Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sport Climbing, Grades

It's been a great summer in the Canadian Rockies for sport climbing. I've been having these "give 'er" weeks followed by rest weeks due to paragliding or sickness, it's been a lot of fun and my general level is slowly coming up despite the erratic training schedule. About a month ago Utah Scott and I went up to Cougar Creek to the legendary Planet X crag, which took some finding but was well worth it. I think it's the best "hard" crag I've climbed at in Canada, both for the climbing and position. It's also the most "Rifle-like" crag I've climbed on, lots of funk body position and long, continuous routes. I've now done four trips to Planet X, it's my favorite crag for sure. Right now there are only four routes on the overhanging 30M wall, all 12d or harder, with lots of ropes dangling on projects. One project went down yesterday, when Derek sent the rig he had been working on with BC Scott. Likely 14a or so, damn hard looking, congrats to Derek and good luck to Scott, watching these guys climb is inspirational. I'm working Packer, 5.hard for me, yesterday was good 'cause I was finally able to do all the moves and clips thanks to beta from Derek and Scott, who opened the route. I've only climbed one other route of that grade, it's beat me up. It's going to take some time to develop the stamina--generally I get two burns in on Packer and a few others on the mega-classic Shooting Star and Sticky Buns. All the routes are a full 30M, generally 5.11 or easy 5.12 to start and then about 15M of "business." Today my tips and back are blown apart, feels good. Yesterday was almost crowded--there were seven people up there! I haven't sport climbed seriously in about five years, it's fun to get back into it with a motivated crew. Thanks to everybody I've been going up there with, I'm fired up. Paragliding will inevitably get in the way to some extent, it's always a bit of a conflict but this time of year air will always win over rock until about September, but I'm staying after it enough to develop fitness again.

Bow Valley Grade Commentary:

Most of the grades around here are pretty solid, but I've noticed a general grade creep going on in the Bow Valley over the last few years. The new guidebook up-rated some routes a letter grade or two. Some of the classic 12+ routes such as Tintin are now 13a despite being classic 12+ for many years. There's always some grading confusion at every area, but it seems like there's a trend to call many 5.12 routes 5.13. Stygian Ayre is a classic example of this, it's 12c or maybe D max, yet it's become a popular "13a" despite being a short boulder problem. Grades don't matter in the sense of world peace, but they should be reflective of a climb's redpoint difficulty and bear some relation to grades around the world. The flip side of over-grading is under-grading; if you get a route wired enough it may feel easy. Some of the Grassi routes are starting to suffer this syndrome; get some of the 5.12a or b routes hideously wired and they do feel 5.11, but that's not how to rate a route either. To get a valid grade on a route takes a fair number of redpoint ascents by people who climb that grade reguarly. I think what's happening in the Bow Valley is that some people are rating routes based on quick comparisons to one or two other routes roughly in the same grade, not a broad spectrum of routes. Using the softest possible example of a 13a to justify upgrading multiple 12d routes to 13a also doesn't make sense; better to more realistically down-rate the soft 13a to 12d. Grade bitch mode off, give 'er.

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