I'm going to start from the beginning of this whole mess. In the year 2000, 8C (V15) grade first got introduced to bouldering, when Fred Nicole did the first ascent of Dreamtime and proposed a never before seen grade of 8C for it. Soon it became known as the standard for 8C in the climbing media. That was 10 years ago. Still to this date, most of the cutting-edge boulders being put up are 8C. To most, this means that a decade passed and we have not progressed at all.
Sometimes things are not how seem. There has been huge progression difficulty-wise in bouldering. What happened is deflation in the grading scale. Dreamtime being set as the 8C standard (by the media), other hard problems are being put up and since Dreamtime is the 8C standard (and the only problem of that grade in the world) they get graded based on Dreamtime. New Base Line gets it's first ascent and marks the upper end of 8C. Time goes by, more hard problems get put up and graded based on these standards. And then, BOOOM! After Dreamtime gets enough repeats, turns out it is actually not 8C, but only 8B+. Same thing with New Base Line, which marked the upper end of 8C, it turns out to be 8B+ also. This is were it all started to go wrong.
Dreamtime, the problem that started it all.
In 2005 Dave Graham makes the first ascent of The Story Of Two Worlds and decides to call it the new standard for 8C, even though he could have proposed 8C+ as it was harder for him than anything else at the time. Instead, Dave chose to use it as the 8C standard and make some sense to the chaotic grading scale. Today, there is a lot of variety in the upper-scale grades, simply based on these double standards, because some problems are still graded based on the old standard, while other problems are more reliant on Dave's standard.
Story of Two Worlds, in Cresciano, Switzerland
I have repeated at least five boulder problems that were originally graded 8C or even 8C+, and have now been downgraded by a grade or two. And the list goes on. Actually, most of the proposed 8C's or 8C+'s have been downgraded and many of the ones that have not, are still unconfirmed. The issue here is that a few people (like me and Dave Graham for instance) are still trying to define the 8C grade (which I personally think is still the cutting edge) while rest of the climbers do not necessarily realize the the grade deflation, that has been going on for some years now.
Here are a few examples:
- Dreamtime downgraded from 8C to 8B+
- New Base Line 8C (hard), downgraded to 8B+
- The Never-ending Story in Magic Wood was originally called 8C+, now downgraded to 8B+
- El Techo de los Tres B's, downgraded from 8C to 8B
- Banshousha, supposedly the hardest slab in the world - downgraded from 8C to 8B
- Memento, downgraded from 8C+ to 8B+ (and according to many still deserves a downgrade)
- Amandla, downgraded from 8C+ to 8B+
- Terremer in Hueco Tanks, downgraded from 8C+ to (soft?) 8C
- Ode to the modern man, downgraded from 8C to soft 8B+
- Kheops assis, downgraded from 8C to 8B+
and the list goes on...
I see this trend repeating itself year after year and there seems to be no end to it. Why do so many problems keep getting downgraded? Why are so many problems overgraded in the first place? The media is adding pressure for professional climbers to strive for new grades, since bouldering grades have been stalling or even on the decline for years. An 8C first ascent is not necessarily that newsworthy anymore, after all that grade was climbed already 10 years ago.
Last June I did the first ascent of Livin' Large in South Africa. It is by far the hardest boulder I've climbed so far, a lot harder than any 8C that I have climbed in the past. Does that mean that it is 8C+? Maybe, just maybe. Does that mean that I should grade it 8C+? I don't think so. Why do we always have to shoot high first and then wait for the downgrade. Why is it never the other way around? I graded it 8C because I feel certain that it is at least 8C. If other people feel like it's harder, they can upgrade it. Why do people always choose the egotistical approach to these things instead of "playing it safe"? Furthermore, I think Livin' Large equals in difficulty with The Story of Two Worlds, the stiff standard set by Dave Graham back in 2005, defining the standard further.
The previous standards failed us and sent the highest grades to a down-ward spiral. This time we tried to set standards that are very likely to hold their grade. A solid foundation for the grade is what we need to correct the situation and that also means lots of downgrades. This is where it gets hard, because often people can take it personal, when their biggest pride gets downrated. The few people who actually put themselves on the line and try to make a change for better, get a bad name for criticising other people's ascents or more precisely the grades. Grading climbs based on the new-school standard can mean getting "left behind" so to speak. In the world of professional climbing, that can be a big risk to take.
Like I said before, there are not many people out there trying to fix the current situation, before jumping to a new grade. If others do not approve on this standard that we are trying to set and grade things based on a slightly different scale, that's totally fine with me, but in that case our problems need to be potentially re-graded. Who sets the grading scale, is the question here. I totally agree, that we need to move up on the scale soon, but I'm not sure if the necessary (big) step has been reached yet and further do we want to base a new grade on such a chaotic "foundation".
The fact is, that there is still no clear standard for 8C. We can all be throwingout big grades and flashy numbers and get on magazine covers, get better sponsorship and then a few months later watch our problem getting downgraded. The irony here is that a downgrade rarely makes the news and one would not necessarily get discredited for what he claims to have done.
In conclusion, grades are only estimates, personal opinions of the difficulty of a climb. People make mistakes, that is how it will always be. But how does it happen that 99 percent of the time, the mistake happens to be giving a HIGHER grade, very very rarely lower. Especially with upper-scale boulder problems, comes a fair amount of responsibility with the grading, because when the problem becomes a standard of some sort, a test-piece, it can and will affect the grading of many other climbs.
Grades are only a very small and quite unimportant part of climbing, but why do we even bother with the grades, if they really mean nothing?
sreen grabs: www.8a.nu