The difficult Walk of life

James Pearson's The Walk of life, on the North Devon coast, has been repeated by Dave MacLeod, who suggests a downgrade from E12 7a to E9 6c. Given the swiftness of Dave's repeat, this seems reasonable, and although E9 6c is still very impressive the downgrade is absolutely massive.
This is not an isolated case, remember:

The Promise went from E10 7a to E7 6c
The Groove went from E10 7b(E11 in hindsight) to E8 7a

To put things into perspective, this is as if Jumbo love, Es Pontas and Three degrees of separation were repeated and found to be 8c, 8b+ and 8b...

How is this possible? Who or What is to blame?

  1. Is it simply a question of James having to get out more, repeating other people's hard routes to get a grip on the grades?

  2. Has James felt too much pressure from sponsors (real or imagined), affecting his judgment?

  3. Has James been consciously misleading us to get the headlines?

  4. Is the E-system to blame?

Hardly surprising, I think it's a combination of all of the above.

  1. To misjudge how dangerous a route is, is, I suppose, quite easy, but to mistake an 8a/+ for an 8c/+ (the way I interpret the E-system, a route has to be at least 8c/+ to reach E12) is a bit harder to swallow. I don't know how much sport climbing James has done, but it's obvious to me it isn't enough.

  2. Probably the pressure of being a North Face global athlete has got to him. Even though this pressure of making headlines is mostly imagined, it has most probably had a real effect. He felt he had to produce.

  3. To some extent he must have known he was inflating the grades somewhat.

  4. I don't think the system is to blame per se, but the way the perceived danger influences the grade, it makes it easier to sort of "hide" behind. No one can prove you wrong about feeling a placement wouldn't take a fall as long as it isn't tested by a lead fall.

It's time for the young lad to sit down and think. There's no doubt he's an extremely talented climber and boulderer with a good eye for finding brilliant lines. Let's not forget this. Regardless of the grades the routes mentioned above are great contributions the the sport of climbing, and everyone is allowed to make a mistake or three.

Photo showing Dave MacLeod on The Walk of life

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28 Sep, 2009
@ Anonymous 1: Good point! How do you know how scared you are compared to others, and how much the perceived difficulty is affected? Experience I suppose.@ Anonymous 2: 'The Mandala' turned out to be 8A (a hold has broken since, making it 8A+), and still, to Chris, it was most probably the hardest thing he had ever done cause it didn't really suit his strengths. Grades are extremely subjective...
28 Sep, 2009
True, but Sharma is hardly to blame for what media says. It would have been a different story if he'd called Mandala V14 himself. But then again, bouldering is, because of its nature, more difficult to grade, at least if you want to reach some kind of consensus. 8A for someone can very well be 7C or impossible for someone else.
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