Why Don’t Grades Work

Why Don’t Grades Work

They don’t. Plain and simple.

V6 means nothing to me. V6 on granite, sandstone, quartzite? V6 Dyno? V6 slab?

Let me get into the nitty gritty:

My partner is 5’2. I am 5’11. We both do a relatively good job of trying to climb in each other’s boxes/styles but inevitably in the game of moving upwards on rock, they are almost always at a disadvantage.

Can we normalize being really nebulous about grades? I mean Kris does an interesting job with his V7-V9-depending-on-your-size/style/other-mitigating-factors thing.

I know when something doesn’t feel right grade wise. But why are we so scared to talk about it? I think it’s time to start being honest with ourselves about what is hard for us and what has been deemed ‘hard’ by others.

I’ll go first. I generally only try things “at my limit” that I am pretty sure I’m going to be able to do. A…K.A. I look for things that fit me and I know may have a good number attached to them.

How do you determine what grade a route/boulder is? What do personal grades mean to you?

1 Like

I don’t understand grades either, but I really like the fact that we have them :slight_smile:
It’s like a journey to me. While I’m trying to discover what grades mean I’m also learning about myself and how I do on different styles. For instance, a 6A sit start tends to be just as hard for me as a 7A dyno.

It never made sense to me that we don’t just collect everyone’s opinion on a grade and report the distribution. I’m sure that there are some climbs that would have a high degree of consensus and others would have a high degree of spread. Knowing that something is V6±0 vs something else is V6±2 would certainly be more useful than just V6.

Surely with enough votes on a single climb we’ll see interesting patterns emerge based on the climbs properties. For example, I’d imagine that a climb that is notoriously morpho would have a much different looking distribution than one thats perfectly adapted to the average persons dimensions. I’ve attached a picture of different distribution shapes, its interesting to think about how different distributions could arise out of different climb properties.


As an aside, I always think its dumb when the climbing media reports a downgrade on something thats only been climbed twice and makes a big deal of it. Like why should we care that two completely different people climbing on completely different days/conditions have a very slight difference in opinion on the difficulty? Literally there aren’t enough datapoints on those climbs to make any kind of statement as fact.


^^^i love this perspective.

Mountain Project and Area Guidebooks are supposed to help illustrate this curve but there many issues that can lead to a lack of consensus with these mediums.

I have never found MP to be representative of the larger climbing population. And therefore remains an imperfect tool at quantifying or even accurately reporting on the climbing experience.


1 Like

I think grades DO work. The fault is with the user.

I certainly believe there is a better system that cause less misinterpretation, but I’m not sure what it is.

I know it isn’t consensus within our current system because we’ve gone too many directions with our misinterpretations and generations of climbers have learned from them, skewing all of our perceptions, even if we were to be honest. Coming to a consensus assumes we all have a firm grasp on what the grades mean. We don’t.

For me, they work. I don’t see them as a rule but as a general, vague guide. That’s exactly what I want, because I believe it’s the best way to learn.

I don’t choose a grade for something. I make a suggestion and I move on. If something I graded gets down or upgraded, I may never even know and definitely won’t care. If it’s a drastic difference (which has happened), I want to know what I missed so I can learn from it. That’s pretty much it.

@tristansipe i find this particularly interesting:

“I generally only try things “at my limit” that I am pretty sure I’m going to be able to do”

Then is it at your limit? I’ve literally never seen anything at my limit that I’m sure I’ll be able to do. If I’m sure, it’s likely below my limit by a notch or two.


It seems like it is a common assumption that all climbs of a certain grade should feel about the same level of difficulty. In an ideal world, this would be true for the community as a whole but not necessarily for any individual climber. Of course, this comes with all the usual caveats like new beta gets found, holds break, guidebook is wrong etc

I always like trying to understand why a climb feels hard or soft to me. In my experience, more often than not, it is a reflection of my strengths and weaknesses as a climber rather than the grade being off.