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Thoughts on Chasing Grades


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Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 306

I've been thinking about grades on and off for a while.

Some people are out there working V-double-digits in bouldering and I find some V2s quite a challenge. Others are sending 5.11 trad routes every weekend and 5.8 is psychologically about all I can handle. I led a 5.10a/b a few weeks ago - the hardest sport pitch I've ever lead - someone probably warmed up on it last weekend.

It seems like there's this "push" in climbing society to climb harder and get to that next grade, as if to attain it is to open a door to a new place. And that to not push the grades is weakness: 'Oh you only climb V5?' '5.9 is nothing these days!'

Now I understand that raising your grades does open up new routes and problems, and so in some ways does open doors to new places. But does it also CLOSE doors?

Right now 5.8 trad is my leading limit, so I can still really enjoy a 5.6 route. But when you lead 5.11, is 5.6 any fun at all anymore? If you're climbing V9s, is a V0 even worth your time?

These are questions I can't really answer because I haven't advanced enough yet. But I feel like it's a very real possibility that for most climbers there is a grade range or window of interest, based on their current leading grade. For example, 5.10a is about the limit of my comfort for sports. I'd get on a letter grade or two above that and might sink down to 5.7 for a warm up, but below that is too easy and safe for me to enjoy. So it seems rational to me that as my leading grades increases, so will the lower grade of my interest range (or window) be raised.

If that's the case, it seems that Chasing the grades too much would not open up more climbing that is interesting, just move the window farther up the grading scale. Now I could look at those route I will pass by as opportunities to be enjoyed later in life when (if I live long enough in good health) I may find the window drop back down the grading scale. Or I could also focus more on climbing route and problems within my current abilities. Or maybe a little of both.

Just curious as to who has experienced or wondered about this. And I'm also interested to hear how some of the older climbers, who are not climbing as hard as they were at their peak, feel about it. It seems like easy, hard, comfortable, scary, are all relative. Does anyone miss the days when a grade that is now a breeze for them was a challenge?

David Gibbs · · Ottawa, ON · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2

I climb about the grades you're talking about -- 5.8 trad, maybe 5.10a sport. In a gym, I'm unlikely to be much interested in anything below about a 5.6 -- but out on real rock, I'll climbing most anything down to about a 5.0. (Below that is hiking, and hiking isn't my thing. :)

Regular Route up Chapel Pond Slab in the 'Dacks is mostly 5.3 or less climbing (with the occasional 5.5 crux), about 800ft long, and a lovely climb. I've done it a couple times, and I'd happily do it more.

I will say, I'm much less likely to be interested in truly easy single-pitch cragging, but I'm quite happy to be on easy multi-pitch.

Micah Klesick · · Kalamazoo, MI · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 3,943

I climb in the low to mid 5.12 area, and while I love projecting hard routes, I also really enjoy a day just romping on easier routes. For instance, I climbed a 5.6, and two 5.7's today before I got on my 5.12 project and enjoyed all of them. I enjoy climbs for their quality of rock and movement, and position, and those factors come in every grade and style. So the harder routes I project feature good rock, excellent and fun movement and are enjoyable to climb. The easier routes I climb have the same qualities, I just am able to send them easier. :)

Mike Marmar · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 67

It all depends on where you spend your time climbing. At a lot of the trad climbing destinations in the US, the balance of high quality climbing is in the .10-.11 range. So, being able to climb those grades opens up a huge number of high quality routes. However, if you climb in ceuse, 5.10 isn't going to get you very far. So it is not just a matter of "moving the window". Rather, climbing at a certain level (depending on your location) allows you to climb many more high quality routes.

Being comfortable at .10 and up for trad has two more big benefits:

1. 5.10 and up are usually less crowded
2. Steeper climbs are generally safer (excepting R/X routes).

ColinW · · San Diego, CA · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 70

I'm by no means a big wall charger (.....yet!) or boulder fanatic problem solver, but here's my perspective on grades. October 5th last year, i took a 50ft whipper while free soloing and fractured my skull, a vertebrae in my neck and to top it off, had to deal with a severe T.B.I.....That shit sucked! My passion for climbing was put to a screeching halt for 6-7 months. And for 8 months, I thought long and hard about what I did and caused it. Was it my ego? Wanting to push my limits? The very first route I did once I healed up was a 5.10a/b crack. The 2nd route I did was a 5.11c. At no point in my previous climbing days, had I climbed a route more than 5.7-5.9 multi-pitch sport, let alone any cracks. From the beginning, I was leading the sport routes without problems after learning all of the basics from my partner. To me, the grades didn't mean much. When I came back from injury, I was climbing grades that were away above what I was "comfortable" with earlier on. To be bluntly honest, I f***ing loved it twice as much! It's ALL about the experience of enjoying the outdoors, challenging myself and to do something I got absolutely hooked on, climb higher up and harder.

We only have one shot in life and I know full well what it's like to almost not come home from the crag. Push yourself if you desire to reach a certain grade, but don't let a number take away from the enjoyment of climbing and camaraderie with your partners. A great starting point could be to read "The Rock Warrior's Way" by Arno Ilgner. Its about mental training for climbers. If people are giving you shit for "only" climbing a 5.9.....fuck em'. If others are looking down at you because you can't lead a 5.11.....you guessed it, fuck em'. Do what Mathias want's to do and if you desire to push your climbing ability so you can achieve a certain route, GO FOR IT! Just don't get the mind set that because you can lead a 5.10, it takes away the enjoyment of a climbing a 5.8 with someone who can't climb at your level. Because at the end of the day, you're climbing. And if you enjoy it, no one can take that away from you.

Just my two cents!

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,415
Micah Klesick wrote:I climb in the low to mid 5.12 area, and while I love projecting hard routes, I also really enjoy a day just romping on easier routes. For instance, I climbed a 5.6, and two 5.7's today before I got on my 5.12 project and enjoyed all of them. I enjoy climbs for their quality of rock and movement, and position, and those factors come in every grade and style. So the harder routes I project feature good rock, excellent and fun movement and are enjoyable to climb. The easier routes I climb have the same qualities, I just am able to send them easier. :)
I'm with you on this, easy routes are always fun as long as you get on the quality routes. Granted, as you climb harder you will probably climb less of the easy routes, but in my experience, there is a much higher percentage of easy routes that have less interesting position, less interesting movement, and lower quality rock. As the grades increase, there seems to be a higher percentage of classic routes. Because of this as you work up the grades you obviously have access to a greater number of classic lines. When you do want to have an easy day of climbing you can pick and choose which easy lines you want to climb and just get on the classics instead of being stuck climbing all of the low quality routes as well since you've already climbed all of the classics in the area at your grade.

Obviously, climbing is about having fun, and if chasing grades isn't fun for you, you can have a great time no matter what grade your climbing. For me, I just tend to be drawn towards the harder lines, not necessarily because of the grade, they just tend to be the coolest and most fun looking routes. I hope to someday be able to climb half of the routes that always seem to draw my eyes towards them.
Zac St. Jules · · New Hampshire · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 1,133
David Gibbs wrote: ... I will say, I'm much less likely to be interested in truly easy single-pitch cragging, but I'm quite happy to be on easy multi-pitch.
I think that is it for me ^... No longer have too much personal interest in easier single pitch cragging but if its multi-pitch Im definitely interested whatever the grade. Though if my wife is working on a single pitch climb that may be well below what I climb, I get interested in it and excited for her and may climb it for her sake.
Mark E Dixon · · Sprezzatura, Someday · Joined Nov 2007 · Points: 584

The joy is in the chase, not the catch

reboot · · . · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 125
Mark E Dixon wrote:The joy is in the chase, not the catch
Yes. And I'll add another: if climbing progression is merely going down the rungs of an Eva Lopez hangboard (as someone I knew once surmised: harder climbs are just easier climbs w/ smaller holds), I'd probably have quit climbing by now.
JeanGClimbs · · Reading, VT · Joined Jul 2006 · Points: 150

What a great topic and superbly presented Mathias!

I think that the explosion of gym and sport climbing is why we see this increase in grade chasing (not to mention boasting and deriding those who can't climb grade "5.X.") In fact, gym and sport climbing popularity seems to bring to climbing a lot of other ethical issues. Most of us do want to climb better and harder (while some are truly content to stay at one level, I think it is less common.) I think it's natural to want to improve and grades are our only "objective" measurement. I am almost 55 years old and have improved in many ways outside of grade difficulty (experience gains wisdom), but I sure wish I could move up a few grades higher to open new route possibilities. The past few years (since I turned 50) I feel my body cannot tolerate the most difficult routes I lead just 5 years ago. I am less flexible, strong and have more chronic injuries and pain to deal with. But I still love getting out to climb regardless of the difficulty. For me it is mostly about who I am climbing and hanging out with and the places I get to see and climb than the grades. When you are young (teens, 20s?) that might seem wimpy and competition (with self or others) is king. Then one day you grow up.
I like your attitude Mathias. If we ever get a chance to meet I'd hope we could consider tying in together and enjoying the climb no matter the grade. Climb On!

· · Unknown Hometown · Joined unknown · Points: 0

I want to be able to comfortably climb a 5.12a trad. Not because I ever would climb them but because imo that opens up climbing anywhere I would ever want to. I want to be able to walk up to a wall anywhere of any climbing style and be able to finish. I prefer easy long routes but if I climb a 1500ft wall that is all 5.7 and happens to have that one 5.12 move I want to be able to finish it.

On the other hand even though I prefer climbing long easy 1000ft rope routes that are easy... when it comes to bouldering I love to push for hard stuff. Without the difficulty imo bouldering just wouldn't be fun. I guess it comes down to the fact for me when you walk into a bouldering field normally you can find a way up. So if you take out the difficulty it is pointless, where on the other hand when you are talking about 1000ft climbs getting to the top the easiest way is normally relaxing and fun.

Everyone is different though so it is best to find someone who gets the same pleasure out of climbs as you do and go climb with them (unless you are alex honnold or dean potter and just want to climb alone).

I guess I climb for the beauty of it more than anything. Beauty isn't always what you see with your eyes, although alot of times it is. I love to climb sandstone barefoot just because I love the feel of it on my feet, the cold smoothness on my hands.

Kent Richards · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 81
Mathias wrote: But when you lead 5.11, is 5.6 any fun at all anymore? If you're climbing V9s, is a V0 even worth your time? These are questions I can't really answer because I haven't advanced enough yet.
As a 5.8 climber, is 4.15 fun for you?

Mathias wrote: But I feel like it's a very real possibility that for most climbers there is a grade range or window of interest, based on their current leading grade.
Might be, true. But, is that "chasing grades", or simply "climbing what's 'fun' for you"?

If you climb for the outing -- the romp, the height, the company, the nature... -- then maybe the grade doesn't make a difference.

If you climb for physical and mental challenge, then maybe the grade makes a difference.
MyFeetHurt · · Glenwood, CO · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 25

As newer climber who hasn't worked up to the harder grades yet, I can tell you that I always feel like my options are limited and I can't wait for the day when I can get up the more "standard" grades and have more options to choose from. So for me, chasing grades is a means to an end.

Muscrat · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2011 · Points: 3,625

Mathias, i seem to be chasing you, was on your other thread about hangboard.
I think the joy in getting into the higher grades is that you have more options at the crag. All the 5.8's have lines? There's a great 5.10 around the corner. Unless you are climbing somewhere where the crowds are everywhere, usually the higher the grade, the smaller the crowd. Just gives you options.
I am in the high moderates, 11's & falling up 12's, and one of my faves is a 3 pitch 5.6 in the Valley, the Grack.
And the styles change as you get into higher and harder. I find more often that the harder lines are somehow more elegant....not always, but just an observation.
BONUS THOUGHT....the best advice i got about trad was from a guide who i met on top of Bishop's Terrace, a 5.8. Short story is i was leading 8's following 10+, and the difference was my head. He told me to go aid climb. And within 2 months was leading solid 10's.

Jon Frisby · · midwest/west circuit (Indiana) · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 120

If there's a sick easy route, I will climb it. The problem is that the very low grades tend to not have as good of rock or movement, or are a fair bit less than vertical. So it's not that I'll stop climbing things in the 5.4-5.9 range, but I can be a bit pickier, particularly when I'm traveling and have to choose between routes. At the home area, it's a different calculation.

KyleT · · Lakewood, CO · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 5

Great topic, I have to admit, I too found myself chasing grades as a means to and end (as mentioned above). However I think the moment I found the most value in having moved up the grade scale was about a year ago when I was standing at the base of a crag that was packed with people, my buddy and I both eyed what looked to be the best route and yet no one was on it! When I was getting going my buddy asked what grade is it, I shrugged and said I don't know but it looks fun!! I felt liberated felling that everything at that crag was within my range, I didn't have any fear that when I opened the guide book I would be shut down again by, yet another route that was too hard. Since then I have spent more time chasing quality rock and caring way less about grades. Climb because you like it, whatever it is.

Luc Ried · · Batesville, AR · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 455

I've climbed 5.13s and worked on 5.14s, and still enjoy going out with my friends and being a rope gun on some 5.7-5.9. Its all about the experience, not always the ratings. If that's not true, then you're probably doing it wrong

Lynn Evenson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2015 · Points: 60
Muscrat wrote:Mathias, i seem to be chasing you, was on your other thread about hangboard. I think the joy in getting into the higher grades is that you have more options at the crag. All the 5.8's have lines? There's a great 5.10 around the corner. Unless you are climbing somewhere where the crowds are everywhere, usually the higher the grade, the smaller the crowd. Just gives you options. I am in the high moderates, 11's & falling up 12's, and one of my faves is a 3 pitch 5.6 in the Valley, the Grack. And the styles change as you get into higher and harder. I find more often that the harder lines are somehow more elegant....not always, but just an observation. BONUS THOUGHT....the best advice i got about trad was from a guide who i met on top of Bishop's Terrace, a 5.8. Short story is i was leading 8's following 10+, and the difference was my head. He told me to go aid climb. And within 2 months was leading solid 10's.
Amen, amen. Being able to climb 5-hard or V-ridiculous doesn't close doors unless you decide to close them, shutting yourself away from easier routes that, like The Grack, are absolutely beautiful.

The push to climb harder has always been there, and not just in climbing. It's called competition, and it is a two-edged sword.

Climb whatever the hell you like, for whatever reason you like: challenge, the outdoors, fun; it's all valid, and don't let 'em tell you any different!

By the way, you sound like you might enjoy reading W.H. Murray, one of the most eloquent writers ever, in any genre. He was a Scot, one of those guys who thought that getting blasted off a route by bad weather, or getting shut down by a climb, was a great and wonderful thing.The way he saw it, it was all part of the game. He was also a big exponent of being able to climb whatever the mountains threw at you; another skill worth acquiring.
Eliot Augusto · · Colorado · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 60

tl;dr - Spray. More Spray, and a point about chasing a grade being a silly accusation for some climbers having fun the way they want.

I was indoctrinated with South Platte climbing lore in the early days before I actually started climbing and I fell in love with a route called Field of Dreams Growing Wild (11d R). I knew I just had to climb it. I started climbing after I heard about the route, you could say it inspired me to climb. Initially I wanted to climb it in my first year because I didn't understand what the rating system was. I started going to the gym 6 months after I started so that I could climb it. Then I started adding more insane goals and actually started achieving them.

Then I went to Shelf Road about a year in, my first "real" sport climbing experience. I had yet to spend a specific day dedicated to clipping bolts. I struggled on 9s and 10s. Then at the end of the first day I tried an 11 for the first time. I was hooked. I ended up sending an 11 two months later. I added this goal to get a 12a onsight before I hit 2 years. I can't tell if its an ego thing to prove I'm better. That thought comes across my mind. But I don't care about anyones opinion of my climbing ability, apart from the fact that I belay safe. And I always end up convincing myself its about pushing myself to climb that hard. I WANT to climb a 5.14. But I also really want to climb the Culp-Bossier on Hallett(5.8 multipitch).

I "chase" the grades because harder movement and bigger challenges entertains me more. Being able to climb 11 trad opens up climbing everywhere in the world. But I will travel to place to specifically climb "the easy route," which to me is just another amazing day outdoors. But if you tell me I'm missing the point of climbing by chasing a number, I'll say that if you care about another's climbing ability then you're missing the point of climbing. We're conquistadors of the useless! Have fun however you want. The fun routes to me just happen to have increasingly higher numbers.

Brent Apgar · · Out of the Loop · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 70

I've been climbing for about 20yrs now and having gone through times when I've had more available time to train and push grades and then also had to deal mentally w/ the fact that I was injured or simply didn't have time to devote to getting physically stronger. This has made me look critically at why I enjoy climbing.

What Kyle and Muscrat wrote definitely resonates w/ my own experience. I would say that most of the people that I've met or climbed w/ that truly love climbing for it's own sake find ways to take their experience and use it to broaden the window of climbing available to them.
I'd agree that if you tend to stay within one discipline of climbing that you'll probably tend to climb within a certain range of grades.

But w/ more ability and experience you can also branch out and start exploring climbing possibilities that may have seemed too hard, dangerous or scary when you first started.

I guess that's really what's kept me interested in this pursuit for this long. You can climb big stuff, frozen stuff, pebble wrestle, sport, trad, you name it... but at the end of the day it's all just climbing in one form or another. If you're not psyched on one aspect of climbing, there's always something else out there to learn, get better at and enjoy.
Nice post,
Cheers,
BA

Mathias · · Loveland, CO · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 306

Wow! Lots of thoughtful responses here. Reading them got me smiling. It makes me feel like we all just forgot about the numbers for a minute even as we're discussing them. Very cool really. Sometimes I like to ask myself some hard questions about what I'm really doing. Some of you may have seen (Muscrat mentioned chasing me) that I recently started another topic about hangboarding. The intent of that thread could be seen as directly conflicting with the original thoughts of this one. And in some ways, that's true. But in other ways it's not. Specifically in that being able to climb harder, as many of you have mentioned, does open up new routes.

A great example of that would be Moab, which seems to be 5.10 and up. I got so demotivated on a trip there with my fiancé when we found out how few routes were available in grades we were comfortable at, and even more so when looking at how boring some of them were. But we went out at dark and started looking at the routes to find something we liked. The next day, we went and climbed outside of comfort zones and really enjoyed ourselves.

Overwhelmingly, it seems the opinion is that a good line is just that, a good line. Easy, hard, it doesn't matter, it's worth climbing.

Some routes, I look at, and I only climb because they're challenging. I think those are the types of routes that as I progress through the grades, I will likely leave behind in search of new challenges. But usually when I pick a route, I pick something that looks exciting to me. When I spend time at an area on a day I'm not climbing, I'm looking at the lines and the type of climbing it's going to be up there. I'm looking for variety, or something that piques my interest. Historic routes certainly do that too.

Kent asked if I still like 4.15. That made me laugh. I'm not sure I've ever done one because depending on how you look at it, that could mean easier than 5.0 or it could mean *really* hard, but you probably won't die when you fall! To answer the question: I still like scrambling even though I climb now, depending on where the scramble takes me. And that is, in a nutshell, how I feel about multi-pitch trad at easy grades.

Sport climbing, for me, is more about a challenge than anything else. Body and mind, conquer the rock and the fear. There have been very few sport routes I've truly enjoyed for the climbing itself, though there have been some. So as I moved up through the grades with sport, the easy stuff did get boring.

Bouldering on the other hand, I still enjoy at the easiest levels. I get on V-Easys to see why someone bothered to put this particular line in a guidebook, or to do it at all. I like that there's often an element of puzzle solving to bouldering. Will I still bother with V0s if I'm ever climbing V10? Maybe not. After all, time is a precious thing. But til then, I'll still see how they feel.

Thanks for your replies everyone. It's good to get a little perspective every now and then. :)

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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