Route Grade Variance


Original Post
FourT6and2 Haftel · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 5

I'm back in my home state visiting family. While I'm here, I've been hitting up the local climbing gym. And I am seriously demoralized because every route here is so much harder! I've been climbing for two years and I'm bouldering V3-V4 normally, with some V5s here and there (in the gym). And I can TR 11d with a 12a here or there and lead 11c. Outdoors, I think I've TR'd a 10d or 11a for my max.

This gym I'm at now? Wow. I am struggling on some V1s and V2s and Top Roping a 5.10 feels like a 5.11d or 5.12a at my home gym.

Is this normal? Is my home gym seriously too easy? Is this gym way too hard? I don't really chase grades. But it's something I noticed.

Eric Carlos · · GJ · Joined Aug 2008 · Points: 30

Sounds like one gym is super soft and the other super stiff. No way to know unless you compare them to outdoor grades across many different areas.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770

Gym ratings are incredibly variable from franchise to franchise, location to location. Kind of like outdoor grading.
Some gyms are comically soft (thinking of a certain Boulder franchise) at all grades, stout in the lower end and soft once you advance in grade, and of course, vice versa (looking at earth treks).

A lot of it depends on the setters and their experience with routes or boulders - an avid and skilled boulder or route climber can set fun and accurately graded problems below, ar, or above their grade limit. Less experienced climbers, or ones that primarily boulder or never do ropes, will have a more difficult time getting accurate grades in areas where they do not have as much experience, hence wild variations in grades.

Some gyms also encourage featherbagging grades to keep customers happy, psyched, and loyal to the company. Others like sandbagging, the reasons for this, I'm not entirely sure - tough love for customers, bad setting management, and ego are the more negative explanations; on the other hand, keeping your budding leaders humble can lead to less unfounded bravado and confidence leading outdoors. Then again, I've seen bad and sandbagged routes lead to injury in the gym on multiple occasions...

FourT6and2 Haftel · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 5

Yeah, I know my home gym tends to grade a bit soft compared to other gyms in the area. But not by much. So far, I've noticed a huge difference in not just the grade but the style too. Which is a given considering different people are setting the routes. But the stylistic difference is not just gym-to-gym, but area-to-area. I've climbed at other gyms near my home and the style of climbing is still similar. But here where I'm visiting, all the climbs are really different stylistically.

My home gym, the routes are interesting. The sequences are like puzzles. And the difficulty isn't always determined by how painful or small the holds are, but by how difficult it is to figure out the sequence to the top. This gym I'm at now in my home state... the routes are boring. Very straightforward. No difficult puzzles. But the holds are just really painful and small. But the routes themselves just usually go straight up the wall. So it's a very different style. But the grading is so weird. Like a 5.8 at this gym feels like a 5.10 outdoors to me. I just thought I had suddenly forgotten how to climb or lost all my muscle overnight haha.

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120
FourT6and2 wrote:Yeah, I know my home gym tends to grade a bit soft compared to other gyms in the area. But not by much. So far, I've noticed a huge difference in not just the grade but the style too. Which is a given considering different people are setting the routes. But the stylistic difference is not just gym-to-gym, but area-to-area. I've climbed at other gyms near my home and the style of climbing is still similar. But here where I'm visiting, all the climbs are really different stylistically. My home gym, the routes are interesting. The sequences are like puzzles. And the difficulty isn't always determined by how painful or small the holds are, but by how difficult it is to figure out the sequence to the top. This gym I'm at now in my home state... the routes are boring. Very straightforward. No difficult puzzles. But the holds are just really painful and small. But the routes themselves just usually go straight up the wall. So it's a very different style. But the grading is so weird. Like a 5.8 at this gym feels like a 5.10 outdoors to me. I just thought I had suddenly forgotten how to climb or lost all my muscle overnight haha.
This just sounds like not very good setting. Too often, grades are made harder by smaller holds, farther apart. I set absolute beginner routes, and try hard to avoid right, left, right, left, jug marches up the wall. That's just as insulting as an 11 crimpfest, with nothing else making it hard.

If there's enough stuff on the wall, you can always just climb as you please. This is what I usually end up doing, as inside is much, much harder for me than out. Reach would help outside, of course, but you can at least have the fun of hunting every possibility down. Inside? A blank wall is hopeless.

Best, Helen
Ted Pinson · · Chicago, IL · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 45

Where is your home state? Are you comparing this to California? West coast grades are notoriously soft, as they're rated for people who are high and thus have dulled senses.

Chris C. · · Seattle, WA · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 81

Try not to worry about the grades too much. They just give you a general idea of how they compare to things around them.

Just climb whatever is at your level and a bit past it!

ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165

Grades are all relative to the body of the climber. A 5.10 to a 6ft tall person isn't a 5.10 to a 4ft tall person. Doesn't mean the 4ft tall person can't climb it, but it does mean that 5.10 may be a 5.12 to them.

Forever Outside · · Los Angeles, CA · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 150

Did you just move to Scottsdale, Arizona? Asking for a friend.

David Hous · · Boulder, Colorado · Joined Nov 2001 · Points: 175

I've had the same thing happen, I think it is partly the above mentioned desire to encourage members versus setting a high bar. I remember at the old Paradise gym near Denver the ethos was "if you can lead 5.10 in our gym you should be able to lead 5.10 anywhere."

I think gyms do take on unique styles and you get better at what you do regularly. I boulder at the Spot gym and I like that they use a unique rating system that is not indexed to outdoor grades. On their blog they do have some comparison charts, but they are laughably off - if they were correct I would be a 5.12a outdoor climber which is far from reality!

I've been to a bouldering gym in Chicago where the holds are so polished I couldn't hang on to anything!

I find more consistency between indoor roped climbs than boulder problems. I generally find indoor roped climbs to be within about a 2 letter grade range of how they feel to me. That's well within the variance of individual strengths and weaknesses.

BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770
ViperScale wrote:Grades are all relative to the body of the climber. A 5.10 to a 6ft tall person isn't a 5.10 to a 4ft tall person. Doesn't mean the 4ft tall person can't climb it, but it does mean that 5.10 may be a 5.12 to them.
This kind of discrepancy between heights and difficulty is a simply bad setting.
ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165
BrianWS wrote: This kind of discrepancy between heights and difficulty is a simply bad setting.
You don't set routes outdoors... If you want to set realistic routes indoor to match what is outdoor than you will have them. Just got back from HP 40 and there are multi routes there that my arms just can't even reach the blank space between the only 2 holds, I guess technically if I could climb V14 maybe I could just sorta dynoish and 1 arm control a massive swing for the V6 route but I can't.
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120
BrianWS wrote: This kind of discrepancy between heights and difficulty is a simply bad setting.
Sometimes, but if a setter is fair, and aiming for an average climber, there's a spacing that is also average.

When my 4' 11" self sets routes I can climb, I need to use half again as many holds to do so. That then becomes too easy for "average". Or, too squishy (Boulder routes), and harder. Or, my small hands, means I might grab small holds, easy for me to grab as a jug, just a tips pocket for a big guy.

This is why the grades just don't mean squat, except to compare routes in an area. In a gym, you can also look for a setter who's style works for you. Outside, I would say that would be rock type.

And Viper? Thank you sooo much for the comment above! If we graded everything by how hard it is for us personally, it would be chaos, but we'd all be fabulous badasses!

Best, Helen
R. Moran · · Moab , UT · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 0

Please change the title of this thread to cry baby support group. Quit focusing on grades, climb and have fun!

ChrisHau · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2014 · Points: 295
ViperScale wrote: You don't set routes outdoors... If you want to set realistic routes indoor to match what is outdoor than you will have them. Just got back from HP 40 and there are multi routes there that my arms just can't even reach the blank space between the only 2 holds, I guess technically if I could climb V14 maybe I could just sorta dynoish and 1 arm control a massive swing for the V6 route but I can't.
I have seen 5' women (or men) do spans that I would have said were impossible for them, had I not seen them do it. People reach for the height excuse too quickly and too often (for tall and for short), not realizing how far dynamic technique and creative beta can get you.

That said, there are certain rock types and areas that have complete shutdown moves based on height (looking at you, NRG), but those routes are definitely rarer than most would have you believe.

In the gym, there shouldn't be height shutdown moves. Moves will feel easier or harder to you based on any number of physical characteristics, which is fine. You know if you're climbing well or not, regardless of what number is printed on the placard.
BrianWS · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 770
ViperScale wrote: You don't set routes outdoors... If you want to set realistic routes indoor to match what is outdoor than you will have them. Just got back from HP 40 and there are multi routes there that my arms just can't even reach the blank space between the only 2 holds, I guess technically if I could climb V14 maybe I could just sorta dynoish and 1 arm control a massive swing for the V6 route but I can't.
Thread is about gym setting, not outdoor routes. Anything goes there, but a good developer will take reach into account when equipping a route with bolts.
ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165
ChrisHau wrote: I have seen 5' women (or men) do spans that I would have said were impossible for them, had I not seen them do it. People reach for the height excuse too quickly and too often (for tall and for short), not realizing how far dynamic technique and creative beta can get you. That said, there are certain rock types and areas that have complete shutdown moves based on height (looking at you, NRG), but those routes are definitely rarer than most would have you believe. In the gym, there shouldn't be height shutdown moves. Moves will feel easier or harder to you based on any number of physical characteristics, which is fine. You know if you're climbing well or not, regardless of what number is printed on the placard.
Like I said depends on the route / area most spots outdoors you can find a hold to get past it but still makes a difference between a 5.10 and 5.12 route when you are having to use a 18 inch crimp that others skip. I just came from a place where I could not physically get my finger tips to touch the only 2 holds you had to move between on 5 V5/V6 problems this past week. Annoying sometimes when you can do every other move on the route first attempt when others in your group take 1 hour to do the first move but can make the big reach easy and finish the route.
ViperScale · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 165
BrianWS wrote: Thread is about gym setting, not outdoor routes. Anything goes there, but a good developer will take reach into account when equipping a route with bolts.
This thread doesn't really have anything to do with gyms. It is talking about variance in grades between places (which includes outdoor and gyms). Sure there he is pointing out a problem with a gym he is climbing at but also mentions outdoor grades.

The best thing to do is just try out alot of different routes / problems wherever you go use it as a reference. The grade itself should never mean that much for you when you go to a new area because a V3 in one area / style rarely matches up perfectly to a V3 in another area / style. However a V3 slab climb in one area should be about the same as a different V3 slab climb in the same area, so figure out the grade for the area you are at and base other climbs there like it.
Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 120

One of the photos that just cycled through on MP was "Short Circuit" at City of Rocks. Great photo, incredibly cool looking rock...and, all the comments were about the extremely fun, totally height dependant, first move.

One day, I got curious. I'm 5' tall, close enough, my son and climbing partner is 6' and maybe a bit more. "Try harder", in a laconic, humorous tone, has been hurled up at me, more than once, when I've flailed and flailed and still can't get past something, or to that "its a huge jug, mom, right there" that's a foot out of reach.

So. I grab a piece of tape, stretch out one arm, stand on one foot, get that diagonal as far as I can, put tape on wall. Ask him to do the same, thinking to measure the difference. Smartass kid arches one eyebrow, lifts his heel a bit, and lays his palm flat on the ceiling. I'm at least 18" shy of the ceiling, which means the little twerp has...A hella lot more reach than I. Lol!

I have gotten to the "top" of some of our routes, at clearly the last stance, and the stinkin anchors are a dyno away. That one, a super sweetheart here is actually addressing, and, replacing or adding to hardwear, which is aging anyway. (Thanks, T.! You're awesome and I owe you some cookies) And, now that I've committed to leading, I will make sure to have the draws my son made for me on my harness, to help. Still means hanging on an anchor most of you would be standing at, until my friend mosies by.

Height makes a difference, but everything makes a difference. Every single climb, every single climber. The totally individual nature of it, yet, sharing this thing we do together, is a big part of the appeal, for me, at least!

Best, Helen

FourT6and2 Haftel · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 5
Ted Pinson wrote:Where is your home state? Are you comparing this to California? West coast grades are notoriously soft, as they're rated for people who are high and thus have dulled senses.
lol yeah, California. I laughed, though!
FourT6and2 Haftel · · San Francisco, CA · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 5

I actually just got back from a gym in NYC (Cliffs). And the routes there were closer to what I'm used to, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They were much easier for the grade. I was flying up V4s and V5s. And the top rope stuff was about the same as my home gym in CA.

I also ran into someone who climbs at the gym in question and they said the routes there are definitely super hard for the grade. So I'm not alone. I guess this particular gym is staffed by a bunch of masochists...

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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