This morning i was surfin’ through Facebook and a particular photo caught my attention–it was of Will Mayo climbing the 2008 Ouray Ice Festival competition route (set by Jason Nelson).  I remember that moment well as it was one of the most inspirational moments (to me) in comp climbing that i had ever witnessed.  In the heat of the moment Will had dropped his tool near the end of the route. Typically this would be the end of his climb, but before you knew it, he displayed a furry of fight and kept going…trying to “rock climb” these hanging logs with one hand and his only tool left.  It was unreal, exciting, inspiring, and so rad to watch.  Ok, so, that’s the picture/moment.  I then went on to read the “thread” that followed the picture, and within said thread, there was a comment that was fully out of sorts, rude, degrading, and simply inappropriate.  “but hanging swinging logs off of climbs is idiotic. It isn’t rock climbing, it isn’t ice climbing… it’s the kind of American Gladiator bullshit which caused me to sell my television 20 years ago.”  “They’re turning this noblest of pursuits into a total joke”  It was an opinion that displayed a very selfish view on climbing.  Furthermore, “The noblest of pursuits…” come on, first off it’s climbing, ok? Climbing is rad, fun, exciting, etc. etc. but to degrade a form of climbing that embodies some of the strongest athletes on the face of the planet by calling it an abomination, or less “noble”, give your head a shake.  There are many forms of climbing, all which fall under “climbing”.  The fact that Alex Honnold Free-Solos the 1,750-Foot El Sendero Luminoso (5.12d), is that an abomination, stupid, silly, etc. ? No, just another form to which he embraces.

Ok, So, i guess the point of this post is not to face Mr. Noble, but more so to take a look between the lines.  I’m currently in France right now, between competitions, and climbing tons.  I love it, particularly I love climbing in this massive cave called “Usine”.  Usine is just off the highway close to Grenoble, France.  It’s a massive cave that holds “The” world’s hardest dry tooling routes.  The standard is set there (for dry-tooling).  Now, in the past few years, dry-tooling has become more and more popular…which is rad.  Some are getting pissy because it’s “destroying the rock”, but really…there’s a lot of rock out there…so chill (and that’s a whole other story to tackle some other day-what should be allowed vs. what should not…because we own the rock or something…right).  The fact is, more and more climbers are taking to this different style of winter climbing and it seems to be putting a lot of smiles on people’s faces.

Within mixed climbing and dry-tooling, there’s different styles; there used to be heel spurs, but that eventually got faded out because it made the climbing too easy, along with other circus tricks (like stacking of tools, etc.).  So as the fairly new sport evolved, it got to a place where routes were being sent in “good form”, or, “current form”.  However, there are still different styles that some live religiously by, like the figure four (where throwing one leg over the opposite sided arm, allowing for a restful position, or to reach the next hold easier).  The french, well, some french, refuse to figure four…as they think it makes it too easy to climb certain moves.  SO the french, they just huck themselves up, or across, the route.  It’s rad to watch, very athletic, and takes a certain kind of strength to do so.  NO problem.  And of course, within mixed and dry tooling you have the different styles of routes. In dry-tooling you have drilled pockets and natural pockets.  Same with mixed climbing.  And this is where we get into it.

Grades.  This seems to be a hot topic in the world of mixed or dry-tooling.  And let me just throw this out there…good luck.  There’s no consensus on grades…and quite frankly…i can’t see there ever being one.  There are so many variables, factors, situations, etc. that come into play when grading a route.  Throughout the past couple of years there’s been a lot of motivated climbers getting after it.  It’s been awesome to see. But it’s been interesting to see how grades have been being “tossed around”.  I’ve had the opportunity to climb at a lot of venues around the world.  SOme i still need to get to (can’t wait to climb in Vail).  But the most interesting thing I’ve noticed within all these venues is that there’s absolutely zero connection in the grades.  Now, fair enough…drilled pockets vs. natural holds, vs. ticked holds, vs, conditions, vs. “this year there’s more ice” vs. “this year there’s no ice”, vs. well i’m too short, vs. well he got lucky that his tool stayed on those holds vs. the sun was in my eyes and i couldn’t find the holds vs. well i climb 5.14 and it felt harder than that so it must be… vs. i’ve never tried so hard in my life so it must be…vs vs vs vs vs vs vs.  All these variables have lead to a disarray which is causing the sport to stumble.  Countless times over the last few years i’ve seen certain athletes get on “high graded” routes, crush, and down grade instantly.  Test pieces that were established years ago can, by some, be found now as warm ups.

Yesterday, in Usine, France, I watched some of the strongest competitive athletes in the world get shut down on a D13.  Now we’re talking about climbers that are super duper strong.  They see no fear and they don’t hold back.  And they couldn’t do a D13.  These guys have been climbing for years.  Same climbers on a D14…shut down.  In North America, the same grade seems to be getting climbed a lot these days.  Whether “M11, 12, or 13″, there’s been a lot of ascents…and don’t get me wrong…that’s so rad–and i’m super proud of those who are at the height of there climbing pursuits.  But where’s the disconnect? Two days ago, i was on a route, a D10, that was longer and involved more endurance than a “test piece M12″ that I’ve done in canada.  There’s a big difference between an M12 and an M10, or a D10.  So does that mean the long standing Musashi M12 is no longer? I mean, that route has a 95% positive holds.  NO different than a drilled out dry-tooling route.  Yes, it has ice at the end, but that’s a different grading system.  Maybe Musashi is an M10 WI4-5? Interesting.

And lets not forget about this new era of longer tools.  What a cluster.  This started back in the day with gravel making a longer axe and has continued into the realm of athletes using longer tools in competition to get an edge. And now, manufacturer’s are making longer tools, again, “for competition”, but now being seen at climbing crags.  Longer tools down grade a route.  Simple.  It makes the movement easier.  So, if someone climbs a route with modded tools, do they get the same grade? LIkely not.  Again, this whole “new level” is a cluster.

This fall/winter i’ve been involved with establishing a new dry-tooling venue.  It’s been a lot of fun.  There’s even ice up there at the end of the mega route.  Specifically though, a couple of the longer dry-tooling routes…they’re long, with fun movement, and require some fitness for sure.  Originally i was thinking D11.  But after climbing so much in Usine, they would maybe get D10 (based on Usine).  Is Usine the standard though? Well, to be honest…for dry-tooling…maybe.  But going to a crag that has natural holds, that’s more techy, maybe sketchier holds…does that make those routes harder? What if the holds aren’t marked? Does that automatically give a grade increase? What if the route establisher hasn’t been to Usine, how would he or she know? At which point, they grade routes on what they do know.  Which is totally fair! But then of course, you get the “foreigners” coming over and downgrading the heck out of said routes.  Which happens…all the time.

In Usine, yes…the holds are drilled.  IT’s a training ground.  But at other venues, holds are natural…adding a portion of “chance”, or maybe even a bit of luck to your ascent.  Should  a routes grade be based on luck? If the first ascentionist sends but further attempts by others come short of such “luck” does that mean the route deserves a higher grade? Or…? The upper echelon of grades is somewhat of sacred ground.  Once into the M12, or D12, 13, 14, and even 15 range, I think there should be more of a consistency.  When i put up my first M12, i was sure of it, because of it’s style, time of effort, etc. etc.  Since then, the route has changed, making it easier, or different.  And since then, i’ve climbed a lot of different routes at that level, or given the same level or harder, and maybe the grade i gave doesn’t hold anymore.  I’m a much stronger climber now, and even a bit smarter, opening my ability or mind to what M12, 13, 14, or even 15 actually looks like.  But even then, what does it actually look like? I”ve been on routes like “Ironman” which was graded D14+.  Some who have sent that, quickly no less, have said, maybe not, maybe D13.  Obviously basing that suggestion on previously climbed routes, their experience is guiding what they think the grade to be.  Maybe in that style they’re stronger than other styles.  My strength is to figure four and nine.  Give me any roof and i’ll do well on it, because i’ve trained that style to death.  That doesn’t mean to say i’ll send, but…that style is more my strength.  And onsighting vs. redpointing? You know the holds, therefor saving you time through the movement, therefor making things a tid bit easier.  In competition the other day, i watched a competitor call a technical on the final hold, allowing him to go again.  On his second attempt, he went so bloody fast it was unreal…because he knew the holds.  Did he win? Yes, by standards of competition…but did he really beat the guy who topped out on his first try? Hmm….interesting question.

I guess the point of all this, the between the lines, is that I see a lot of posts about grades lately.  “I sent this grade…”, etc.,  We’re all guilty of it, we all enjoy a bit of press, and we all like to feel good about the style of climbing to which we succeed in.  There’s no shame in that.  That’s climbing. Or, can be part of climbing.  But in my opinion, the grading is lost.  It’s changing from venue to venue.  The zoo, what used to be one of the standards in the world, a hot spot for many years…downgraded…a ton…based on Usine.  Two years ago i watched some of the french crush a few of the harder routes in colorado…downgraded instantly.  This winter i watched Gadd send my M12 first try.  Although the route was very different than when i did it, and climbed differently, still…downgraded (which i agree with).  Routes in Bozeman, although super fun and rad, the test pieces of “dry-tooling” (or gymnastic mixed climbing), all downgraded.  Why is it that North American routes, when repeated, a lot of the times get downgraded? Is it because of our lack of experience in that terrain, vs. seasoned climbers with more mileage? Is it because of the disconnection between North America and Europe?

North America has a lot of strong winter climbers.  There’s no doubt about that.  North America also is home to many many super amazing routes.  No doubt about that either.  But after climbing in europe, by no means am i saying that “I am the one”, gosh no, but judging the routes i’ve been on, seen others on, sent, etc., vs. the same in NOrth America (been on, tried, sent, seen others on), there’s a huge disconnect.  What’s our motive for the higher grades? The elitism of being at that level? The press? The self worth? So many times i’ve heard, “well i’ve done that route so this one must be…”, and don’t kid yourself…i’m just as guilty.  I’m by no means calling anyone out, or blaming anyone, or pointing fingers.  We’re all guilty to an extent of this…but what i am saying…is where did the grading go? Where is the disconnect? What’s the standard? How do we declare the standard? Is there more of a standard in rock climbing? Or Alpine climbing? Or any other style of climbing? In ice climbing, i’ve seen a lot of excited people, about how they did certain routes this winter, claiming a certain grade…but that certain route was picked out to the point where you could almost climb it with your hands.  That doesn’t take away from the glory of the route, but the route was simply different…so don’t claim the grade.  Further to that, maybe we shouldn’t be claiming grades in teh first place.  Is that why we’re climbing? Yes, reaching a certain level has it’s glory, but…that shouldn’t be the driving force.  When you send a route, maybe not spray all over facebook about the grade, rather how awesome the route was, the experience, who you did with, etc.  Does this make any sense?

I’m not trying to offend anyone.  No.  I love climbing, and i love so many people within the climbing world.  I love climbing in france because of the rad people.  For the last two days i got to enjoy climbing in a huge awesome cave with the Russian team, the Korean team, the French team, and one of the members of the American team.  And everyone was psyched.  You can’t ask for more of an experience than that…for me anyways.

The grades are lost.  How do we get them back? I say: keep crushing, keep establishing, but maybe slow down on the grade thing, and just keep being psyched about climbing.  The guy from the facebook rant (at the start of my blog), he’s lost sight of what it is to just climb. An opinion like that is a very dark place to be in.  If you can’t accept that climbing has many values, genres, meanings, and variables, then…well…that’s up to you, but it’s not up to us to take ownership of climbing, we don’t own it, and we don’t have the right to dictate, judge, point fingers, etc.

Ok, back to climbing.  Peace.