Philosophical Musings on Rock Climbing

9 11 2009

Prompted by a recent post by Jamie Emerson on Grades.  I thought it would be good to dig up a few older thoughtful posts on climbing mixed with some classic climbing quotes.

“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.”

– Alex Lowe

Grades, Grade, Grades.

“As we unloaded packs at the parking lot, two young ladies approached us to ask if we were THE Yosemite climbers… They asked if it were true that Yosemite climbers chafe their hands on the granite to enable them to friction up vertical walls. We assured them that the preposterous myth was true.”

-Chuck Pratt – 1965

What is Trad?

‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’

– Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” from Dune by Frank Herbert

Hesitation and Commitment.

“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”

– Doug Lawson

Training, Progress, Belief



Hard Boulder Problems in California

11 02 2008

Inspired by a discussion on ClimbingNarc I decided to try to start a list of all problems in California V12 or harder. This list is not complete so if you have any info on more problems or about FA’s let me know. This is similar to a list of hard climbs in Colorado and an older list of problems in New England. BetaBase also keeps an online list of all the problems in Yosemite.


Grade Name First Ascent Area
V15? Rasta Man Vibration Sit TBD Buttermilks
V14 The Manadala SDS Tony Lamiche Buttermilks
V14 The Mandala Direct SDS
Paul Robinson Buttermilks
V14 Goldfish Trombone Sam Edwards Happies
V13/14 The Swarm Matt Birch Beehive Boulders
V13/14 Iron Resolution Chris Sharma Joshua Tree
V13/14 Somewhere in Time Matt Birch Tramway
V13 The Beautiful and the Dammed Kevin Jorgenson Bardini Boulders
V13 Black Mamba Dan Mills Tramway
V13 Dominated Chris Sharma Yosemite
V13 Spectre Dave Graham Pollen Grains
V13 True North Sean McColl Buttermilks
V13 The Oracle Sean McColl Buttermilks
V13 Direction Shawn Diamond Buttermilks
V13 The Buttermilker SDS Chris Sharma Buttermilks
V13 Bang On Ben Moon Black Mountain
V12 Sharma’s Traverse Chris Sharma Happies
V12 Kill On Sight Sean McColl Happies
V12 Bubba Lobotomy Dan Mills Happies
V12 The Buttermilker Chris Sharma Buttermilks
V12 Xavier’s Roof Tony Lamiche Buttermilks
V12 Rastaman Vibration Jared Roth Buttermilks
V12 Evilution Jason Kehl Buttermilks
V12? Haroun and the Sea of Stories Matt Wilder Buttermilks
V12 A Maze of Death Dave Graham Buttermilks
V12 Baburre Fred Nicole Buttermilks
V12 The Mystery Shawn Diamond Buttermilks
Form Destroyer Dave Graham Beehive Boulders
V12 A Scanner Darkly Dave Graham Get Carter
V12 Michael Caine SDS
  Get Carter
V12 The Mandala Chris Sharma Buttermilks
V12 The Mandala Direct Jeff Sillcox Buttermilks
V12 Yabo Roof Tommy Caldwell Yosemite
V12 Dominator Jerry Moffatt
V12 Chimera Paul Barraza
V12 Scissors for Lefty
Randy Puro
V12 Stick It, Static
Randy Puro Yosemite
V12 Park Life
Tim Clifford
V12 Shadow Warrior Matt Wilder Yosemite
V12 The Creeping Wingate   Mt Baldy
V12 Devil’s Dance Dan Mills Tramway
V12 Regeneration Dave Struthers  Black Mountain
V12 Roasted and Raw
  Joshua Tree



Grades, Grades, Grades…

30 10 2007

As I have been attempting more “hard” routes recently I have been mulling over the concept of grades. Within a given number, whether 5.9 or 5.13, the variability of perceived difficulty can be quite vast. Rock type can vary between crags as can the grading ethics and the style of climbing. How can we relate a 5.9 on Yosemite granite to a 5.9 at the Red River Gorge?

At one point our grading system rated a climb based on its hardest move, but now we try to rate the overall effort required for a climb. Sustained 5.9 moves yield a rating of 5.10a at certain crags despite the lack of a 10a move. These ideas are not set in stone nor are they agreed upon throughout the world, yet people all over base so much on these simple numbers. Is this because we need an expectation for the route we are going to climb? Do we need compare climbs to each other and to our past climbs? What do we need from these grades?

I found this quote about Dave Graham’s feelings on grades quite interesting. It was originally posted here.

“Do we comprehend as a community a system of grading? As a community, are we confident in our current theories about the complex abstraction of high-end grades?

I think the media did a lot more consolidating of grades than we ever did as a community of climbers. For generations it has happened. Capitalism, money, “fame”,…these factors of our world are real, and they have a serious influence.

Grades will never be the most inspiring abstraction donated by climbing. They rank low in overall importance. From an artistic point of view, the possible inspiration one can attain from a grade (it being an after-the-fact interpretation of something special) can never compete with the inspiration donated by the actual experience of climbing.

I changed a lot of my ideas about grades throughout my experiences climbing. I learned a lot about how to compare personal experiences and deduce their relativity. I think its amazing, as a community, how everyone involved, can appreciate the attempt to articulate (with a little number) how challenging something felt, or how one experience compared to another.”
— Dave Graham, 2004 —

I completely agree that climbing is too complex to be expressed by “a little number”. As a community we should work together to push the limits of climbing and make sure not to be confined by grades.

This article really sheds some light on the John Gill B scale. It is cool to see that a younger climber, Klem Loskot, agrees with Gill and his explanation of how to grade difficult problems is insightful. It is especially important how he says that grades should really just be a personal reflection of the difficulty of a climb. Also that sometimes the best way to look at the difficulty of a problem can be its relation to other climbs you have done.

Personally I use grades as a measure of performance and a way to gauge progress. I target grade ranges when I travel to crags so that I will push my self climbing. In the past I have been too concerned with sending given grades at the sacrifice of other parts of climbing. I would climb 11as instead 10ds since they are the next number grade up and thus more important even thought both grades be quite similar in difficulty.

While I do think the grades do characterize different types of movement I can still be surprised by the effort required to do 5.9 versus 5.12. Just because a climb is graded harder doesn’t always mean it is more difficult. Difficulty is so abstract, especially in climbing, because there is a varied mix of mental and physical effort. A climb can seem more difficult if the moves are harder to unlock compared to a climb with simple pulling. Technique or the lack there of can make a huge difference especially when one climbs outside versus in the gym.

Overall I think that the most important thing is to keep climbing and trying different styles of routes. A person’s body can learn so much from a variety of challenges. After many years of climbing cruxes will make more sense and perhaps grades will seem less important. The key is to challenge yourself and have fun doing it.
– Luke