The state of the 9th grade

Who knows what 9a+ or 9b is? Really?!

If someone claims to know, on what does he base his knowledge?

These days, some 9a's get repeated in a couple of tries, while the first 9a, Action directe, widely recognized as a benchmark for the grade, has yet to see an ascent in less than 20...

Now, one might argue that it's so very different in character compared to many of the new 9a's i.e. short/powerful vs. long/endurance, but as long as we grade these climbs along the same scale, regardless of style, this shouldn't matter. If a route is easier to do... well, then it's easier. Maybe this is the core of the problem though. Perhaps we need to add something to the grade. 9as? 9ap 9at? But if so, where do we draw the line? Is it really that important to get it absolutely right? Is it even possible, or is it ultimately futile? If we, instead, all could agree a suggested grade means a suggested span, as opposed to a dot, the problem would pretty soon disappear. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this already in an article from 2000 called The legitimacy of the 9th grade and the necessary subjectivity of grading. 9a means somewhere between high end 8c+ and low end 9a+, 9a+ means 9a-9b, and so forth and so on. People are different and, hence, grading can't be more exact than that. This is also why slash grades aren't useful or necessary, even if they're used to suggest a span.

I think there's way too much prestige surrounding grades. Even if you climb 8A you may struggle on a 7B. Does this mean th 7B is a sandbag by default? Of course not! But what if you found the problem and made the FA? Chances are you would have given it a considerably higher grade... Giving the correct grade when making a FA is extremely difficult, regardless of how experienced you are. Show some respect instead of dissing! I guess it's normally easier with routes as there are more moves.
"For me, Adam Ondra is currently the climber with the biggest potential and the one, which has a broader vision for climbing than many of the other sport climbers. I am really happy that he found the way to Schleierwasserfall and that he became the first to repeat Weiße Rose. And he confirmed my point of view that it is harder than La Rambla. As well, that 'La Rambla' is not significantly more difficult than 'Action directe', therefore it doesn't deserve any grade higher than 9a today .
Up to 1995, Action Directe was considered to be 8c+. Therefore I graded routes like 'Weiße Rose' and 'La Rambla' with 8c+ as these routes were not significantly(!) harder than AD. Beginning with 1995, the grading became softer, and softer, and softer? Today AD is the most famous of all the 9a-routes and therefore it is the reference for that grade. So, routes like Weiße Rose and La Rambla are upgraded to 9a as well. The funny thing is that today AD, which had been 8c+ originally, is one of the hardest 9a-routes in the world!!! It just shows, how far the overgrading has gone over the years ? I guess that 90% of the modern high-end-routes are heavily overgraded if you compare these routes with the benchmark-route. Sure the best climbers nowadays are much stronger than Güllich was, but difference not as big as one would think after looking at the numbers only.
Fact is that Wolfgang never graded AD with the french grade 9a (as he didn't have any experience above 8b), but he gave the UIAA-grade XI. Later, Ben Moon thought that it would be 8c+. Undoubtly, Ben Moon was the opinion leader of the generation after the sport climbing world lost Wolfgang.
Over the years, Been Moon's guidelines were the basis of my understanding of grading: Action Directe is 8c+ and any route, which would get the grade 9a, had to be significantly harder! Om, La Rambla, Weiße Rose, Black Power, Open Air had been graded along this understanding of the grading.
Regarding correct grading: let's state that 'Action Directe' is the benchmark for 9a. Then, every route, which is easier than does not deserve the grade 9a. Very simple. 9a's with multiple and fast repetitions like Bain de Sang, Estado Critico definitely do not deserve the same grade?
If I see the actual grading, then I have to state that Open Air most probably is 9a+, because this route is significantly more difficult than Weiße Rose or La Rambla. In my opinion, it was the most difficult sport-route in 1996."

Adam Ondra agrees after his 2nd ascent of Open air: "My hardest definitely! A bit harder than Weisse Rose, so 9a+ should be appropriate I hope. When Alex Huber did it, Action Directe was considered as 8c+, then 9a for this one was OK. Now when AD is 9a, this should be 9a+."

Huber continues: "When I look at the history of hard core routes then I have the impression that Chris Sharma is the first, who made a real step forward with climbing his mega-projects 'Es Pontas' and 'Jumbo Love'. Still, Chris seems to be the most visionary climber and his climbing skills are apparently simply said: phenomenal!
What a shame that the uniqueness of the extraordinary achievements of Sharma and Ondra are impaired by dubious achievements of other climbers. Sharma or Ondra ? if someone climbs as strong as these extraordinary athletes, he would show these skills not just in one wonder-route, but would demonstrate these skills on many, many other occasions?
When I see the news, then Jumbo love is considered to be the most difficult sportclimb today. And well, this assumption is reasonable! We know the skills of Sharma, which he demonstrated with ascents of Realization, La Rambla, Es Pontas,?.. The funny thing is that, when I look through all the magazines, above Jumbo Love are still registered the routes Chilam Balam and Akira!? As if the performance of Sharma would be kindergaden-like!!! Would only have to put into consideration, how long was the road for Chris Sharma to get into position to climb a route like Jumbo Love. And we have to put into consideration how strong Sharma is compared to others! Through the demonstration of his skills through countless ascents he created his credibility, which is so necessary in the climbing community as we don't want to have judges approving ascents! And Chris Sharma well deserves this credibility, he worked hard in order to get it! In contrast, others are not willing to be open and transparent enough so that we could believe them. As we do not have referees and judges, climbing has to come along with transparency and credibility. To trust blindly the correctness of the human being is stupid ? we should have learned this from history."
/Alex Huber

"I think that the grades are very personal and subjective. My references maybe come from a more severe period, even in an old school sandbag place like Buoux they tend to upgrade."/Fred Rouhling

This post has been read 2,636 times

Return to Latest News

Support UKC

As climbers we strive to make UKClimbing the kind of website we would love to visit, with the most up-to-date news, diverse and interesting articles, comprehensive gear reviews, breathtaking photographs and a vast and useful logbook system. As a result, an incredible community has formed around the site - we’ve provided the framework but it’s you who make the website what it is today. If you appreciate the content we offer then you can help us by becoming an official UKC Supporter. This can be a one-off single annual payment or a more substantial payment paid monthly or yearly which includes full access to Rockfax Digital and discounts on Rockfax print publications.

If you appreciate UKClimbing then please help us by becoming a UKC Supporter.

UKC Supporter

  • Support the website we all know and love
  • Access to a year's subscription to Rockfax Digital.
  • Plus 30% off Rockfax guidebooks
  • Plus Show your support UKC porter badge on your profile and forum posts
UKC/UKH/Rockfax logo


Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email LinkedIn Pinterest