Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Grades in climbing

I read Pierre´s blog post which mentioned his views on grades and then more recently Neals post briefly mentioned the same topic and both made me smile. Pierre divides the field into two distinct halves. Those that climb purely for the beauty and freedom offered by seeking out and executing a perfect move on an aesthetic line regardless of grade… and those who use grades and numbers to gauge their progress and measure their manhood. Is it that simple? I must come across as a number obsessed monster because I must admit I find grades and what they represent very motivating… and sure I write about them enough! Just check out my blog’s latest Wordle!

There is no point in me trying to say that I climb without care of grades because it´s just not true. But at the same time my most proud climbing moments are the ones when everything felt good and there was the perfect balance of movement and tension… grades don´t linger in my memories, it´s the colours, the air, the sounds and the feeling of climbing something well that stays. I know it´s the moves that appeal to me and the feeling of progress that comes with figuring out a path through a poor selection of holds. I know this. But yet grades motivate me in a very real and open way. Experience has taught me that the best movement has been found on the harder lines. I love the feeling of being just on. That on off moment when you´ve latched an edge and don´t know if you´re still on or about to fly. Every second after a move like that is a gift of chance and should be enjoyed. Fighting to the top would be like the cherry on the cake. But as personal standards progress it stands to reason that moments like these only exist at or near your personal limit. It´s inescapable. Another side of my personality could be described as competitive or maybe it´s just a failing in me that I feel I need to prove myself in some way. A byproduct of being the fat kid? Who knows! But honestly I just don´t feel good about my climbing if I’m not giving 100% (as good or as bad as that may be!) and whats the point in doing anything if you don´t feel good as a result? However when I try hard and dig deep (either physically or mentally) I feel great – regardless of success or failure. It psyches the shit out of me to have to fight! And when success arrives it´s a great personal achievement but also it represents something I’ve put a lot of myself into. Thought, effort, training… always on your mind. And it then becomes more and more like something that I want to share. And in that respect grades are useful because I can say “Hey guess what grade I just sent” instead of giving a blow by blow account of every inch of hold and the indescribable tension between each move. Whats the harm in grades? There seems to be such a stigma attached to using them as a tool to measure personal progress. I don´t see why? If the grades weren’t there I’d still be on the same routes and trying just as hard. I suppose I’d just compare routes to each other on a personal scale to see improvement or consistency in effort. Forget it! Keep climbing whatever way makes you happy and I’ll promise to do the same! Theres a lot of rock out there and so far I’ve not found two routes the same. That’s a lot of moves to be experienced and not much time to do it in. Happy climbing!


Patricia Fox said...

I know when I head out bouldering, it's for the love of bouldering. But the competitive side of me (the one that always wins out!) needs a project and I am a self confessed 7a junkie.

WIthout that grade in mind, for me, I think my training would lack focus and my appreciation of just how hard some of my bouldering buddies climb would be compromised.

without grades how else would you know how much of a pat on the back to give someone when they send their project,

And how else would we know what the next project is?!

Eamon said...

Hmm Grade Junkies ?
I'm not one ..glad to say :)
I think I would much prefer to hear about 'this little shitty pinch that you that nearly cuts the thumb off you.....etc@ then I got a 8a or 8b or whatever
I agree it's all about the effort you put into the climb that gives the pleasure and the satisfaction

But My projects are my projects because I have the possibility of sending them and haven't yet

Dave said...

Nice comments guys! Cheers for your thoughts... Font 7a is a good one alright Trish! Get over to North wales for a weekend, Caroline could give your a ticklist the length of your arm!

And Eamon, no worries, if a big project goes down i'll still blog about the holds in detail :o) And my projects are just like yours... possible but not done yet... i'll just talk about their grade too.

At the min i've no projects... Sat will sort that out though ;o)

Pierre said...

I'm being quoted, yeah baby!

Sorry about this quick division Dave. Off course I agree it's a lot more complex.

Though I'm still not sure if grades are a rational way of measuring achievement (is there any?). I let you explore this further!

Dave said...

Don´t worry dude i wasn´t disagreeing in any way.... your post just got me thinking... which is a good thing.... and then i started typing :o) I can´t say if they´re rational or fair but i just tried to put across how i use them as tools. Whos the craic in Scotland then?

Neal said...

Nice post :) And the only part I couldn't really relate to was the very last line! "That’s a lot of moves to be experienced and not much time to do it in."
I think the more I've climbed and seen, the more I've come to realize that if I don't get too hung up on grades that
a) I'll continue to have fun and not burn out (seen a fair bit of that - people getting disillusioned after a time cause they can't progress and giving up)
b) climbing (especially sport climbing) is one of those awesome sports that you can still do to a ridiculously high level even in your 50's/60's - look at numerous examples around now. It's not like soccer/football that after a certain point, you just can't keep up with the kiddies anymore - climbing (maybe due to tendon dependancies - less wear on muscles?) is a sport you can continue to develop/improve no matter what your age. Which means that there is loads of time!

I suppose that probably reflects in my climbing for definite - I've been strong enough easily to do the moves on routes up to 8b and above for quite a few years now but I'm still learning so much from just climbing at lower levels that I don't really care on rushing to that end goal just to tick a grade. I'll continue to progress towards it in steps. And to be honest, if it doesn't really happen, I love just traveling to new locations and seeing new rock that I'll be happy out anyway!

feck, this is a full post - should have posted it on my own blog ;) great discussion post!

Dave said...

Haa, cheers Neal. I thought it might attract a few comments alright (grades seem to - climbing doesn't) and yeah, I see it as a life long thing too but that still leaves a fairly short time to do all those lovely, lovely moves... i mena whats sixty years when 9c is around the corner? :o)

Neal said...

9c, sheesh - 10d is the future buddy ;)