/ Inconsistent/sandbagged gym grades

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Paul Sagar 26 Nov 2019

Quick little rant because I'm a saddo with nothing better to do with my life...

Does anybody else find themselves really quite irritated by the activities of gym route setters?

In the past week I've been compensating for the foul winter weather by climbing indoors, specifically at The Reach, Harlow's Lock Climbing Wall, and Mile End. In all three cases, the grading is just all over the place on the lead walls. So at the Reach you'll get a 5c that's harder than the 6a+ on the line next to it; at Harlow I onsighted a 6c after getting shut down by a 6b; at Mile End there isn't even any point looking at the grades, just check the holds from below and make an estimate as to probabilities of being able to get to the top.

I don't care about sandbagging in and of itself, because I don't care what my 'gym grade' is, as it's just training for the real thing for me. What I do care about is not being able to structure my warm up or indeed my overall session properly because e.g. the 6b I pulled on to requires me to crank far harder than I'm ready for. Likewise, given how busy the London gyms in particular get, often you have to scope lines and swoop on them to get any climbing in - and it's infuriating when the one line you've managed to secure is way off in terms of what you are trying to get out of your session.

Gym memberships are expensive, and gyms are very crowded this time of year after work. Route setters, you have ONE JOB, which is to not only set routes but give users an accurate indication of what they are. Can you please just do it properly? The Castle manages*, for the most part, so why can't other gyms?

Rant over.

*admittedly they've gone from being soft overall to much harder, but at least the upward shift has been consistent across the board!

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johncook 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Move North. Climb in the Peak when it's dry and climb indoors at Awesome when it's raining.

The grades are consistent throughout the centre, maybe a bit harder than other walls. but consistent. Lots of different styles of climbing to choose from and even when busy, because of the size of the place, still plenty of routes available.

But indoors is a last resort when the Peak is almost as close as indoors.

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Flinticus 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Well, I can't fully blame the route setters but the grades at the Glasgow Climbing Centre can also be similarly inconsistent.

Each route is initially given a grade range, e.g. 5a to 6a+, and climbers are asked to submit a grade suggestion within that window. Once a few weeks, a final grade is given. You think this results in consistent grading...no!

At this moment, there's a 6B+ that's a real struggle and one I have yet to complete, near a 6c that was an easy flash. There's a load of 6bs I use to warm up on so a 6b+ should not be proving so difficult. 

There's also a lead climb suggested at 6B+ to 7a but I think it a 6B based on adjacent routes.

My thoughts are that if a route is suggested as 6b - 6c, but its easy for the grade, then a lot of people will complete it that would not normally manage a manage a 6c and may be inclined to submit a suggestion at the top end. 

If a route is a sandbag and only those who climb comfortably at the top end suggested grade & above, while everyone else struggles or fails... then that smaller pool of good climbers will probably consider it fairly easy and throw out a casual grade suggestion, especially as the suggested grade range will cap the grade.

Post edited at 11:22
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earlsdonwhu 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Flinticus:

I quite like it where you have the official grade displayed and then somewhere else that we punters can write what we think. A consensus is evident. It may be that the setter alters the official grade in light of our views. Alternatively, it maybe that the route doesn't suit your style/ strengths and everyone else is happy with the official grade .

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Wiley Coyote2 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

This is a one-off anecdote but may explain things (in some cases). 

The owner, who clearly has ideas on what his clientele want,  turned up and went along the wall telling the manager the grades he wanted on each line. The manager duly took notes and presumably the setters were given the plan. Unfortunately trying some of the routes a week or so later it was quite clear that a few of the grades were way out, some easier some harder. Nevertheless the posted grades remained unchanged despite the feedback to staff from several clilmbers.

My guess is that the manager left the posted grades as the owner had instructed so as not to look like he had ignored his boss but did not have the budget to pay for a corrective re-set.

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tom_in_edinburgh 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

It would be more consistent if there was one person in the centre that determined the 'official' grade for all the routes after they were set rather than having individual setters grade their own routes.

Although the occasional sandbag can be amusing and regulars get extra information when the setter's name is on the route marker as well as the grade.

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Iamgregp 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

YES!!!

I fell off the third move of a 5 the other day, then, yards away onsighted a 6b+.  

It's so frustrating when at you get huge inconsistencies at the same wall.  A while back at the Castle I jumped on a 6a whilst still warming up, and found it a horrible journey of difficult clipping off tenuous slopers that I got really badly flash pumped that I never really recovered from for the rest of the day.  A totally wasted session that really isn't helpful.

Now that may have been the first time I went there after the new regime of grading (glad you agree on that!) but nonetheless, consistency within the same centre surely has to be given more importance?

   

Post edited at 13:50
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brianjcooper 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

> Does anybody else find themselves really quite irritated by the activities of gym route setters?

I don't climb near the grades of most posts on this thread, but I've experienced the same issues at various walls. Usually I warm up on 5/5+ grades to avoid an early pump, as no longer a Spring chicken, then try harder things. 6a/6a+

One example of a 5c with an out of reach 'dyno' top move had the setter saying to me.  "Ask one of the instructors how to do it, or go on one of our courses".  And  "It's technical".

I'm not grade focused, as it's just training for the real thing. 

My rant over too.

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teh_mark 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

I'm not saying that's the case here, but sometimes when I find grades feel inconsistent, on reflection I can put it down to the style of climbing catering to my strengths and vice-versa.

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Fergal 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Have the grades at Ratho got harder? or am i just getting weaker!

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brianjcooper 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Fergal:

> Have the grades at Ratho got harder? or am i just getting weaker!

It's hard to perform well in a freezer! 

Post edited at 15:50
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Johnlenham 26 Nov 2019
In reply to teh_mark:

I was thinking the same thing tbh

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teh_mark 26 Nov 2019
In reply to brianjcooper:

But think of the friction!

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Robert Durran 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Fergal:

> Have the grades at Ratho got harder? 

Yes, there is a consensus that the batch set over the last few months are about a grade stiffer - at least it was consistent though. However they seem to have reacted to comments by putting up a few really soft ones in the last couple of weeks! 

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henwardian 26 Nov 2019
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

> It would be more consistent if there was one person in the centre that determined the 'official' grade for all the routes after they were set rather than having individual setters grade their own routes.

This doesn't work because everyone has their own style. Assuming for a moment that that one person is me; the grading would still be horribly inconsistent because I can't climb overhangs or do dynos or sit-starts for toffee but I'm right at home on a crimpy vertical wall with long reaches. So the "grade" that feels at my limit is in fact a range of at least 4 grades depending on what type of climb we are talking about.

In reply to everyone who is upset about their warmup:

If you are warming up, what is with this ego stuff? You are trying to get warmed up, so if it turns out to be a bit of a nightmare, just lower off as soon as it looks like it's not going well and start another route instead, doesn't matter if you climb it clean or not, does it?

Grade inconsistency at climbing centres has to be almost the most common thread on UKC after politics. There are so many reasons the grades might become inconsistent (some of which have been pointed out in the thread already), it's probably better to just shrug and not worry about it so much. One might almost argue that wildly inaccurate grading is a great way to encourage people to try a grade outside their comfort zone because they know that the grade written down is such a random number anyway that, hey, might as well try another random number.

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PaulJepson 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

I think subjectivity it a big part of it also though. For example I find anything steep utterly desperate (having avoided it my entire climbing career) but often climb with people who like steep, juggy things. I'll come off a 6a thinking it was an absolute sandbag and they'll say it's fine. Then I'll go and climb an awkward vertical 6b/c that feels like a piece of piss in comparison. 

Part of that is because of what I'm used to climbing and also body type (I'm quite a long boi so lank past cruxes and get annihilated by overhangs). 

When you factor in that the route-setters themselves also add in another layer of subjectivity then grading things can be hard work. 

Also consider that the chaps and chapesses setting are often themselves climbing 2 full number grades harder than I am. They're great at their job but there must be very little difference between a 6a and a 6c for these monsters. What they think is a fine hold or move may shut down us mortals. 

Another problem is walls get into trends with grading and circuits can get progressively harder or easier (like grading locality outside). E.g. "there's no way this one can be harder than 6b because it's easier than that 6b over there". With enough feedback about grading being too easy/hard, it'll get to the setters and they will actively try and address it on the next set. 

A problem with walls that have a coloured range rather than individually-graded routes is that a setter may put up a great route/problem that is too hard for the colour it's supposed to be. Changing anything would reduce the quality, so rather than having a less-good climb they leave it and have a not-quite-on-grade climb. 

All a wall can do is set it, grade it, and then listen to the customer's feedback. If a lot of people are consistently saying it is hard or not on-grade then walls will generally adapt the route (put an extra hold in, swap a hold out for something more positive, spin a hold so it's more positive, or upgrade it). 

I'd recommend you mention to the wall directly if there is inconsistency in grading. They won't know there's a problem if no one tells them.

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mrphilipoldham 26 Nov 2019
In reply to johncook:

You're having a laugh aren't you? I visited Awesome Walls at Stockport for the first time ever the other week and climbed three 6a/+s. Onsighted two, and felt that one was seriously soft, the other reasonable and dogged the third which was probably 6b+ (as the notes at the bottom agreed - wish I'd seen them before I set off!). If there's one thing guaranteed there it's inconsistency. 

I will agree that indoors is a last resort though.. my visit was the first time to any indoor wall in over 2 years! 

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TheCorbusian 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

If you want sandbag climb a Ben Moon problem on the moonboard ;) Pure evil. Much more consistent in grading because of the app voting system though (similar to UKC grade voting system).

It'd be great if walls had something like that too so a problem or route could get a consensus grade, rather than an uber strong setter slapping a 5a on something, when he/she can no longer discern a 5a to a 6b. Obviously there are many variables to why a grade might be 'off' as others have mentioned, whatever that even means.

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Iamgregp 26 Nov 2019
In reply to henwardian:

> If you are warming up, what is with this ego stuff? You are trying to get warmed up, so if it turns out to be a bit of a nightmare, just lower off as soon as it looks like it's not going well and start another route instead, doesn't matter if you climb it clean or not, does it?

That's a very good point - I probably should have done that on the occasion I mentioned as it wasn't too busy that day.  However, as Paul mentioned, sometimes the London walls are so busy it's not really an option.

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Presley Whippet 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

2 points:

1. Its the wall, don't worry about it. 

2. It's the wall, not the gym. 

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John Stainforth 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Do you really take climbing wall grades so seriously?

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The Ex-Engineer 26 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

I'm completely with you on this.

Self-consistency is far more important than accuracy. I don't expect grading to always be accurate it I do expect them to be fairly consistent within any wall, at least for similar styles of climb. 

Craggy Island is the classic example of this. Almost everything is hideously under graded, especially on the main overhang (and has been for years) but it's not really an issue as the grades are at least consistent. The f6bs might actually be f6c+ in reality but at least they are harder than the f6a+s and easier than the f6b+s. 

Post edited at 20:05
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tom_in_edinburgh 26 Nov 2019
In reply to henwardian:

> This doesn't work because everyone has their own style. Assuming for a moment that that one person is me; the grading would still be horribly inconsistent because I can't climb overhangs or do dynos or sit-starts for toffee but I'm right at home on a crimpy vertical wall with long reaches.

The grades might still be biased according to the strengths and weaknesses of the one person but they would be consistent in that all the grades would be biased in the same way.   Hopefully, the centre would choose their most experienced routesetter/manager to determine the grades and they'd do a reasonable job of compensating for their own biases.

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Iamgregp 27 Nov 2019
In reply to henwardian:

So this exact thing happened to me last night, 2nd route of the night at 6a+ and it was totally grim, much harder than other 6b's I've climbed at the same place. 

Got super pumped, but it wasn't too busy so took your advice and lowered off halfway and gave up and shuffled off to find something more warm uppable on (ironically a soft 6b that I'd climbed before).

Wish I'd given up a few moves earlier, felt pumped for the rest of the night.

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Ciro 27 Nov 2019
In reply to Iamgregp:

> shuffled off to find something more warm uppable on (ironically a soft 6b that I'd climbed before).

> Wish I'd given up a few moves earlier, felt pumped for the rest of the night.

Always worth warming up on routes you know and/or creating your own rainbow lines to ensure a consistent progression without overly hard moves too early.

Think of the routesetters job as creating interesting stuff for people to work at every grade, and your job to design a warmup routine that works for you.

If you want to make sure you're doing all the new lines that have been set in the "easier" grades, you can do them at the end of the session as a warmdown - that way it's not going to affect your session if they turn out to be graded hard, or not suit your style.

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Iamgregp 27 Nov 2019
In reply to Ciro:

That's good advice, will bear this in mind for the future! 

In me defence although it wasn't as busy as it can be last night, the line we jumped on was the only one that was free.

Although we hadn't climbed the routes I thought it it would be fine for warming up as it had 4+ 5+ 6a+ 6b+ on it.   Should've just climbed some easy boulders instead.  Lesson learnt. 

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Ciro 27 Nov 2019
In reply to Iamgregp:

> Although we hadn't climbed the routes I thought it it would be fine for warming up as it had 4+ 5+ 6a+ 6b+ on it.   

Four routes means a lot of holds on the line - must be dozens of easy variations for warning up. Creating your own multicoloured lines also helps you to think about what you need to include in your warmup - hip-opening, big moves on good holds, fingers, dynamic moves, shouldery moves, etc.

Good to get in the habit of ticking off a list of movement types and soft tissue range of movement/loading before you try hard.

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Bulls Crack 27 Nov 2019
In reply to Paul Sagar:

Harrogate seems to be going through an inconsistent phase - up to 3 grades out in places. I'm sure they'll get over it but how hard can it be to get it about right?

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racodemisa 28 Nov 2019
In reply to Flinticus:

I spent 10 years in London with only Westway as a decent place to go indoor sport climbing.During this time I was completely unable to train the way I needed to.I count myself as an upper middle grade climber so wanting to train at consistent grades from 6a+ to 6c/+...with performance days at around 7a-7b.Impossible to do at Westway as the grades were almost always out.A very disheartening era for me.Thankfuly over now.

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