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Do top climbers take their own improvement into account when grading?
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Jan 20, 2016
I'm not a hard boulderer, so perhaps I'm just misunderstanding, but I'm always tickled and a little confused when I hear discussion about the top of the bouldering grade scale: how there are so few V16s, how many proposed V16s have been downgraded to V15, how the idea of a set understanding of V16 or -- gasp -- beyond seems impossible.

But maybe a reason for this is the following. It's probably really difficult for the best climbers in the world to take their own improvement into account when grading routes. If you climb something that no one, or only a handful of people, have climbed before, you can really only compare it to other things you've climbed. And in that case, you're comparing yourself to your past ability, which might be worse than where you are now.

In other words: Maybe that ultra-hard problem you just sent felt similarly difficult to that V15 you did last year, but that's because you've been improving all year and this climb is actually harder.
Seth Cohen
From Concord, NH
Joined Apr 12, 2010
67 points
Jan 21, 2016
Seth Cohen wrote:
Maybe that ultra-hard problem you just sent felt similarly difficult to that V15 you did last year, but that's because you've been improving all year and this climb is actually harder.

Yes, but more complex than that. It is somewhat like learning and communicating which color although with much more uncertainty.

Someone or someones keep telling you the banner at the top of an MP.com page is a particular shade of blue and after a while you start telling others that the banner is blue. ["you've done a lot of V8s so I think you are ready to try that V9 everyone has been talking about at the end of the crag"]

Only not everyone sees colors the same, such as your red could really look to me like what everyone has been telling me is brown. ["I have an ape index of -10 so almost everything above V3 feels about the same kind of hard."]

And maybe the way I perceive colors changes over time. ["This year my fitness level / climb smarts / callous / flexibility is way better (as you say)."]

I'd guess that top climbers know pretty well their relative level of improvement in the various areas of "climb fitness". But they still are just one human in a group of humans, all with independently varying flexibility, strength to weight ratio, height (i.e., age extremes), climbing smarts for the style of climbing, etc.. And get into the higher grades and you know there are fewer and fewer people who can do a sanity check of one person's impression.
Bill Lawry
From New Mexico
Joined Apr 16, 2006
1,718 points
Jan 21, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Climbing at the Gallery in Red Rocks
Seth Cohen wrote:
I'm not a hard boulderer, so perhaps I'm just misunderstanding, but I'm always tickled and a little confused when I hear discussion about the top of the bouldering grade scale: how there are so few V16s, how many proposed V16s have been downgraded to V15, how the idea of a set understanding of V16 or -- gasp -- beyond seems impossible. But maybe a reason for this is the following. It's probably really difficult for the best climbers in the world to take their own improvement into account when grading routes. If you climb something that no one, or only a handful of people, have climbed before, you can really only compare it to other things you've climbed. And in that case, you're comparing yourself to your past ability, which might be worse than where you are now. In other words: Maybe that ultra-hard problem you just sent felt similarly difficult to that V15 you did last year, but that's because you've been improving all year and this climb is actually harder.


You're forgetting the fact that top climbers are climbing all the time. If they are doing a V15 now, they didn't do their last V15 a year ago, they most likely did it a few months ago at the longest, and they did 5 V14s in that time as well, so they generally have a pretty good recent baseline of climbs to compare against. At that level it takes a long time to improve your strength and/or technique enough to increase a grade.
kennoyce
From Layton, UT
Joined Aug 12, 2010
2,061 points
Jan 21, 2016
kennoyce wrote:
At that level it takes a long time to improve your strength and/or technique enough to increase a grade.


But that's the point! It could be that you have it backwards. It could be that the whole reason it takes a long time to increase a grade is because people keep thinking, "Oh, this is the same as that last thing I did" even though it's harder because they're better.

I know this isn't something that can be "solved" or that could actually change anything, but I think it's interesting to think about.
Seth Cohen
From Concord, NH
Joined Apr 12, 2010
67 points
Jan 21, 2016
Seth Cohen wrote:
But that's the point! It could be that you have it backwards. It could be that the whole reason it takes a long time to increase a grade is because people keep thinking, "Oh, this is the same as that last thing I did" even though it's harder because they're better. I know this isn't something that can be "solved" or that could actually change anything, but I think it's interesting to think about.


But then they go back and repeat a couple V14s that always felt supersuperhard, and now they only feel superhard. So a) they got better/stronger and b) if the new one is supersuperhard then it must be harder than V14. It's all about re-calibrating. And you don't have to be putting up leading edge routes to do this. It's why guidebook authors repeat so many old climbs in the process of updating their book; they need to get dialed in to the various grades (high and low).
Gunkiemike
Joined Jul 29, 2009
2,658 points
Jan 21, 2016
Rock Climbing Photo: Red Rock
There is no such thing as a V#. People suck at grading that way. However people are very good as saying to me RouteA is harder than RouteB and it is harder than RouteC and than RouteD is about the same but slightly easier than RouteC.

At that point after you order a bunch of routes and compare how many attempts it takes to do each one and alot of other variables you come up with imaginary lines.

You than take all your routes and start to group them within the imaginary boxes from these lines.

Although you have these groups still ultimately every single route in the world could be put into A>B>C>E>D>F>Z etc. Most people will have an easier time grading stuff around they level than grade stuff well below them. I can tell you how close to not being able to climb something and than judge it against my hardest ever climb alot easier than I can go grab a random 5.3 and say o yea that must be a 5.3.

I see this alot of times in gyms when I take new people. I am like that route over there is easy try it. And even though it is extremely easy for me it has some type of technique that a new climber just doesn't know and makes it so much harder than it is for me to climb. That and I love when I find a 5.8 route in a gym that noone can do but all these same people can climb all the 5.11 and 5.12s in the gym.
ViperScale
Joined Dec 22, 2013
201 points


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