the company...
I'll be damned, the most Tom Randally thing imaginable is in fact owned by...Tom Randall.
> 1. 'The increase from one grade to the next is linear, not exponential.' – I think this is incorrect as others have suggested above. Analysis of data from the UKC and 8a.nu website ascent stats suggest that this is a logarithmic scale with the amount of climbers able to climb that grade dropping by a factor of 2 per grade.
Common sense suggests this must be true. For a climber of average fitness and ability there must be a range of grades over which improvement is roughly commensurate with the amount of practice and training they put in, but as they get to the limit of their ability it's diminishing returns.
Compare the effort required to get from 4b to 4c, from 5b to 5c, and from 6b to 6c (UK tech grades) and then tell me that grades above 6b are going to be 'equally' spaced, whatever that means.
I think this is great and appears to work for the mid E grade routes I've head pointed. There is always going to be variation in any grade, and outliers, so as long as people use it as a good indication of grade rather than assume it is trying to be 'gospel', and then point out route specific instances when it isn't 100% accurate, it's really useful.
Does the observation that the number of climbers able to climb a grade dropping by a factor two at each interval mean that the intervals are logarithmically spaced? For that to be true, the distribution of climbing ability would have to be perfectly flat. If, however, we consider that climbing skill is normally distributed then we get a similar decay even with linearly spaced grades, near the average at least.
E.g. say that the mean is VS, and each grade band is half a standard deviation then: 99.8% can do mod, 99.4% Diff, 97.7% VD, 93% HVD, 84.1% S, 69.2% HS, 50% VS, 30.9% HVS, 15.9% E1, 6.7% E2, 2% E3, 0.6% E4, 0.1% E5, 0.002% E6.
This then would explain why grades look compressed at the top end, and drop by about a factor two nearer the middle.
> > Yes British trad grading is nonsense at the top end, but surely that's a function of the fact that people are using a grading system designed to describe how difficult something is to onsight to mediate their experience of headpointing a route and relate this to what it would feel like to onsight?
> That's a decent stab at articulating what I couldn't be bothered to. It doesn't explain everything that may be funky in the high grades (other human factors are obviously also at play), but it is the most obfuscating aspect of trying to grade routes that don't get on-sighted, and in this regard the tool doesn't help in the slightest. It's effectively two grading systems overlaid on each other that don't sync properly.
I don't think this is as much of an issue as it seems.
In practice (i.e. regardless of what the grading theory says) I think routes end up being graded for the style in which they are typically climbed. That is, low grade trad and sport routes get graded for an onsight, boulder problems get graded for a worked ascent and hard trad and sport get graded for the headpoint/redpoint.
For example, Dave McPearson goes and spends 10 days headpointing a new line. I think it is much more likely they think "this feels a grade harder than that E9 I headpointed the other day so I'll give it E10" rather than "if some theoretical future wad came along and tried to onsight this, I think it would feel 4 grades harder than that E6 I onsighted the other day."
There is a middle ground where routes get done in a variety of styles. Id guess this is somewhere around E5 to E7 in the UK.
> On another note, the line about Tom Randall "approaching" REYT is pretty disingenuous given TR is listed as one of the directors of the company...
Perhaps you misunderstand what being a director of a company means. It can be anything from "wholly owned by me" or "I'm a non-financially recompensed advisor" (or even "I'm just a name on a list to help promote the company").
If Tom is a non-shareholding advisor, then the best he can be expected to do is to approach the company. The company can then decide to work on the project or politely say "what the f*** are you on about Tom?!"
I think it matters in the sense that if the grade is applied for a realistically-imagined on-sight, then for some routes that are dependent on weird beta or hidden gear or whatever, which is fairly common, you get a 'soft tick' for a headpoint. Which is odd, and particularly so if that is the dominant style in which a route is climbed.
Regardless of whether an E grade calculator is a good thing, this one seems to overgrade a lot of routes. If it was balanced you'd expect it to undergrade the same percent of routes, but i cant think of any route that has a higher grade than this gives. Therefore it needs calibrating.
A couple of examples:
Bold as Love (E6 6b) This is F7c climbing and 1.5 on the danger points they give, which would put it at Hard e7 instead of e6
Long John's Slab (E3 5c) . This is f6a+ at least and a nasty fall (3.0 danger). If a specialist bit of gear is used in the hole, then it increases the difficulty of crux moves by depriving the best foot hand so 6b/+ and 2.0/2.5 danger. Calculator would suggest hard e4.
I can think of at least a dozen gritstone classics that are > 1 grade out too
Unless anyone can think of undergrading examples, perhaps everything needs reducing by half a grade?
The 2nd thread quoted, based on 8a.nu looks (at a skim) like an interesting read with some valid data, but I think the 2014 UKC thread is a bit of a red herring - it is a data cut of all climbs logged, not individual bests, so doesn't give information on the distribution of the hardest climb people can do, just the climbs they have done. Towards the end of the thread that seems to be picked up
There's also the added challenge that sport grades are also kind of compressed around the "commonly onsighted" mark, be that 6b+ on some crags or 7b others. The transition from "mostly onsighted" to "mostly worked" is quite unlikely to happen at the same point for both trad and sport.
At a guess this point would be F6c at a lot of euro crags and more like E6/E7 in trad?
Those saying that the French grade part isn't linear, or geometric etc. Surely it is?! So 6a to 6a+ is to 9a to 9a+ if those grades are at your limit, the increase is the same. In much the same way it's easier to get your 100m time down from 14.6 sec to 14.5 than it is to go 9.9 to 9.8 seconds. They're both the same incremental increase of 0.1 second.
Granted that you can't quite measure the French grade difference as accurately. But it still holds. If 7b+ has been your absolute limit for a few years, then the effort to break into 7c will be the same as someone who's limit has been 8a trying to get to 8a+, as it is as 6a. Surely? Just because 6a is more travelled than 9a, doesn't make the grade + step any easier?
> On another note, the line about Tom Randall "approaching" REYT is pretty disingenuous given TR is listed as one of the directors of the company...
These days I just assume that everything in the climbing 'space' is ultimately owned by Tom Randall. Lattice, WideBoyz, Beta, Climbers Crag, now REYT (whoever they are!). I bet if we investigated the UKC employee owned setup we would find there are actually secretly 50 employees called Tom Randall.
I guess what they mean is the French grade isn't linear because it's not measured by anything quantifiable, it's just based on human consensus and is unreliably applied. This seems a bit academic and beside the point to me: if we accept that the spacing of French grades 'works', there's nothing wrong with using it to calculate the E grade, allowing other factors.
But having played with the tool a bit more, like others I find it's always tending to upgrade. We don't really have a problem with lots of E2s needing to become E3 and so on, so if it's going to be at all useful it needs some tweaking.
> "The French grading system is linear in nature, so hypothetically there should be the same difference between 6a and 6a+, as there is between 9a and 9a+."
> Well, it's not. I mean, you can call it linear if you want.....
Yes, just read the article and as soon as I got to this bit I couldn't take it seriously; the whole premise is nonsensical.
Sure, if top climbers want to stretch out the top grade by agreeing that "this E10 is harder than that E10 so lets call it E11" or whatever, then fine, go ahead. It's really no more complicated than that.
Long John's is a dodgy example in my view as it's a boulder problem with much easier climbing above. As a newish climber, pre mats, my mates and I bouldered out the bottom and reversed back. If we knew then that we had done all the hard moves we would have soloed to the top. I'd argue its F6a for that reason (just one easy UK 5c move in an otherwise short 5b sequence) plus its danger is 2.5 if you read the info attached to the risk designations as the crux is so low (less in practice as it's a spottable boulder problem). We had one spotter on the start block and a second spotter on the ground spotting the spotter and climber.
The grade still comes out wrong (I get a range from high E3 to easy E2 with six mats) as the algorithm clearly needs an adjustment factor for bouldering starts ...with a bigger change for more mats. In my view its E2/E3 border to mid E1 with 6 mats (...subject to no recent changes.... I climbed it last in prep for BMC Froggatt )
Incidently...just tried Hairless Heart as F6b 3 and it gives easy E5 matless to easy E3 (6 mats).
> But having played with the tool a bit more, like others I find it's always tending to upgrade. We don't really have a problem with lots of E2s needing to become E3 and so on, so if it's going to be at all useful it needs some tweaking.
Sorry it’s too late, those grades are now officially Wrong, and you will need to amend them with tipex in your guide whilst awaiting your Randallcorp topo 😄
I don't think f6a is too far off for long johns if you dont place gear + have good conditions. Personally would go with 6a+ but either way you're right about 2.5 danger points. I agree that its e2/3 borderline in reality, but the grader still gives hard e3/soft e4.
I think it rewards too many points for boldness. Especially around the mid grade range, but also it gives Nightmayer e9, lexicon e11 etc... so perhaps could do with a slight adjusting down across the whole range.
If only 3.5 danger points were available, with 3.5 now being "death" and one of the options between "slightly runout" and "very dangerous" removed, it would probably be more accurate imo
> These days I just assume that everything in the climbing 'space' is ultimately owned by Tom Randall. Lattice, WideBoyz, Beta, Climbers Crag, now REYT (whoever they are!). I bet if we investigated the UKC employee owned setup we would find there are actually secretly 50 employees called Tom Randall.
Now picturing an army of replicant Tom Randalls pouring through the doorways of UKC headquarters like Agent Smith in The Matrix Reloaded.
Got half way through that rant and lost the will to persist with their determination to find fault, anywhere and everywhere, seemingly without trying to understand what it's about. I just read: this is different to the way it's always been done so we're going to find fault with it, and the more the merrier.
It's a dishonest appeal to authority in my view. The grand democratic tradition of climbing was anything but that in my experience, more based on dominant paternalistic cliques with some cliques more honest than others. As I became interested in grading in the 90s and talked about it to others it was an open secret loads of old grades were well known to be wrong, some deliberately so, as joke sandbags. Such routes felt wrong to me and my partners when we climbed them and this was backed up when working with other experienced guidebook volunteers. When as editors (working with a big democratic team of volunteers) we ignored history and changed those old grades, the public consensus seemed to agree with the huge majority of those changes, be they the public out climbing or those voting on UKC. History also showed clear grade distortions to avoid change... the Scottish VS being the most obvious but UK tech grades suffered particularly in this respect with ever increasing widths of noticable differerences above UK 6a. These higher UK tech grades simply lack utility compared to any other systems in the world. That damages the utility of trad grading and the trad climbing game in my view.
That linked statistics paper is claptrap. It says climbing grades are logarithmic like decibels...as an example it says each Vermin grade increment has an increase in difficulty of 3 times. Seriously!!?? I'd say noticable differences in climbing grades relate to regularly smaller increases in actual physical outputs as grades increase, because we are pushing the limits of what a human body can achieve.
I just take the 'linear' point as indicating a roughly consistent change in noticable difficulty for each grade step. It seems odd to 'get hung up' on that.
It's a linear perception measurement, not a measure of the physics. The relationships between physical processes and human sensory noticable differences in response can vary significantly: compare those giving noticable differences in hearing volume to those in lifting weights.
> I thought the piece had an interesting start, but lost all credibility when it claimed top UK climbers appeared to be copying a Microsoft business model.
> edit: amended to “appeared to be” having checked with the text
I'm also struggling to work out what is wrong with Excel. I reckon it's exactly the tool most people would use when pulling together a model like this. Hard coding or a dedicated information system would come much later.
My apologies... the same point applies though: the grade model applies to crux sections: so is Pull My Daisy really very run out F6a or is it F6a overall with a safer crux and an easier sport graded run-out section.
I was around when the E grade started ... Never understood why it went past E3 as then it was to indicate the degree of protection ... It started as E1 resonable protection , E2 protection spaced, and E3 long runouts poor protection .. After that the E grade numbers started to follow the technical difficulty . seemed then that a climb above E3 would have no protection at all... ??. ..
As solid HS climber this all seems above my pay grade, but I would say that the grade voting system on UKC has always seemed a democratic and accessible way of everyone pitching in on the grades. I guess at the upper levels there are far less people doing the routes and a voting system makes less sense. But I am instinctively wary of a formula being used to try and settle debate, rather than the people climbing those routes just coming to consensus between themselves. It puts too much control in the hands of the people who made and manage the formula, it gives too much weight to their opinion. Better to let anyone who has climbed something have their say and get a consensus that will be useful for anyone approaching that grade. Maybe it does get too compressed at the upper end, I’ve no idea, but routes have reputations and subjective accounts you can refer to alongside the E number.
It seems to me that the main problem is trying to combine difficulty and danger into one system, 1 unit. Hence devising an Egrade, which does not in itself tell one what the real problem may be. Would it not be better to discard the trad grades all together and just use French grades as most climbing walls and local crags have done? Then if necessary danger ratings could/should be added. Plus an addition for non-standard pro? Eg F6c D1s/D3 with s saying need to inspect and order special pro from some engineering app? The E system just preserves traditional and mystified Trad grades into the modern era. Neither the French nor American systems have this problem, and they have stayed fairly stable for a long time. Traditionally routes were onsighted not headpointed, etc, apart from occasional taints.
Anyway traditionally speaking it seems an improvement to eliminate flawed grading.
The problem with what you're describing (effectively the same as the grades used for trad in the US) is that the nature of UK climbing historically has been to accept the challenge as presented naturally by the rock, which includes both difficulty to climb and difficulty to protect. The UK Adjectival grade does a pretty good job of assessing that. Very few places in the US seem to value the overcoming of inherent risk in the same way as we do in much of the UK, and I think a significant part of the reason for that is that it isn't 'valued' in the principle grade. Like it or not, we're vain creatures and I think human nature will always tend to sway people's behaviour towards outcomes that appear to have greater 'value', as measured by their peers and in this case as expressed in grades.
Yes, you'll get a similar level of information overall, but the effect of changing the way it's presented I fear would be toimplicitly encourage greater focus on safer climbs at the expense of bolder ones, potentially ultimately leading to a call for more fixed gear on many routes which inevitably would become neglected.
I seriously wonder what is so threatening about using other information on hard bold routes when that has been happening anyway for decades. Surely the real joke here is people claiming Lattice attempts to take over British climbing.
I knew I'd seen that white cat on Tom's lap somewhere before.
I'm genuinely not sure whether this is an elaborate April Fools joke or not. I do hope so because it is bloody brilliant!
If it is not, then I believe it may be misconceived. I'm barely an E grade leader these days, but back in the day I was solid in the mid E-grades. So while I have never operated at the cutting edge, I think I have been good enough, and climbed enough trad to offer a reasonable perspective.
What I find interesting is the need to frame UK trad grades in terms of French sport grades. I suspect that the reason is simply familiarity. There are now a lot more people climbing hard sport than hard trad. But this is where I believe the Egrader system falls down.
When you climb trad regularly, you can read a guidebook and a grade. It doesn't matter if you are a VS leader, or an E4 leader. You understand the system and can translate it into an understanding of whether you should attempt a route. I think that the problem with the Egrader is that it attempts to have it backwards - start with an E grade, make some assumptions about the level of risk involved in the route, remove that and you have a French grade.
Firstly , I'm just not convinced that this works, and secondly I think that even if it did, it would not be a good thing. French grades and UK trad grades are measuring fundamentally different things. That's not saying that one is better than the other, they are each measuring things that are important within their particular games. I'm not aware of any sport routes with a grade that is upped for the situation, but I can think of a fair few trad routes whose grade is pushed on account of the exposure or the situation, rather than any technical difficulty or seriousness (DoWH?).
If you want to climb trad, understand the grading system - it measures things that are important in the context of a trad climb. These are different things than are important when playing the sport game or the bouldering game or the alpinism game.
I do understand the concern about grade compression at the very top end. I'm not qualified to have an opinion on this. However, I wonder whether it is a real problem. Is it causing people simply to fail on routes they think they should get up (very much a climbing "first world problem"), or is it putting people into situations they are unprepared for and causing serious risk?
Historically, new E grades were added when a first ascencionist believed the route was significantly harder than the highest existing grade. Then the grade would be confirmed (or not) by consensus following repeat ascents. So a grade is a social construct, manufactured by consensus.
If there is an issue with grade compression then surely it should be resolvable through consensus - but I suspect that this is only at the very top grades where consensus is not yet fully established.
> I seriously wonder what is so threatening about using other information on hard bold routes when that has been happening anyway for decades. Surely the real joke here is people claiming Lattice attempts to take over British climbing.
> I knew I'd seen that white cat on Tom's lap somewhere before.
The Brit's hate persistent success! We're all for the underdog trying hard and eventually becoming successful but beware sustaining that success - it's not decent!!! A true hero continues to be dealt blows and remains struggling, only occasionally having glimpses of winning! I used to work in the music industry where the 'build em up to knock em down' system was refined into a truly fearsome weapon..
I personally think the combination of an E grade and a french grade for physical difficulty would work very well, and in most cases better than the current second grade of single hardest move, but you'll always get outliers that bust the system
To Oliver Hill: as per John Arran, and I think you don't really understand the strength of the UK dual grade system for trad routes. The US system is no better at all, all that R and X stuff illustrates the weakness of a single grade to describe multivariate difficulty
To John Vlasto - why replace one dual grade system with another?
I don't know if it still does in the latest guides but Yorkshire Grit used to have a triple grading system with P-grades suggesting the potential of injury if you fall in addition to the regular UK trad dual grade. I think it went from P1 to P3.
I’m just back from four great sunny days in the South-West (Trewavas Head, Chair Ladder, Bosigran and Dewerstone) climbing classic HS and VS – just right for the start of the season for me these days. And four more ticks to add to my “Classic Rock in my 70’s” challenge (which I’m not taking too seriously).
From a slightly geeky perspective, I applaud this attempt by four of our leading climbers to improve our trad grading system. (I hope it’s not an April Fool). Their main interest is in the higher grades, but their approach is potentially applicable to more modest grades. I agree with many of the points made above in the thread, but would add a few more.
Although the authors don’t explicitly say so, they appear to be advocating replacing the UK technical grade with the French sport grade. This change has seemed sensible to me for a while, for at least a couple of reasons. First, most newcomers to climbing today are introduced to grading using sport grades, and must find it rather strange to have to convert to a different system with similar numbers but different meanings. It might even put them off embarking on trad climbing. And secondly, there is a widely-recognised problem with our current UK trad grading system in that the UK technical grade is clearly not “linear” beyond around UK 6a (for which reason many top UK trad climbers are already using sport grades to describe their climbs).
As the authors say, the French sport grading system is probably the most closely “linear”, at least in its intention. By that I mean that I should “feel” the same increase in difficulty between f6a and f6a+ as I do between f6a+ and f6b. And a slightly better climber should “feel” the same increase in difficulty between f6a+ and f6b as they do between f6b and f6b+. And so on, all the way up to Adam Ondra “feeling” the same increase in difficulty between f9a+ and f9b as between f9b and f9b+. This definition of “linear” was suggested by CharlieMack and Offwidth earlier in the thread and it avoids the issues of whether grades are mathematically “linear”, “logarithmic” or “normally distributed” as debated by others above.
Starting from a linear difficulty grade, and adding “danger” points, as defined by the authors, should result in a linear E-grade (in the same sense of “linear” as above). The authors have made an assumption that one increase in sport grade (say from 6b to 6b+) equates to half an increase in E grade (from Easy E3 to Hard E3, allowing one “standard trad” danger point in each case). This seems to work quite well in the mid E grades, but it is arbitrary, I suggest, and does perhaps break down at the easier end of the scale. (For example, in my experience, f6a equates approximately to UK 5b. The authors’ eGrader algorithm gives a “standard trad” f6a as “Easy E2” whereas I might have expected UK E1 5b).
The easiest way to create an overall trad grade from a sport grade is to quote the sport grade together with a “danger” grade. This is done in the US with a Yosemite decimal grade (eg 5.10a) together with a risk grade (eg R or X). But the UK E grade does, I feel, give a better overall impression of the “feel” of the climb. Both approaches are equally valid mathematically. If x+y=z it doesn’t matter if you’re told x and y, or x and z, you still know all three variables.
The authors have implicitly changed what is included in the E grade. Taking the three variables (i) technical difficulty (of the hardest move), (ii) sustainedness/stenuousness, and (iii) danger, they have recognized that the sport grade includes both (i) and (ii) and have added just (iii) to calculate the E grade. The current UK trad grade includes just (i) in the technical grade and incorporates both (ii) and (iii) in the E grade. So a current UK E2 5b might have a single UK 5b move a little way above gear (danger = 1.5), or a more strenuous sequence of several UK 5b moves all adequately protected (danger = 1) – a climber wouldn’t know from the grade E2 5b which it is - though it’s often obvious from inspection. The authors' eGrader would differentiate these as “Hard E2 f6a” and “Hard E2 f6a+” respectively.
I’m inclined to think that a change to incorporating sustainedness/strenuousness in the numerical grade is sensible. It returns the numerical grade more closely to what was originally intended when the UK system was first introduced – that is the difficulty of top-roping the route, rather than the difficulty of the “hardest move”. My 1976 Cloggy Guide defines the numerical grade as “the difficulty of top-roping the climb, and so the strenuousness of the climb is an important factor on the steeper routes”. Somewhere between 1976 and today that definition got changed.
The above arguments suggest the extension of the authors’ approach to include the grades that I’ve mostly climbed - HS to E2 (max). But there is a practical problem to overcome (notwithstanding any other objections). It may be a co-incidence, but the grade range I’m familiar with straddles a discontinuity in many grading systems. The French sport grades jump from 4, 4+, 5, 5+ (or 4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b. 5c) to 6a, 6a+, 6b, 6b+ etc. The US Yosemite Decimal system jumps from 5.8, 5.9 to 5.10a. 5.10b etc. And the UK trad grade jumps from HS, VS. HVS to “E” grades. Defining “linear” across these boundaries is not straightforward.
The authors have prompted us to look again at trad grading and shown us a possible way forward. In my opinion this is worth pursuing across the whole grade range. There are a number of issues to address however. How to solve the above discontinuity problem. How to take account of other aspects of “danger” than just protection – eg loose rock, tidal windows, remoteness and difficulty of rescue. How to take account of the difficulty and strenuousness of finding and placing protection (not as relevant at the higher grades where pre-inspection is normal). And whether the authors’ “one sport grade = half an E grade” equivalence holds up across the full grade range. But, on balance, despite these difficulties, I think it would be a task worth pursuing.
> Of course using E grade + french means you don't know how hard the hardest move is (as per the tech grade), but your description of the difference between E+tech v E+french is pretty good.
> The main reason for switching from E+tech to E+french is that at the higher end, tech is broken whereas french isn't. It won't really give anything extra below tech 6a.
> If the tech hadn't been broken at 6a and above then french grades would have had much more difficulty getting established in the UK.
Sport climbers seem to manage quite well not knowing how hard the hardest move is, just how hard the route is to climb bottom to top, without worrying about risk factors.
As a predominantly trad climber, I also find quite a difference, in terms of whether I'm going to get up the climb, between a pitch with a single UK 5a move and a pitch with a pumpy sequence of several UK 5a moves strung together. Assuming that both are "standard" in terms of protection, "E+french" grades of, say, HVS f5+ for the first and E1 f6a for the second tell me more about these routes than our current system which would likely give HVS 5a for the first and E1 5a for the second. E1 5a could be given in this instance to reflect the pumpy sequence, but it might equally be given for a one-move UK 5a which occurs above a run-out. And I don't know which of these it is from the UK "E+tech" grade alone. "E+french" gives the option of distinguishing the run-out single move pitch as E1 f5+. Yes, with "E + french" I lose the knowledge of how hard the "hardest move" is but I potentially gain more insight as to whether I could (safely) climb the route.
This is one reason I think switching to "E+french" would add something to grades below UK tech 6a, as well as to the grades above. The other main argument for this change. I feel, is that most climbers coming new to trad today are already familiar with the French sport grades.
> As a predominantly trad climber, I also find quite a difference, in terms of whether I'm going to get up the climb, between a pitch with a single UK 5a move and a pitch with a pumpy sequence of several UK 5a moves strung together. Assuming that both are "standard" in terms of protection, "E+french" grades of, say, HVS f5+ for the first and E1 f6a for the second tell me more about these routes than our current system which would likely give HVS 5a for the first and E1 5a for the second. E1 5a could be given in this instance to reflect the pumpy sequence, but it might equally be given for a one-move UK 5a which occurs above a run-out. And I don't know which of these it is from the UK "E+tech" grade alone. "E+french" gives the option of distinguishing the run-out single move pitch as E1 f5+. Yes, with "E + french" I lose the knowledge of how hard the "hardest move" is but I potentially gain more insight as to whether I could (safely) climb the route.
But your E1 f6a might be E1 5b with one 5b move rather than E1 5a with several pumpy 5a moves, so it doesn't tell someone who is limited technically to 5a whether they could climb the route. It works for you because you are limited by fitness but not for them. So it is no better really.
> But your E1 f6a might be E1 5b with one 5b move rather than E1 5a with several pumpy 5a moves, so it doesn't tell someone who is limited technically to 5a whether they could climb the route. It works for you because you are limited by fitness but not for them. So it is no better really.
Interesting, as I wouldn't regard myself as a climber limited particularly by fitness at this sort of grade. I get your point though, and I admitted as much by saying that "E+French" (using Michael Hood's terminology) doesn't tell you how hard the "hardest move" is.
Isn't it a logical corollary to what you are saying, though, that f6a is unsatisfactory as the grade for a sport route because an f6a might have one UK 5b move (which a climber limited technically but not by fitness might not make) or it might have a sequence of UK 5a moves (which the same climber would succeed on)? If this is true, there might be a criticism of French grades on this basis from sport climbers, but I'm not sure I hear that.
The problem is that there are in reality three variables - technical difficulty of the hardest move, sustainedness/strenuousness, and risk/seriousness - which any acceptable trad grading will try to compress into two variables (because three would be too unwieldy). "E+french" uses a different compression method to "E+UK tech" (as I described in my first post above). I'm not sure it's obvious that the latter is preferable, and I would tend to favour the former.
The "3 variables" thing is what the Yorkshire P grades addressed, and in various guidebooks has been addressed with 🙂😐☹️ symbols (it always amuses me - although I don't think it's actually cropped up in this thread - that some can't see that any 2-variable grading system will be superior to a 1-variable grading system).
I think your point that most/many "new" trad climbers are coming from sport is a valid one, but don't forget that when redpointing sport you will discover if there's a cruxy move whilst learning the route.
The other thing is that at the bottom end, french grades are I believe a bit rubbish, similarly to tech at the top, but this may all be at very low adjectival grades that have been generally ok with a single grade anyway.
You usually know if something is serious, sustained or strenuous from either the description or from looking at the route. So for an E1 5a you tend to know beforehand what sort of experience you're letting yourself in for. But for your E1 f6a/f6a+ (whatever it may be, trouble is you have to try and work backwords to convert into sport grades) you might know just as much about the protection but you don't know if there's going to be a real stopper move or not. So I'd say E1 5a gives more information.
It will always be possible to come up with examples of routes in which the hardest move grade or the cumulative difficulty grade gives you the more useful info. The fact that the UK has been saddled with a hardest move grade is unfortunate, since literally every other grading system in the world seems to prioritise cumulative difficulty, and indeed when the tech grade was first introduced there were strong competing interpretations as to what it should be describing, and in my opinion it ended up taking the wrong path.
Now we've arrived at the point where most climbers, and pretty much all new climbers, are already familiar with the cumulative difficulty sport grade when they venture outdoors, and the prioritising of a hardest move grade is starting to look distinctly archaic. It hardly needs stating that even the definition of a move itself is sadly and critically lacking. And the fact that it's only really of much use in practice between about 4c and 6a doesn't help its case. I strongly suspect that resistance to change is about the only reason it's still putting up a good fight for inclusion in current guidebooks. An adjectival grade, along with a sport grade, would now seem to be by far the more familiar and the more useful combination for an ever increasing proportion of climbers in the UK.
And as far as I can tell, all the eGrade calculator does is to provide a rule of thumb in coming up with a likely Adjectival grade, given the overall difficulty of the climbing itself and the likely risks involved. To read some of the comments above, one would be forgiven for thinking the designers of what really is simply a helpful formula linking the two grades were attempting to overthrow generations of precious history for personal gain. Doesn't seem anything like that to me; simply a case of adapting UK norms to include a component that is already familiar to all climbers in preference to using a pretty meaningless number that has become entrenched beyond its usefulness.
I suspect further wrangling over tech vs sport grades isn't going to get us far.
It does seem tricky to decide exactly where a route lands on the danger scale, as it surely depends on how much climbing on the route is in each danger bracket, and how hard that climbing is.
For example, they use the calculator to determine that If 6 was 9 is in fact an E10. But in the words of Dave MacLeod, "fall off that and you're gonna kill yourself". So one could be forgiven for concluding logically it's either Soft E11 or Hard E11. A calculator has it's limitations.
I'm interested in how the tool may be applied. If it's there to inform/question/confirm the consensus, what happens next? Are top end grades going to change in future guidebooks?
> You usually know if something is serious, sustained or strenuous from either the description or from looking at the route. So for an E1 5a you tend to know beforehand what sort of experience you're letting yourself in for. But for your E1 f6a/f6a+ (whatever it may be, trouble is you have to try and work backwords to convert into sport grades) you might know just as much about the protection but you don't know if there's going to be a real stopper move or not. So I'd say E1 5a gives more information.
Surely it's true either way around! If you can tell it's sustained by looking at it/from description, then you know the F6a is sustained not cruxy. If you can tell it's not sustained you know it's going to be cruxy.
They both give the same amount of information, just slightly different. With a sustained tech 5a you know how hard the hardest move is, but you don't know the overall difficulty exactly - probably somewhere in the 5c-6a+ region (grades maybe wrong there but I think about right for sustained 5a?). With a sustained F6a you know the overall difficulty, but don't know the hardest move exactly - probably in the 4c/5a region (again grades maybe wrong but I think about right).
I think maybe we expect to much from these short strings of numbers and letters in isolation to accurately describe routes. I think maybe of equal importance is the guidebook description (and symbols too maybe) that goes along with them. In many cases that text description is the crucial context that is required to know the difference between a sustained, cruxy, un/protected, knacky, special/fiddly gear etc route.
If a newcomer was to take the grades alone to select their routes they could really get into hot water especially on the bold routes with 'clue grades' (like HVS 4b, E2 5a etc.) that only more experienced climbers can read (as maybe 'don't fall off this if you value your legs'?).
At the top end I suppose pre-inspection/practice takes the place of that description. The more I think about it, the more the addition of P-grades makes sense.
Absolutely. To revisit my earlier comment, different things are important in trad and sport climbing, and the grading systems are metrics for the important stuff.
I wonder about the role of Rockfax in this. Their guidebooks are lovely ( I own a couple), but they are predicated around photos being the primary medium of communicating route information. You look at the topo, read the grades against the lines, and away you go. Older (e.g. CC guides) for mainly trad areas are much more text based - you have to read the text to understand the climb, and any pictures or diagrams are an additional nice-to-have.
You can't reduce everything about a climb to a couple of numbers. Text based guides convey a lot more information than a photo.*
* Although to be fair, the photo in the Rockfax Chamonix guide does a much better job than any of the descriptions I have read in communicating where the normal route on the Aiguille de Peigne goes!
> They both give the same amount of information, just slightly different.
I don't think that's actually true. The beauty of the trad/tech grade interplay is you can usually work out if it's sustained/strenuous through eliminating the poorly protected option. Next, is it overhanging? If so, it's probably strenuous but perhaps less sustained than if vertical/slabby. If the latter then it's probably sustained and steady. All that information comes from the trad/tech grade interplay.
In contrast, with sport grades + visually you could probably work out roughly how bold it's going to be but once you're left with a well protected line it could easily be sustained 5a/b or easy 5a with a hard 5c move thrown in. Both are about the same cumulative standard but there's no way of telling which one it is.
I'm going to reply to and expand on my previous comment.
Sport and Trad are different games. Not only are the things that are important in the grading system different, but the overall rules are different.
I'm not at home right now, so I don't have access to my shelf of UK guidebooks. So I am working from memory here.
We would generally think of an onsight ascent of a route (valued in both the sport and trad games) as going something like: turn up at the crag, look at the guidebook, climb the route. But there is a huge difference between what you might find in a sport area guide (generally a topo type like Rockfax) and a trad guide (Eg CC West Penwith). The volume of information in a trad route description would often get to the level of significant Beta for a sport route - including information on critical gear, possibly about critical holds or sections, etc. They are different games, so the rules are different. No one would say that your onsight of The Dream/Liberator (E3 6a) was only a Flash because you used the CC guide with its full description rather than using the topo in the Rockfax South West guide.
I think that in a similar way, the arguments for grading trad based on a sport grade are rooted in trying to take the rules of one game (sport) and apply them to another game (trad)
> The beauty of the trad/tech grade interplay is you can usually work out if it's sustained/strenuous through eliminating the poorly protected option.
Again, yes agree it is often possible to eliminate the poorly protected option by visual inspection / guidebook description. Happy to assume it is for the hypothetical routes we're discussing.
> Next, is it overhanging? If so, it's probably strenuous but perhaps less sustained than if vertical/slabby. If the latter then it's probably sustained and steady. All that information comes from the trad/tech grade interplay.
I agree those are somewhat reasonable interpretations to make, if there is a slab followed by a short roof, followed by more slab it's likely, though by no means certain that the roof will be a short crux. However, a vert wall could easily be either sustained or cruxy. Regardless of my doubts here, you seem to think that visual inspection can tell you whether a route is sustained or strenuous/cruxy (I think by strenuous you roughly mean cruxy, or at least whatever the opposite of sustained is?).
If we accept that we now know whether it is sustained or cruxy, we now have four bits of information: the E grade, the fact it is well protected, the fact it is sustained (in this example) and the tech grade. From this we can, if we wish, work out a rough sport grade, for sustained E1 5a the sport grade is probably in the 5c+/6a+ region, but we don't know exactly.
> In contrast, with sport grades + visually you could probably work out roughly how bold it's going to be
Yep, same as for E+tech.
> but once you're left with a well protected line it could easily be sustained 5a/b or easy 5a with a hard 5c move thrown in. Both are about the same cumulative standard but there's no way of telling which one it is.
Above you argued it was possible to work out whether it was sustained or strenuous by visual inspection, I fail to see why you can't do the same here?
We now have another set of four bits of information: the E grade, the fact it's not bold, the fact it's sustained (in this example) and the sport grade. From this we can, if we wish work out an approximate max tech grade, for an E1 6a the max tech grade is probably in the 5a/5b region.
> Sport and Trad are different games. Not only are the things that are important in the grading system different, but the overall rules are different ..............the arguments for grading trad based on a sport grade are rooted in trying to take the rules of one game (sport) and apply them to another game (trad).
They are indeed different games, but played out on fundamentally the same medium - the rock. If you bring them both to the same level - ie by putting up a top-rope - there doesn't seem to me to be a good reason why you need a different grading system to describe the pure difficulty of scaling the rock in each case just because you happen to be passing some bolts en route in the one case and not in the other.
To the best of my knowledge (I only climb outdoor sport infrequently) there isn't a great clamour from sport climbers to split the French grade into its two components - hardest technical move and sustainedness/strenuousness. Sport climbers seem happy to accept one combined grade to quantify "cumulative difficulty" - with thanks to John A for introducing that term. I'm not sure I quite see what is different about trad that makes "cumulative difficulty" a less satisfactory signpost for trad than for sport.
Obviously trad, on the lead, introduces the critical extra component of risk/seriousness. Apart from the Yorkshire experiment which some posters have mentioned, I don't think anyone is suggesting a three-component grade for trad. So we're left compressing three components into a two-factor grade. The two ways of doing that under consideration here are the current way "E+tech" which compresses risk and strenuousness into the "E" grade, and the alternative implied by the eGrader project "E+French" which compresses the hardest tech move and the stenuousness into the "French" grade. (With thanks to Michael H for suggesting the terms "E+tech" and "E+French".) Both methods leave you with a degree of uncertainty which can be resolved by reading the route description, or employing Rockfax style icons, or by inspecting the pitch (tricky for multi-pitch mountain trad or abseil-in sea-cliffs).
I'm not sure you can distinguish between these two approaches on the grounds that one is right for trad, and one is wrong. "E+tech" has the weight of more than 40 years tradition behind it, and the fact that for the majority of trad climbers operating, as I generally have, between HS ad E2, it works pretty well. "E+French" has the advantage that it addresses the breakdown of "E+tech" in the higher grades. It is also more understandable for visiting overseas climbers and, importantly, for today's younger climbers who will almost invariably have been introduced to climbing using French grades. This latter group are especially important. Anything that discourages them from embarking on trad runs the risk of seeing the continued decline of participation in trad to an extent that might ultimately threaten the future of our trad venues. I'm not for a moment suggesting that changing the grading system would, on its own, address that issue, but it might make a small contribution.
Much more thought would need to be given to this before introducing a new grading system (for example - how to address the inconsistencies in French sport grading below f6a) and it would probably need some boldness on the part of one or more guidebook producers for it to happen. But I think it's a debate worth having.
> It is also more understandable for visiting overseas climbers and, importantly, for today's younger climbers who will almost invariably have been introduced to climbing using French grades. This latter group are especially important. Anything that discourages them from embarking on trad runs the risk of seeing the continued decline of participation in trad to an extent that might ultimately threaten the future of our trad venues.
I think you are making my point for me. The use of a different grading system is a signifier that you are playing a different game with different rules. If you bring sport grades and trad grades together, you lose the significance of the different grading system. You won't necessarily be aware that We aren't in Kansas any more.
I want new trad climbers to think about the grades and read the guidebook carefully, because I want them to set off up the route with a good understanding of what they are likely to face. If you replace a UK tech grade with a French sport grade, you may lose that extra bit of thought, because you don't think enough about the "tradiness" as opposed to the pure climbing difficulty. And that adds risk
I had to look up "We aren't in Kansas anymore" I'm afraid, but I get your point.
I think, though, that perhaps there are enough clues for trad newcomers to the fact that they're playing a different game without a different grade scale for the difficulty of the climbing. The first grade they see in the guidebook is the, completely unfamiliar, "E" grade (which obviously includes "D", "VD" etc for beginners). They're carrying a waist load of unfamiliar kit, They can't see, let alone clip-stick, the first bolt. And they've likely had lots of people telling them why "trad is a different game".
One problem for beginners is that to someone brought up on sport grades, at first sight the UK tech grade may lead you to think that the climbing is easier than it is. You see HVS 5a and think "f5a - that's easy". There were several comments on here about how this misconception led to newbies getting thoroughly sandbagged when London climbing walls were closed due to COVID and they trekked down in large numbers to Harrison's Rocks. Fortunately, as sandstone is top-roped, this didn't lead to serious accidents, just to lots of dogging and consequent damage to the rock.
So, while I obviously wouldn't want to advocate anything that would lead beginners into danger, I think your point could be argued both ways.
>However, a vert wall could easily be either sustained or cruxy. Regardless of my doubts here, you seem to think that visual inspection can tell you whether a route is sustained or strenuous/cruxy (I think by strenuous you roughly mean cruxy, or at least whatever the opposite of sustained is?).>
'Strenuous' means on your arms, hence my reference to overhanging routes. It has nothing to do with being cruxy.
But I don't think you understood what I meant (or I didn't finish the point). An E1 5a by definition isn't going to have a hard crux; that aspect has been eliminated from the word go through the use of the tech grade. In contrast, an E1 5c by definition is going to have a short hard crux.
> 'Strenuous' means on your arms, hence my reference to overhanging routes. It has nothing to do with being cruxy.
Ah right, interesting. So a route could be strenuous but not sustained? E.g. if it had a short overhanging section. To me strenuous doesn't indicate that, hence my confusion above. I would rarely chose to use strenuous in a climbing context, but I think on the few occasions I have used it, it's been when describing wide climbing.
There was a thread on here a while ago which made me realise that while climbers use lots of words that have meaning in a climbing context not everybody interprets them in the same way. The thread was about the meaning of the word steep in a climbing context, lots of people thought the word steep meant high angle slab/vert but not overhanging, a correspondingly large number of people thought steep basically meant overhanging, and another set that thought it didn't mean anything by itself, just as a qualifier, e.g. 'steep slab', 'steep wall', 'steeply overhanging'.
> But I don't think you understood what I meant (or I didn't finish the point). An E1 5a by definition isn't going to have a hard crux; that aspect has been eliminated from the word go through the use of the tech grade. In contrast, an E1 5c by definition is going to have a short hard crux.
I think I see what you're saying, but I'm not convinced it's correct. Talking safe routes again. The E1 5c could be F5c+ to F6a+, the E1 5a could also be 5c+ to 6a+, so there is information missing about the 'overall physical difficulty'. If it's an E1 F5c+ it could be tech 5a to 5c, an E1 F6a+ could also be tech 5c to 6a+, so there is information missing about the hardest move.
Tbh if as trad climbers we insist on knowing what the hardest move is (despite the fact that sport climbers seem to manage perfectly well without knowing) there would seem to be a very easy solution. If the route is cruxy grade it with a UK tech grade or a boulder grade (Font or V, take your pick), if the route is sustained grade it with a sport grade (French or YDS or Ewbank, take your pick).
So we can have a cruxy, safe E1. It can be E1 5c, E1 V2, or E1 f6A. We can also have a sustained, safe E1. It can be E1 F6a+, E1 5.10b or E1 20.
Or we could just as easily go the whole hog and have a three part grading system. Overall E grade, overall sport grade and hardest move/sequence grade. Obviously going for more than two parts would be insane, because there'd be too much clarity and we can't have that, nothing to debate with internet strangers anymore.
> if as trad climbers we insist on knowing what the hardest move is (despite the fact that sport climbers seem to manage perfectly well without knowing) >
Just to address that point as it has come up a couple of times. For sport routes there isn't a danger element to consider in grading, so one grade does fine, and if you're going to pick only one then best make it one that measures the cumulative difficulty of the whole pitch.
For trad the cumulative physical difficulty is within the overall trad grade, e.g. E1. As of course is everything else.
> For trad the cumulative physical difficulty is within the overall trad grade, e.g. E1. As of course is everything else.
...including the difficulty of the hardest move. So what exactly is your point here?
I like the idea of flexibility - sport grade where useful, boulder grade where useful, both where useful. It's a bit messy, and a challenge for guidebook writers to lay out in a way that isn't cluttered or confusing, but ultimately it delivers what grades are actually meant to do better than any alternative: provide information about the level of difficulty to be expected on a route.
> ...including the difficulty of the hardest move. So what exactly is your point here?
When we refer to the “hardest move” it might be worth thinking through exactly what we mean by a “move”. This was alluded to by John A higher up this thread. I’ve given this a bit of thought in the past, and I think it could help to clarify some of the issues here.
A “move” is clearly more than just the movement of one hand or one foot (or knee, back, head etc) from one hold to the next – but how much more than that? At the grades I climb - HS to HVS these days, E2 max - I intuitively think of a move as a sequence to get from one resting position to the next. I don’t mean a “hands-off” rest – though that’s nice – but a position where I can feel relatively comfortable, shake out, relax a bit, place some gear not under too much stress, and contemplate the next “move”.
Taking that definition of a “move” – or something like it – there isn’t perhaps that much difference between the concept of “hardest move” and “cumulative difficulty”. Take an easy pitch – say D or VD. The “moves” will generally link good foot-ledges giving hands-off rests. There’s no reason to tire, as you can fully recover at every rest. The “cumulative difficulty” will be no different than the difficulty of the “hardest move”, or “moves” if there is more than one of the same difficulty. Now, at the other extreme, let’s take a continuously overhanging sport route in the f8’s (not me of course). Barring the exceptional knee-bar, or Wide-boyz-style inverted foot-hang, there are no rests. So, taking the above definition of “move”, the whole pitch constitutes one move. Again, the difficulty of the hardest “move” and the cumulative difficulty of the pitch will be the same.
Does this idea work in the mid-grades? In my experience, to a reasonable approximation, it does. The cumulative difficulty of the pitch is normally, for me, the same as the difficulty of the hardest sequence between “rests”. That is, provided the “rest” is one where I can recover sufficiently to tackle the next move as if I was tackling it in isolation (and if it isn’t that good a rest, does it really count as a “rest” at all?).
If the above analysis makes sense, then I think it adds weight to the argument for “E+French” which combines hardest move and sustainedness/strenuousness in one part of the grade (the “French”) and just leaves “danger” to be reflected in the “E” grade (Using something like the OP’s eGrader of course – I hope no-one on this thread thinks you can’t have 3 or 4 danger points on an HVS (Sunset Slab anyone?) or that “it can’t be E11 if four people have taken leader falls and lived”).
In principle, there’s no reason why “E+tech” couldn’t combine both hardest move and sustainedness/strenuousness in the numerical (tech) grade. Indeed, as I and others have mentioned above, that was the original intention when the UK “E+tech” system was introduced back in the 1970’s. But I suggest, if we are contemplating making a change now, “E+French” makes more sense, for the reasons suggested in previous posts.
> ...including the difficulty of the hardest move. So what exactly is your point here?>
I suppose I wasn't making any particular point with that exact statement. But I guess my general feeling regards which option really gives the more useful information. I'd argue that things like E2 6a do give very useful specific information which can't be as well derived from E + sport. But when you turn it around for a real stamina trip, say a well protected E4 5c, the level of effort is obvious and I'm not sure that E4 f6c really gives any more useful information.
Incidentally your comparison is not really playing fair. You've added more information about the E4, namely that it's well protected. If you took the E2 (6b+) and said it's cruxy, you'd have just as good information.
> I quite like Andy's idea; the E grade is still there, so best of both worlds.
Yes, I'm all for any other grade(s) to be given if they are seen to be useful (I can't see what the objection could be), as long as the UK trad grade is retained for kudos purposes (lets be honest, that's its greatest strength) and I'd prefer H for routes which have not been onsighted so that it is clear when the kudos is not due.
> But with E2 6a you don't have to say it's cruxy. And with E4 5c you don't have to say it isn't. There's more info in the grade for fewer words.
I agree with others above that this really doesn't apply to E4 5c. UK tech 5c is easier than the "standard" tech grade for E4 so there's scope here for the E4 grade to indicate either less than averagely generous protection or greater than averagely sustained 5c climbing (or possibly a bit of both). You "cheated" - not deliberately, I hope - by telling us it was well protected, leaving us knowing it must be sustained. But without that extra bit of information we wouldn't, I suggest, have known which it was.
E2 6a is a bit different. 6a is a notch harder than the standard tech grade for E2. So we know it must be better than averagely protected and/or less than averagely sustained. That does, I agree, tend to lead us to expect one cruxy well-protected 6a move. (And I have encountered E1 6a, for Aardvark at Gogarth in an early guidebook, which left no doubt at all - I happily let my partner lead that one!).
With an "E+French" grade (eg - E1 f6a) we would know how well protected it is - reasonably well in this case. We would also know that the cumulative difficulty of the climbing would be f6a, the same information we would have if it was a sport route. As per an f6a sport route, we wouldn't know if it was one hard "move" or more consistently sustained, but, as I argued above, that distinction can be a bit nuanced - it rather depends what we mean by "move".
At the grades that I enjoy, I don't actually think this line of debate - ie which system gives the clearer information - strongly favours either keeping "E+tech" or moving to "E+French". I think it's other considerations, implied by the OP, and suggested by myself, John Arran, and others earlier in the thread, that might incline towards a change to "E+French".
> We also know that the E4 f6c is well protected; that was implicit in the comparison. It still doesn't tell you much (anything?) more.
> "If you took the E2 (6b+) and said it's cruxy, you'd have just as good information."
> But with E2 6a you don't have to say it's cruxy. And with E4 5c you don't have to say it isn't. There's more info in the grade for fewer words.
This is running into the weeds a bit...E4 5c could be bold or sustained, so you need an extra item of information. E2 f6b+ could be sustained or cruxy (maybe 6b+ is too hard for sustained E2, but say 6b), so you need an extra item of information. In both examples, an extra item of information is required to tell you what sort of route to expect.
I'm not saying that French grades are always better, for short cruxy routes they aren't, but if we have to have uniformity across the whole grade spectrum (which I'm leaning towards arguing we don't), it's not clear that a hardest move/sequence grade is more useful overall than a cumulative one.
> Yes, I'm all for any other grade(s) to be given if they are seen to be useful (I can't see what the objection could be), as long as the UK trad grade is retained for kudos purposes (lets be honest, that's its greatest strength) and I'd prefer H for routes which have not been onsighted so that it is clear when the kudos is not due.
I personally don't think that E grades carry as much kudos as they once did, and that trajectory will probably continue. Fewer climbers for whom trad is the bullseye, climbing being more globalised...the rest of the world gets on fine without E grades after all.
Am I more impressed by a flash of E10 7a, or a flash of spicy 8b+ on gear? Hmm, they both sound pretty waddage to me.
My suggestion, rather than H grades, would be to tweak the order of how the grade is presented for routes that are headpointed - French grade or boulder grade first, depending on the style of route, E grade afterwards in brackets or grey. Same grade, but appropriately different emphasis.
> I personally don't think that E grades carry as much kudos as they once did, and that trajectory will probably continue. Fewer climbers for whom trad is the bullseye, climbing being more globalised...the rest of the world gets on fine without E grades after all.
On the contrary, what the eGrader potentially could do is to internationalise E grades for trad routes, in much the same way as sport grades are now pretty much universal for sport routes.
It’s an odd debate, because there’s really no debate. The method of grading is there because of agreed consensus. There’s not really a problem with uk trad grading below the E5/6 6a/6b boundary where it starts to fall apart. Also the majority of climbers don’t venture past VS and most of that region of grading got ironed out a long time ago so existing grading works. If there’s a consensus by practitioners at those higher grades to use French and E grades headpointing above E6, then fine, everyone is happy. The problem has been trying to apply a single monolithic solution to two very different games.
John Arran made a good point about French grading becoming the dominant system as it’s the one everyone is exposed to and understands which has some validity. When I reflected on 40 years climbing where I started immersed in trad, I realised that nowadays I don’t know anyone who climbs trad. My son and all his mates climb hard bouldering and sport and I don’t think they really know anything about trad grading even though I took them all out tradding as kids. Apart from soloing routes I haven’t led a trad route for more than a decade. I’m going to have to think about how that happened.
I think this article length post from ‘Nemo’ on the parallel UKB thread by is worth sharing here to give it a wider airing:
I've always thought that what we already have - E grades and UK tech grades - is the best grading system for trad routes in the UK up to around E6.
And a combination of E grades and either French or Font grades (for highball type routes) is the best grading system for trad routes in the UK roughly over E6.
(In reality many trad guidbooks in the UK have simply started appending French / Font grades to hard trad routes and this works fine. Although it does make the UK tech grades of 6c and 7a that those routes typically still get assigned even more pointless than they were in the first place).
So, sure for high level trad routes, the tech grade needs replacing with French / Font grades.
What emphatically does not need changing is the way the E grade works.
To point out the blindingly obvious, as Andy said, all the eGrader system really is - is a simplistic translation of a US style grade to an E grade (which may as well be called an F grade, as it's not an E grade as we currently know it).
ie: it's a French grade plus a danger grade, slightly adjusted around the use of pads - kicking out a calculated E Grade.
In other words, disregarding pads on highballs, the calculated E grade is giving precisely zero additional information to the US system which was the starting point.
This calculation bypasses the entire point of E grades and keeps all the flaws of the US system. And the US system is a long way from ideal for the vast majority of UK trad climbing. Of course, it works to some extent, but is in no way whatsoever the best way of grading UK trad routes (hard or otherwise).
The eGrader also appears to be significantly over emphasising the danger element, which is one of the reasons why it is ballooning E grades at the high end when applied (particularly when applied to not very high roadside type crags). It's very rare for routes to go up 3 E grades from what they would get for pure physical difficulty (Indian Face goes from E6 to E9, but that level of jump is really very rare). E grades have significant width - it's pretty common for pretty hairy routes to get the same E grade or only 1 grade higher as they would for pure physical difficulty.
Any kind of algorithm for working out E grades (in their normal sense) is never going to work.
It is and should be the overall grade of the route. Which takes into account a million details that algorithms can't handle.
Where I disagree with Shark, is that I think that E grades (in their normal sense) are extremely useful. Both to people trying to work out what routes to climb, and to anyone trying to understand at the top end what is genuinely newsworthy.
And E grades are actually (or at least should be) incredibly simple, both for low grade routes and at the top end.
They answer very successfully one simple question. How big a deal overall is an ascent of route X in any particular style.
That is (along with the physical difficulty) ultimately both what aspirant ascentionists, and anyone interested in climbing news wants to know.
The US system does not tell you that.
It doesn't take too much effort to see the problem with the US system. Is the genuinely dangerous bit the crux at the top of the route, or on the VS bit after all the hard climbing. Is there a sustained dangerous section, or is it just a couple of relatively easy moves at the end of a runout to get to some good gear. Is the dangerous section on positive holds, or is it a sketchy smeary slab move where you're genuinely going to die. Is the dangerous climbing at an easy standard but with some loose rock, particularly if you have to completely trust a foothold which has a decent chance of breaking. Etc etc etc.
There's so many other factors that need to be considered - loose rock, soft rock, insecureness or otherwise of climbing, location and atmosphere of crag, level of commitment required, level of intimidation etc etc. Of course, the E grade on it's own doesn't tell you any of that detail either. But what it does and always has done extremely effectively is answer that one simple question - overall, when you take everything into account, how big a deal is climbing this particular route, in any chosen style.
e.g: If you put the main pitch of Positron on the ground at a roadside crag where you could see and hear your belayer, and didn't have hundreds of feet of exposure dropping into the sea to deal with it would probably be E3. Where it actually is, on your own on that headwall, round the corner unable to see or hear your belayer? Completely deserves the E5 it gets. And it's not because it's particularly dangerous. It's because of many other things.
And danger is a very hard to pin down thing clearly anyway. The skill in getting good at trad climbing is to take something that more beginner climbers would find extremely dangerous, and become competent enough to climb it safely. When ElMo or Caff are onsighting E7s, for the most part I don't think they are in huge amounts of danger. I don't even think when Alex Honnold is soloing, that for the most part he's in huge amounts of danger. They've developed over a long time, the skills to do what they are doing reasonably safely. The E grade is essentially about what overall skill level you need to make the route a reasonably safe proposition (and that applies to the Indian Face as much as to Left Wall).
As an extreme example, take headpointing the Indian Face vs soloing Freerider. With the US system the first would be 7b+ X, the second would be 7c X. The first is something that's well within the capabililties (given sufficient work) of hundreds of climbers just in the UK. The second probably isn't within the capabilities of anyone other than Alex Honnold. You can't die more than once, so it's not that falling off soloing Freerider is really more dangerous than falling off high on the Indian Face. It's that the skills required to make soloing Freerider even remotely safe are vastly harder to acquire than the skills required to headpoint the Indian Face.
Of course, no doubt the proponents of the eGrader will say that you can take account of all that by adjusting the danger component before putting it into the calculator. But then you're really just coming up with a way of cheating the calculator to calculate what you know is actually the right E grade, in which case there was no point in using it in the first place. ie: you're no longer actually talking about a danger factor. You're talking about an everything other than physical difficulty factor. Which is exactly what the original E grade system gives us if used in conjuntion with a French / Font grade for harder routes (as IMO it should be).
All that said, there's clearly a fair bit of confusion out there amongst hard trad climbers doing first ascents. But that really doesn't have to be the case, given a little thought.
UK tech grades are completely dead for high end routes. Just use a French / Font grade. No problem.
And for them to have any value, E grades need to work in the way they always have - simply compare (taking everything into account) this route with other routes you've climbed in a similar style (e.g in a day, or 10 day battle, or full blown multi year siege). Of course at the highest level, this is tricky as there isn't that much to compare to, but that's just the same problem that boulderers and sport climbers have at the highest level. Only once there's a significant number of routes / boulders at a particular level, and typically only when someone like Ondra comes along and climbs lots of them and compares them - do sensible grade boundaries emerge at the top end. Again, it's no problem, just takes a while for a consensus to emerge, especially when some of these routes don't get a lot of ascents.
A better E Grader
If they'd avoided all the fanfare, not pretended it was using algorithms or doing anything clever, not attempted to apply it to anything under E5 where everything works perfectly fine already, this might have been better received.
IMO, a better eGrader is simply this and requires precisely 8 lines of text:
Proposed boundaries for totally safe climbs (ie: U.S P.G rating):
7a+ - 7b routes would be E5 7b+ - 7c routes would be E6 7c+ - 8a routes would be E7 8a+ - 8b routes would be E8 8b+ - 8c routes would be E9 8c+ - 9a routes would be E10 9a+ - 9b routes would be E11 (currently aren't any trad routes of this physical difficulty) 9b+ - 9c routes would be E12 (currently aren't any trad routes of this physical difficulty)
Traditionally E6 was a bit wider than that, and E7 a bit narrower - with things like Cave Route Right and Left at 7b+ and 7c+ getting E6, yet Requiem at 8a+ getting E8. That did seem a bit daft though, so no problem with having things have a bit more of a consistent width.
That's it. It ain't rocket science. But that is a useful little pocket guide for someone trying to grade a new hard route. You then, obviously, add to those E grades depending on loads of other factors, of which, danger is one, and compare the overall difficulty with other pre existing routes.
It's worth pointing out that the above is a little different to where those boundaries have sometimes been placed, and it's a half a grade different than where the eGrader seems to be placing the boundaries.
It's also why I don't think E12 yet exists. Because I simply don't think there's anything in the trad climbing world that is the equivalent in terms of overall difficulty (ie: when you take everything into account, as you should with an E grade), as redpointing 9b+ and 9c. If you're using E grades consistently, then giving something E12 essentially amounts to saying you think you're in the top 5 of route climbers worldwide. Steve McClure was 15 years ago. I don't think any of the other people involved are.
Whenever Steve McClure goes on any trad route in the UK, he typically does it in a day or so. Clearly Steve has climbed 9a+ and 9b, but only after very prolonged sieges. If he's climbing things in a day or two, I don't think it's unreasonably to suggest that overall, it's unlikely that they are a bigger deal than redpointing a 9a. ie: Unless Steve is vastly better at trad climbing than he is at sport climbing (unlikely), then it would suggest that Lexicon and Rhapsody are hard E10.
In other words, rather than ballooning the E grading system, a little thought and consistency, and realising that E grades have always had significant width - suggests that at the top end, far from being undergraded, most things are about right already. Perhaps I'm wrong and Echo Wall or Bon Voyage really will end up being considered as big a deal as redpointing upwards of 9b+. Time will tell, but I'm skeptical that's really the case.
If people just asked a couple of simple questions of themselves after doing a new route, this stuff really wouldn't be that complicated. Is the route you've just headpointed, overall as big a deal as redpointing a Fr8c+ sport route? Then it is probably at least E10. Is it as big a deal as redpointing a 9a+ sport route? I'd suggest there's very few routes in that category. Perhaps just Echo Wall, Bon Voyage and possibly the odd one or two others. These probably deserve E11. Given the level of the trad climbers involved at sport and bouldering, I find it hard to believe that there's anything yet in the trad world that's the equivalent of Fr9b+ sport routes. The only thing would perhaps be Honnold's solo of Freerider - if that were actually a route, then perhaps that would be the first to justify E12 (it's the only thing I'm similarly impressed by as someone climbing upwards of 9b+).
So a little thought, and assigning E grades to things at all levels really isn't terribly difficult. If that was what the eGrader was meant to achieve, then fine. Not sure what all the fanfare and fuss was about though, for what could easily have been 8 lines in a notepad file
> I agree with you, except in the claim that there's no debate. As you say, the problem is with trying to apply a single solution to different games, and for me that is the main point of debate.
i also agree with you. My kind of thoughts around this are that the decision will be made by the osmosis of consensus rather than an informed debate and a decision on these hallowed pages. My guess is that eventually the French system will become defacto by default simply though lived experience by climbers and weight of numbers.
> You seem to be suggesting that one could nearly always tell how well protected a route was from E + sport grade alone?
Yes, I believe you can, provided you expand "well/poorly-protected" to include the other "danger" factors that sometimes apply to trad routes - especially mountain routes and sea-cliffs - such as loose rock and difficulty of escape if anything goes wrong. Everything else is in the sport grade.
> Perhaps that's because, to a good approximation, much of the rest of the world gets on without trad. I'd hope that never happens here......
Much if it does. But, and I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, I think Brits are often guilty of a bit of exceptionalism in this regard and of underestimating how much trad goes on elsewhere.
I really liked that post when I saw it, thanks for posting over here.
I'm not sure this bit is true though.
> It doesn't take too much effort to see the problem with the US system. Is the genuinely dangerous bit the crux at the top of the route, or on the VS bit after all the hard climbing. Is there a sustained dangerous section, or is it just a couple of relatively easy moves at the end of a runout to get to some good gear.
I spent some time climbing in the US last year and it seemed to me that they've actually solved this problem of routes having two sections with different characteristics (i.e. a safe hard bit and a bold easy bit) better than the UK system. They just recognise that there are really two sections that deserve separate grades, so they list both on the topo. E.g. Pull My Daisy would have two grades shown, 5.10c for the hard but safe lower bit and then 5.7 R for the upper easy but runout bit. Similarly, the Hollow Flake pitch on Salathe would be 5.11d into 5.9 R. I climbed a couple of pitches like that while out there and it was useful information. Can easily UKify it and fit into one line if you want: PMD E2 5c (HVS 4b), HF E3 6a (E2 5a).
At the risk of defending eGrader, it should presumably work in a similar way - so people upthread getting E3 out of it for Pull My Daisy just need to recognise that the relevant danger level to put in is the one that corresponds to the hard bit of the climb.
> Is the dangerous section on positive holds, or is it a sketchy smeary slab move where you're genuinely going to die. Is the dangerous climbing at an easy standard but with some loose rock, particularly if you have to completely trust a foothold which has a decent chance of breaking. Etc etc etc.
This bit is not so well reflected by the US system and is where the E grade is good I suppose. Not that you necessarily know before setting off if the E grade is higher because of general sketch factor or other factors.
It is amazing that the eGrader has caused so much debate, given it is just a very slightly different grade conversion chart to the one I have in the front of every rockfax guidebook I own. As far as I know (not climbing in high enough grades to personally confirm) the E grade to sport grade comparison that Nemo lists above is just roughly how things have worked for ages and it doesn't need a new grade conversion chart to remind us of that fact. I think the reason that I personally don't like it is that it feels like a big marketing exercise for those involved. If the same thing had been homemade by someone and 'released' on here in a forum post with little fanfare I think I would personally be a lot less aggrieved by it's existence. Maybe that's an attitude problem I need to work on.
Thanks for copying that. An interesting article, though mostly relevant to grades well beyond my own experience. I agree that the eGrader is stronger on presentation than on sophistication, but without the presentation , and the profile of its authors, would it have got us debating?
A few sentences made an excellent point for me:
> .... E grades are actually (or at least should be) incredibly simple, both for low grade routes and at the top end.
> They answer very successfully one simple question. How big a deal overall is an ascent of route X in any particular style.
> That is (along with the physical difficulty) ultimately both what aspirant ascentionists, and anyone interested in climbing news wants to know.
> The US system does not tell you that.
For short periods I've considered myself an E1 climber with occasional forays into E2. Most of my life I've been an HVS climber with occasional forays into E1. Nowadays I'm increasing having to admit that I'm a VS climber with occasional forays into HVS. But I've never considered myself a "5a climber", or a "5.9 climber" or an "f6a climber", other than when I've been dabbling in sport. It's the "E" grade that tells me how "big a deal overall" it will be to climb the route.
If we're going to use a 2-factor grading system for trad, where "x" + "y" = "z", regardless of whether the "x" is a UK tech grade, a French sport grade, or a US decimal grade, we can always work out the third dimension from the two we are given. Putting the "E" grade (the "z") centre stage focusses on the overall "deal". The US system gives you "x" and "y", so it does give you the same information, but it falls down in not highlighting the overall "deal".
Yes there is a lot of food for thought in what he’s posted although I am still on the fence with some aspects.
Its not a new conversion table it’s over 30 years old and I think is a good to be reminded how wide the E grade is in terms of its difficulty with each E grade covering 2 French grades. It is also a useful reminder that it should be projected forward (to be consistently progressive) as a starting base for calculating the E grade at whatever level. Definitely agree with him that the E6 grade should be tweaked to align with that. Maybe everyone does agree with that? Then we turn to risk/psychological factors with Indian Face for example which would be mid E6 if it was bolted but becomes E9 to give an indication of the bandwidth that risk adds to the E grade.
I’ve not tried many R routes in the States so can’t comment - off the top of my head only one and I retreated off that!
> If we're going to use a 2-factor grading system for trad, where "x" + "y" = "z", regardless of whether the "x" is a UK tech grade, a French sport grade, or a US decimal grade, we can always work out the third dimension from the two we are given. Putting the "E" grade (the "z") centre stage focusses on the overall "deal". The US system gives you "x" and "y", so it does give you the same information, but it falls down in not highlighting the overall "deal".
But the E grade is more like x+y+a+b+c+....... adding up to the whole deal, so a system which only gives you x and y doesn't even imply the whole deal. It might contain the same amount of information, but that information does not include the whole deal.
Point taken, although some might argue that the US PG/R/X grade does include your "a", "b", "c" etc. as well as just the protection ("y"). But I'm certainly not arguing that it works better than E grades.
My experience of US grades is limited. Gunks 15 years ago (when I don't recall PG/R/X grading being used, though I might have forgotten) Cirque of the Towers 25 years ago - with Joe Kelsey's wonderful guide - certainly no PG/R/X then, and Yangshuo 10 years ago - all sport there.
> Am I more impressed by a flash of E10 7a, or a flash of spicy 8b+ on gear? Hmm, they both sound pretty waddage to me.
Well I'd need to be told what E grade the 8b+ on gear would get...... obviously!
I've just been thinking that I would find it almost impossible to put a French grade on the vast majority of trad routes I have climbed (up to about E3 anyway). I'm not sure whether this is because most of them are of such a completely different style of climbing (much more "ledge shuffling" and cruxy rather than steep and sustained, or whether they are almost all physically easier than the vast majority of sport routes I bother with, or because the experience is so massively changed by the need to place gear, or a bit of all three. I expect I'd struggle to give a French grade even if I top roped them. So, if guidebooks suddenly started giving French rather than UK technical grades, I'm not sure I'd know what to expect. Maybe I'd get used to it, but I'm not sure. I strongly suspect that if only one grade were given, then the UK tech grade would be more useful up to about E5 and a French grade above E5.
Is anyone really disputing the efficacy of the E grade up to about E5? Maybe they are, but I think most of the debate is around the inconsistencies that develop above this, because of grade widths and the uselessness of the higher tech grades and the style in which routes are climbed. The issue is that some of the effects of this projected tinkering at the higher end are rippling down through the grades because we're determined to have consistency.
I understood that font grades were a bit rubbish at lower grades - not from personal experience - I only got into bouldering when there was a guide that included punter grades, the aforementioned Rockfax Peak bouldering guide.
> Yes, I believe you can, provided you expand "well/poorly-protected" to include the other "danger" factors that sometimes apply to trad routes - especially mountain routes and sea-cliffs - such as loose rock and difficulty of escape if anything goes wrong. Everything else is in the sport grade.
> Do you see that differently?>
It's just not something I'd considered before. I still think the E / tech grade combo has more advantages in specific situations, and anyway is well ingrained now with no real issues at mortal grades which can't be dealt with through route descriptions, but if what you say is true in practice, it's the first decent argument I've seen in favour of E + sport at mortal grades.
>It is amazing that the eGrader has caused so much debate, given it is just a very slightly different grade conversion chart to the one I have in the front of every rockfax guidebook I own.
It's probably because it gives the impression of being a much cleverer tool than it actually is. Yes, it is literally an electronic grade inversion chart. The charts are actually better since you can convert in more than one direction.
I thought it was V grades that were rubbish at lower grades, I'd have thought Font ones are not too wildly different from British tech but slightly more granular and therefore precise. At the same time I accept the British grading system works fine at the lower grades, and was only suggesting changing it to minimise the inconsistencies across the whole grade spectrum.
> I've just been thinking that I would find it almost impossible to put a French grade on the vast majority of trad routes I have climbed (up to about E3 anyway). I'm not sure whether this is because most of them are of such a completely different style of climbing (much more "ledge shuffling" and cruxy rather than steep and sustained, or whether they are almost all physically easier than the vast majority of sport routes I bother with, or because the experience is so massively changed by the need to place gear, or a bit of all three. I expect I'd struggle to give a French grade even if I top roped them. So, if guidebooks suddenly started giving French rather than UK technical grades, I'm not sure I'd know what to expect. Maybe I'd get used to it, but I'm not sure. I strongly suspect that if only one grade were given, then the UK tech grade would be more useful up to about E5 and a French grade above E5.
I've been thinking about this since I read your post. You do have a point that the actual climbing involved in a trad route does often "feel" different to the climbing on a sport route but I think that may largely be because most climbers operate, as you suggest, at much easier levels of pure difficulty when we climb trad. That's perhaps not quite so much the case for me, as when I venture into sport climbing outdoors I tend to do so with a "trad hat" on - on sight, ground up, no falls (more or less). I wouldn't want to claim any merit in that - it's just what I do.
So, for most of us I suspect, comparing the sport climbing we do with the trad climbing we do, and saying that the style of actual climbing is somehow qualitatively different (and deserving of a different grade scale) is perhaps a false comparison. Better to compare the same pitch of rock under the two different styles.
Take a classic climb I've lead many times, and most of us will have lead at least once - Christmas Crack at Stanage - HS 4a. Just suppose - perish the thought - that someone comes along and bolts it. For the brief time that the bolts stayed in, sport climbers could turn up and climb it, and would happily give it a sport grade. I expect they would grade it f4 or f4+, probably the latter as it's quite sustained. There would probably be some debate as to which grade to give - if any debate could take place while the brickbats were flying around. But a consensus would emerge. My point is: would the actual climbing have changed? It's still the same piece of rock, with the same moves, the same resting points, the same techniques required, the same strenuousness. Yes, the overall experience would have changed massively, but that's in the "HS", not in the "4a" or "f4/4+". Take the bolts back out (phew!) and is it unrealistic in principle to grade it "HS f4" or "HS f4+"?
A similar comparison, without the mind games above, can be made at Harpur Hill. The Seven Deadly Sins, HVS 5a, now goes up close (too close really) to the sport climbs on either side. The rock and pure climbing style are pretty much the same. It's difficult to see how, in principle, you couldn't describe Seven Deadly Sins as "HVS f5+" or possibly "HVS f6a". Yes, we could debate which - but it's whether it would work in principle that I'm considering.
There are some good arguments for a switch to "E+French" for trad at "mortal" grades, and some good arguments against. But I'm not sure the idea that the actual act of climbing the same piece of rock is somehow different in each style, trad or sport, is one of them. On balance I'm in favour of the switch, and I'd argue it should be considered, accepted that a lot more serious consideration would be needed to get it right.
Yes, I suspect that for most people (even those that almost always trying to onsight on sport like me), there will not be a great deal of overlap in the French grade of their trad and sport (my harder trad routes probably about the same as my sport warm ups), so maybe it would just take a bit of getting used to using the lower French grades for our trad. Conversely I think I would be hard pressed to put a UK tech grade on most sport routes I do (probably an arm wavy "loads of 5c/6a" or "6a/6b")