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At what point can we just update a retro-graded route?


Grandpa Dave · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 5
jason oliphant wrote: 
...why not just assign your own estimate of its difficulty-  why do you have to blindly follow the climbing community's assigned rating??
Yup, I assign 'em as "yes, no, or maybe", then just go have my fun.



Doug Hemken · · Madison, WI · Joined Oct 2004 · Points: 6,041

One of the essential elements of climbing is looking at the rock, figuring out what might be possible for *you*, and figuring out if *you* have enough margin of error to give it a try.  The variability in grades just tells you that capabilities and opinions vary.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 380

We should respect history more, and grade routes based on their original grade, reputation, and community consensus.  About ten years ago, a reeeeeeally bad Gunks guidebook flat-out changed grades of a lot of classics, just to try to deal with sandbagging that everyone already knows about.  I think they wound up giving Modern Times a 5.10a/b or something like that.  It also annoys me that the routes database on here actually averages out "suggested grades" for a route's actual, official grade.

We also need to not be afraid to call out soft grades.  If an FA calls something a "new school" 12a, they usually mean that it's a super soft warmup at Maple Canyon or the RRG, and when called out on the fact that it's soft they'll try to say something about "factoring in endurance."  A few years ago, Proper Soul at the NRG (a route traditionally given 5.14a) got its first female ascent, and the climber herself reported it as 5.13c.  That's pretty cool.

Austin Lynch · · Madison, WI · Joined May 2013 · Points: 165

Realistically, this isn't an issue that will be solved in any single place and adopted across the entire climbing community. There will always be places that are soft and places that are sandbagged, and places that are both. An awareness of this has caused me to climb more carefully and place less weight on grades when I'm traveling - probably a good thing.

Personally, I think the most useful way of addressing this is a single sentence in the route description, usually along the lines of "...originally graded 5.6+ by Bachar on his onsight thundersolo, most people agree that it's closer to 5.10b..."

Doug Hemken · · Madison, WI · Joined Oct 2004 · Points: 6,041
Pnelson wrote: It also annoys me that the routes database on here actually averages out "suggested grades" for a route's actual, official grade.

MP doesn't actually average.

I don't see anything labeled "official grade" anywhere - even in a guidebook, you are getting someone's "suggested" grade. What MP gives you access to is a variety of opinions (for many - not all - routes), something a guidebook can't do.

For example, look at "Commitment" in Yosemite. Lots of people weighing in - it's popular. Most say "5.9", as in the vast majority. A few claim it is easier; no one claims it is harder. So if I'm researching this, I think: it's burly and has an intimidating crux, but once you pull into it you'll find it is what you expect. If you've done it repeatedly or it suits your climbing style, you might even find it a little simple.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
Grades don’t matter as much as we tend to think they do, but at a certain point they have an impact. They are useful as measuring sticks that help us select which climbs to get on or let us gauge how well we’re climbing. And when they’re consistent within a given area and even—ideally—across different cliffs, they serve as a lingua franca: “If I can climb 5.10a at my home crag, then I should reasonably be able to try 5.10a’s at other cliffs.” Which is why shitty, lousy, ego-driven downrating does a disservice to the entire community. It’s one hell of an unpleasant surprise to visit a new crag and jump on a 5.10a hoping to experience a fun climb, only to find yourself fighting for survival on some 5.11 R/X the asshole locals have wired into submission and knowingly down- or underrated because Ha-ha, snicker-snicker, why not? There’s no way this thing is 5.11, right, Joey? 
Why Downrating Sucks​​​
mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 120

It used to be a point of excitement and pride to lead old sandbagged 5.9+ replete with casting off into the unknown in terms of difficulty. Having an adventure was part of the appeal.

Now getting sandbagged is such a bruise to fragile ego's that people want to bring ratings down to their personal pathetic standards.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20
mountainhick wrote: Now getting sandbagged is such a bruise to fragile ego's that people want to bring ratings down to their personal pathetic standards.

You old crusties used to be tough - I would shudder to think about climbing some trad route a few grades above my redpoint grade. Never mind the ego, but those broken ankles and cracked heads hurt way more.

Steve Marshall · · Concord NH · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 40
amarius wrote:

You old crusties used to be tough - I would shudder to think about climbing some trad route a few grades above my redpoint grade. Never mind the ego, but those broken ankles and cracked heads hurt way more.


a grade isn't going to prevent you from getting injured. honest assessment and knowing when to back down will. if a fall isn't safe and the moves are hard for you... maybe stop climbing it if you don't want to risk injury?


unless all of you here are regularly seeking out R/X routes near your limit?

edit: I think sandbags keep you safer. It expands your idea of what you might encounter on a 5.9 so that next time your ego is checked before you even get on a route thinking it will be easy. More often than not "sandbags" (of the old-school "+" variety) involve awkward or particularly technique-intensive moves and don't feel too out of whack IF you have the experience, technique, and are used to the style of the local area.
Brian · · North Kingstown, RI · Joined Sep 2001 · Points: 680

The original grades of the old school climbs shouldn't be upgraded to match the soft ego driven grades of today.  The modern climbs should be downgraded to match the grades of the old climbs. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

Floyd Eggers · · Kennewick, WA · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 341
Brian wrote: The modern climbs should be downgraded to match the grades of the old climbs. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

Then we are all only climbing 5.9.

Jim Corbett · · Keene, NY · Joined Sep 2008 · Points: 10
amarius wrote:

You old crusties used to be tough - I would shudder to think about climbing some trad route a few grades above my redpoint grade. Never mind the ego, but those broken ankles and cracked heads hurt way more.


If you are letting a published grade supplant your own judgement (or are unable to make a good judgement) then you've got no business being on the climb and probably deserve what you get. Spoken by soneone who has more than once backed off a climb that was graded well below what you I should have been able to onsight. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but I got over it. The climb is what it is.

Mike Slavens · · Houston, TX · Joined Jan 2009 · Points: 35

I think you have to really watch grade inflation, which implies that you leave original ratings.  I think the point of a grade is to help people intelligently select a climb.  Hard to place or limited gear? Maybe back down a bit from red point difficulty.  Rain clouds threatening?  I'd like to know if I will be moving fast on struggling on cruxes.  Bolts?  I want to push my limits but not spend months projecting something that I was never going to get anyway.  If we keep inflating grades, which I don't think there is much argument that we haven't, then this issue only gets worse.

I agree with the comment someone else made that before you start making all these claims that a route is sandbagged, you ought to have climbed some of the classics at areas like Yosemite, Gunks, Eldo, J-tree, Vedauwoo, etc.  Without that I struggle a bit to see how you can distinguish between a route being sand bagged and the routes you are comparing it to being soft.

I like leaving the "old school" grades because they act as a reminder of what the grade should be.  They act as measuring stick to be able to judge other climbs on.  

I agree, in certain cases a climb truly is sand bagged.  However, with all our modern access to training knowledge, climbing gyms, and better nutrition shouldn't an old route feel much easier than a newer route?  No its the opposite which I think implies rampant grade inflation.  

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,394
Mike Slavens wrote: I think you have to really watch grade inflation, which implies that you leave original ratings.  I think the point of a grade is to help people intelligently select a climb.  Hard to place or limited gear? Maybe back down a bit from red point difficulty.  Rain clouds threatening?  I'd like to know if I will be moving fast on struggling on cruxes.  Bolts?  I want to push my limits but not spend months projecting something that I was never going to get anyway.  If we keep inflating grades, which I don't think there is much argument that we haven't, then this issue only gets worse.

I agree with the comment someone else made that before you start making all these claims that a route is sandbagged, you ought to have climbed some of the classics at areas like Yosemite, Gunks, Eldo, J-tree, Vedauwoo, etc.  Without that I struggle a bit to see how you can distinguish between a route being sand bagged and the routes you are comparing it to being soft.

I like leaving the "old school" grades because they act as a reminder of what the grade should be.  They act as measuring stick to be able to judge other climbs on.  

I agree, in certain cases a climb truly is sand bagged.  However, with all our modern access to training knowledge, climbing gyms, and better nutrition shouldn't an old route feel much easier than a newer route?  No its the opposite which I think implies rampant grade inflation.  

What you are neglecting is the fact that many of the older routes were graded the way they were because there was an end to the grading scale at the time.  You had routes that were graded from 5.1 to 5.9 with the origin of the YDS, but since 5.9 was the top of the scale, as time went on you ended up getting harder and harder routes being graded 5.9.  That actually led to rampant grade deflation (i.e. well this route is 5.9 because it is as hard as I can climb, so this easier route is 5.8 and this even easier route is 5.7 even though all three were harder than the original 5.9s).  This is actually what led to the sandbagged areas.  I've climbed some of the original 5.9 routes at taquitz where the YDS was actually invented, and guess what, they aren't actually very sandbagged and are pretty close to what I would expect 5.9 to feel like even after the rampant grade inflation that you claim to have happened.

My personal opinion is that we should go back and grade the sandbagged routes according to modern interpretation of the grading scale.  Why does it matter if grades have inflated or not, the purpose of a grade is to give you an idea on if you can climb the route or not, and if we leave the original grades in place, this purpose is negated.  I also think that the history is pretty cool, so the history should be preserved, but that can be done in a route description by simply stating "this route was originally graded 5.8 when it was put up back in 1973".  As climbing has become a much more mainstream and global sport it becomes much easier to standardize grading throughout the world, and personally, I think that is a good thing.  

Floyd Eggers · · Kennewick, WA · Joined Mar 2018 · Points: 341
Ken Noyce wrote:

a bunch of words

You can easily do that in the comments on here or suggest the page improvement. If you are looking for a national movement to alter climbing book author's minds, MP might not be the medium for such an feat. 

Robert Hall · · North Conway, NH · Joined Aug 2013 · Points: 15,635

Ken Noyce pretty much hit the nail on the head. BUT, first you have to distinguish between an "old" climb's rating and a "sandbagged" rating.  At least I do. To me "sandbagged" is a (relatively modern) route that is intentionally graded lower,  whereas the ratings of many "old school" climbs are due to the historic fact that the rating system was closed end...(and, also suffered from lack of area-to-area interaction; thus much "regionilization"  Few who used the YDS had ever climbed in CA ).  

Having climbed through the late 1960's and early 1970's when the "closed system" was still in place, I saw many climbs downrated simply because harder climbs had been done and therefor, to maintain 5.9 ( or even 5.10) as the "max grade", climbs "below" were "pushed down".  In the East, the classic guidebook to see that is/was Dick William's 1972 "blue cover" Gunks guide. Later editions "corrected" many of these, although some still persisted into the 1980 (Maroon) edition. When the mid-1970's development of Acadia took hold, my understanding is that the developers wanted their climbs to be "harder" (grade for grade) than the Gunks; using the 1972 Gunks guide exacerbated the "problem".

One other thing:
Doug Hemken said "MP doesn't actually average".  That WAS true, but recent changes/upgrades to the software have incorporated more averaging of the "your grade" grades into the "headline" grade for the climb; which used to be pretty "unchangable".

Ken Noyce · · Layton, UT · Joined Aug 2010 · Points: 2,394
Floyd Eggers wrote:

You can easily do that in the comments on here or suggest the page improvement. If you are looking for a national movement to alter climbing book author's minds, MP might not be the medium for such an feat. 

I'm not suggesting that we alter climbing book author's minds, I'm suggesting that we put accurate ratings on climbs here on MP.  That is exactly what the concensus rating feature of MP is for.

Pnelson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 380
Robert Hall wrote: 
One other thing:
Doug Hemken said "MP doesn't actually average".  That WAS true, but recent changes/upgrades to the software have incorporated more averaging of the "your grade" grades into the "headline" grade for the climb; which used to be pretty "unchangable".

Yes, this was what I was referencing.  MP now factors the median (not the average, mean, or whatever) into a climb's headline grade.  So, I guess that this means MP is already updating routes from their original ratings into consensus anyway.  End of thread!

mountainhick · · Black Hawk, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 120

The solace in all of this is it really doesn't matter what you call it. While the whims and whines of people change, unless you change the rock itself, the climb remains the same.

Eliot Augusto · · Boulder, CO · Joined Dec 2013 · Points: 60

When I started I firmly believed in the whole sandbagging idea. I get that it does happen from time to time. But after a while noticed that every climb I thought was sandbagged turned out to be a completely different animal than what I usually climbed. Every 5.9 at Shelf Road(soft?) shares the same traits: at vertical or maybe kicked back a bit for a few feet and plenty of big holds, usually huge pocket clusters or fat edges. Every 5.9 in Eldo(sandbagged?) is completely different. I've been on 5.8 fist cracks slanted just right for 100ft that offer no rests, or a single 5.9 move protected by a bomber #2 20ft below my feet, or half my body working a finger crack while the other half works the face and arete of a dihedral. Compared to the rest of the climbing there, the grades do seem on point.

Now I think its more about climb style and knowledge. Every rock type "reads" differently, even the same rock type 10 miles away. You have to climb enough of the area to know what to expect, for example in Boulder Canyon I know the top of every ledge is going to have a flat topped 6" sloper/mantle, probably with a flared horizontal crack in the back. As for style, if you spend all your time on thuggy overhanging 12s and only spend 3-4 days a year in Eldo, you're damn right Eldo is going to feet sandbagged. Crack and face/friction climbing are the exact opposite style. This was supposed to be an allegory for different areas, but I think it turned into a mild rant.

All that said, I haven't been been to Yoesmite or the Gunks yet. But, I have been truly humbled by more 5.9s than I have 5.12s.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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