How Hard is Hard Grit?

I just learned that Kevin Jorgeson and Alex Honnold both made rapid ascents of The Promise.  Supposedly E10 but now I suspect it’s been confirmed at E8. A slight miscalculation perhaps?  Although it is worth mentioning the talented first ascentionist did not use any crash pads.  Regardless it’s been a tremendous trip for the team of US climbers, (even though North America seems oblivious to this fact) and the grit is proving to be a world class destination of sorts for those looking to push the titanium nuts envelope.

Now on to my rant.  First off I want to say that I never commented on the E grades of the UK while I was over there because quite frankly I think they are a wee bit silly.  I understand clearly that they held an important job at the time, in history, but climbing has evolved slightly and the information no longer meshes well.  You see ( in short) the E grade work on a sliding scale.  A combination grade, of difficulty plus danger.  So, you may have an E5 with much harder climbing than say an E7, but it’s all relative, especially when you factor in if it’s an onsight or a headpoint ascent.  I think what climbers need to know is simple, roughly how hard is the climbing and what is the fall factor?  There is no need to combine these two bits of information, it only fuddles it up.  Keep it simple, tell climbers what they need to know and let the line dictate itself.

I recently wrote a very brief essay about my feelings towards this in the latest issue of gripped.  Grades are not important and never will be, but I do find it interesting how different countries and cultures find ways to measure their performance, at the end of the day it’s all in good fun and a great way to bring people together down at the pub.  The thing is – grades are only relevant if they are compared to something else.  When you try to compare Equilibrium E10 ( a short powerful and delicate arete with an atrocious landing) to say Rhapsody E11 ( a longer, power endurance climb with a huge but safe fall) you get something not unlike apples and oranges.  This is why climbers are infinitely at it with each other, because they are trying to compare two or three things that are nothing like one another.  A classic scenario of different taste and style.

For those who care, Kevin J made a sub one hour ascent of the Promise, James Pearsons E10.  He then downgraded it to roughly E8.  Now, it is not our business what the grade is, it’s a beautiful line no doubt and only three men have climbed it, so I’ll keep my mouth shut.  However, he did say that he was able to find a sequence that made the crux feel easier.  This is absolutely CLASSIC of repeat ascents and in no way changes the feat of the original climb.  James’ effort was still notable and no one can take that moment away from him, it was his experience.

The same holds true for Sharma’s great arch in Mallorca.  Ethan Pringle discovered an easier sequence declaring the dyno a bit of a show boat move.  And on Rhapsody, Steve McCLure and myself both found alternate ways of climbing the crux and multiple ways of escaping to the arete.  In fact, on the redpoint McClure used a different variation at the final lip, opting for a left leaning dyno rather than the straight up dyno Dave and I used. This was how Steve envisioned the climb, he was obviously strong enough and bold enough, however, he chose his own adventure.

And further more, The Corba Crack was repeated three times this summer, Nico and Sean (two formidable climbers from Belgium) discovered a new sequence out left that involved a heel toe hook above their head (because let’s not forget there are barely any foot holds at all) the heel toe cam allows the body to access crimps on the left side of the headwall.  Now why didn’t I think of that?
Nico said after the fact that the “bra” felt more like 5.14b than 5.14c.  And swiftly afterwards Ethan Pringle and Matt Segal also made ascents of the beautiful crack. Yet, still nobody has repeated the original sequence out right.  And why should they?

What I am getting at is that climbing is freedom to express and we all have the right to interpret the rock the way we (as individuals) see fit.  If someone finds a new sequence and thinks it is not as hard as what the original grade suggests,  who cares.  After all these crazy numbers are only as legend McClure will say best, “Merely A Suggestion”.

Best wishes to all this Monday afternoon, I hope dreams are coming true all over the world.

  • Dustin

    Seems like a lot of grade talk around right now (though does it really every stop?) Do you have similar thoughs on the RRG 50 words right drama between Joe Kinder and Adam Taylor? 😉


  • Si

    Well said Sonnie.

    When you coming back to the UK? Echo Wall awaits you, as does the rain!

  • elias

    why do people think they own the crag, or a line(for a FA)??? giving it a name doesn’t mean they can actually force a grade(that’s why it is a suggestion)!!! or bust a variation!! or even renaming it just to tell everybody what adam did(i’m not justifying him). i personally think 50 words for drama is rather a DRAMATIC THING TO DO. Just climb goddamn it!!! where’s the fun??? where’s the challenge?? where’s the lesson when you’re ontop??? we’re losing it boys and girls, and it’s only gossip.


  • Ackbar

    I think the reason that people in the UK love the E grade system is that it inspires you. It gives you something to aim for. When you start climbing you dream about getting to E1 (unless you are James Pearson in which means you skip straight to E7 for your first lead). Once you get there you are already thinking of E2 etc. Grades do matter, but not for egotistical reasons. They matter because if you are about to do your first E2 or 5.11 R or F7a etc etc, you know what sort of climbing this is going to entail. You are going to have to raise the bar.

    (by the way, short grit routes with bouldering mats don’t get E grades they get a highball bouldering grade. So they did Font 7c(?) not E8) 😀


  • Ackbar

    Oh and by the way, the line of the Promise is not that great. There are hundreds of better lines in the Peak District. I think it got attention due to it’s grade not because of the line.

  • hey sonnie, was pretty fun reading that and i agree with you.



  • annnd, whats the martial arts guy for??? 🙂

  • James (from UK)

    Interesting views. As you have clearly expressed here, there are a huge number of variations and factors to a climb. So how can two grades (difficulty and fall factor) ever encompass everything.
    The E grade system embraces that uncertainty and variability, so at the bottom of a climb an E3 5b could be a long, safe endurance route with lots of 5b moves, or it could be a relatively easy route with one 5b move and lacking in protection, or still yet it may have protection but the rock may be friable. And because it is graded for the on-sight, it may be safe, it may have one 5b move, but that one move might be hidden or a trick move, making the overall E-grade harder
    The point is grading systems evolve and the adjectival system used in Britain is part of our climbing heritage being about a 100 years old. Of course it is not perfect, but it has a charm. No climbing grade system is particularly better than another, just different

  • Sonnie

    Sup ya’ll, Thanks for all the great feedback on this, it’s really neat to throw an idea out there and see what the people say, I especially love discussion, when someone has a different opinion or point of view to share, it makes us all see the world more openly. Thanks for contributing and I hope the climbing is well, the weather cleared up today, so we all going to the Bluffs for a session. PSYCHED. Oh and the martial arts guys obviously has no connection to the post, just that I though he was dope and I love the dedication and practice. Do ninjas use numbers?

  • Apes

    I love “Chose Your Own Adventure!” Ninjas use colors… I think.