Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bouldering grades: Everything is average nowadays

I decided to write down some of my thoughts on bouldering grades, since a lot has been happening during the last years in the bouldering world. This sort of conversation still seems to be some sort of a taboo in the climbing community, so I am prepared to receive a lot of negative reactions, but I feel like this is a really important topic to discuss.

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.

It is too easy to keep quiet and go with the flow, but where will this lead us in a few years?  Already, the grading scale is so chaotic in the upper end, that sometimes I'm not sure if it's even salvageable anymore, especially if we start basing an entirely new grade on the "standard" set right now.

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.

I see lists of the hardest boulders in the world and in reality there is a three grades alternation between different problems, all categorized under the same grade. This almost makes me want to start a new grading scale. Another important thing is, that grades should be openly discussed, not kept quiet. Although, most grade related conversations on internet forums are usually quite pointless, I think there are people who are in certain situations qualified to state their opinion about a grade, without necessarily completing a climb.

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:


  1. which boulder is a real 8c in your oppinion then?

  2. Great to read something about grades from someone who knows what they're talking about. Very well written!

  3. Anonymous3/3/10 21:33

    Very well written. Thanks for opening a great debate.

  4. I'm glad you were willing to voice your well thought out opinion. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Anonymous3/3/10 22:10

    Well written, it was needed. There is a huge variation of grading at the upper scale, especially soft touch places like magic wood and cresciano . . By the way when are some of you top boys going to try John Gaskins stuff? Maybe not the prettiest lines but if you want to find difficulty...

  6. Nalle,
    Props for tackling this issue bravely and progressively. Much respect.

  7. Thanks for all the positive responses.

    The Story of Two Worlds is a good standard in my opinion. Even though it's still unrepeated, I've tried it enough to get a good understanding of the difficulty. In my opinion there are certainly other 8C's out there too, but not nearly as many as has originally been claimed.

    I am very interested to try Gaskins' problems, even though I'm aware they are not the most aesthetic boulders out there. Hopefully I can find the time at some point.

    I think we all agree that grades in the end are not very important for climbing, but still I hope this discussion will help to make some much needed changes in the grading system.

    One person that I forgot to credit in my post is Fred Nicole. He has climbed countless groundbreaking first ascents and some of them got downgraded, but many of his hard boulder problems are still unrepeated and some without a doubt deserve an upgrade. Monkey Wedding to name one, a problem that he graded 8B+ and most likely deserves an upgrade to 8C.

  8. Nalle, what a great essay! I really agree with your argument. Keep up the good climbing, as well as the conservative grading!

    As you say, far too few "play it safe" and go with a solid, conservative grade. You've pointed out the trouble this causes at the upper end of the grading scale. I don't personally climb at that upper end, but I can tell you it causes the same problems lower in the scale, from even the very bottom end. As the upper end climbs higher and higher, people assume the lower grades, or "steps", should be easier and easier. From V2 to V15, every level ends up getting watered down. What was V5 is now supposedly V8, all in the name of "progression."

    People's egotistical hunger for progress blinds them to the trick they play on themselves: to think you climb at a higher level, when you actually don't.

    It makes me nostalgic for the John Gill B-scale, but that's another discussion perhaps...

  9. Anonymous3/3/10 23:33

    Well said, man. Thanks for stepping in as the voice of reason, Nalle. If The Story of Two Worlds and Livin' Large are the standard for 8C, then what does that mean for the standard for 8B, 8B+, or easier grades? Is there one?

  10. Hey Nalle!

    I really like the new openness of high-end boulderers regarding the grade inflation! I think this will help our sport immensely! Perhaps we should just gather everyone climbing >8B and lock them up in a room until we have a solution ;-)

    thanks for your post,

  11. probably the best thing written concerning the subject in a very long time...not just a well thought out opinion but also an excellent piece of writing. if only there were more intelligent voices like this!

  12. Anonymous4/3/10 00:14

    I don't really understand the point. In the beginning you say that Dreamtime is 8c and after a while it gets downgraded because it has many repeats and there are some harder Boulders that are rated 8c as well. Doesn't make sense for me the question is if it is harder than the 8b+ Boulders established before and if yes the grade should stay and it should be the standard for 8c and everything harder should be 8c+ or 8c/+ if you don't think it is abig step. This theory to make always harder 8c Boulders reminds me at the thinking in the alpine climbin where they said that there is no route harder than UIAA 6. So open your mind and establish the seventh grade or 8c+ grade or whatever if you truly belive that it is harder.

    greets Tom

  13. Anonymous4/3/10 00:15

    Finally someone writes a well written essay about the topic, and not some two sentence paragraph. nicely done mate

  14. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Nalle, very interesting reading. It reminds me of the comments Malcolm Smith made a few years ago after he repeated Dreamtime called it low end 8B+ and claimed that 8C does not yet exist.

  15. The standard for 8B+? Off the top of my head,
    Midnight Express in Boulder Canyon, ironically New Base Line in Switzerland and possibly Amandla in South Africa. Maybe Ninja Skills in Switzerland, but it hasn't been tried by many people yet.

    8B has already been standardized pretty well in my opinion. Some good examples that I can think of: Mithril in Switzerland, Nagual in Hueco, Sunseeker in Mt. Evans, Vecchia Leone in Switzerland, Top Notch in RMNP, Banshousha in Japan, The Power of Goodbye in Austria...

    These are my own views and by no means do I want to become any kind of grade police here. I just wanted to start a conversation on the matter. It's obvious that people's opinions differ, but I think we can still make the grading scale much more logical than what it is at the moment.

  16. Hi Nalle,

    Nice post, interesting to hear your point of view which seems to be one that is also shared by Dave Graham. I think bouldering grades are always going to be a lot harder to grade than straight up routes given they are generally short problems and often better suit some people more than others. I have a couple of quick questions:

    1. don't you think it makes it difficult to progress the grade if you are conservative all the time? By suggesting a new grade the problem and climber gets publicity, but this also means others will come to try it and offer their opinion. I think it is often easier to suggest a downgrade rather than an upgrade, particularly if no one knows what the next level / grade should feel like.

    2. If Dave Graham put up the Story of Two Worlds in 2005 and it hasn't seen a repeat (it has seen quite a few attempts), would that not suggest it is in fact harder than any other V15 proposed? I know this has been suggested many times before, but still a fair argument. Perhaps it will get an upgrade when it does get a repeat :)

  17. Tom, the thing is Dreamtime turned out not to be harder than other 8b+'s at the time after all. The problem was Dreamtime being hyped by the media as the first 8C and the standard for the grade. For some reason it took 4 years to get downgraded to 8B+ (which it deserved). That 4 years and those new boulders that got put up and graded during that time is what led to the current situation.

  18. Anonymous4/3/10 01:01

    personally, doing a first ascent always makes the problem seem more difficult to me. i like to grade it what i think it is, and then drop a grade. so if i think its a v8, then ill say its v7, and it should generally be solid. it is hard to make a new grade, especially since other people often use different beta that may be better, and there are different styles. i think that if a problem is exactly your style and it is still the hardest thing youve ever done, you could probably say that its a grade up, or half a grade. but if its your anti-style, then you have to remember that there are other people who will probably say that it is soft. i feel like its almost MORE satisfying to climb a hard v8 than a soft 9, because a soft 9 could be more like a 7 or even lower. also, the region that you are tends to make a large difference, hueco seems about a 1/2 grade softer than bishop, and bishop already seems soft. i do feel that the upper level climbers should either give a grade range, with the grade they think the climb is at the top, and a lower grade for what it might be, since it is all subjective. either way, the best climbers have to set the standard and not inflate it or well be having v18's that should be hard v15's, etc.
    interesting article, thanks for the input

  19. Anonymous4/3/10 01:02

    Very well written and of course I totally agree on everything you say. I have been fighting with the same issues for many years :-) You make a strong role model in the climbing community.

    Jens Larssen/

  20. Great post! I'm really glad you open up and talk about that. This attitude of "i don't want to think about the grades, I just want to climb" is really most of the time not genuine and most climbers think about the grade a lot. It's because we're trying to improve and better ourselves.

    This tendency to never upgrade a problem, but only downgrade is a highly psychological one. When you're trying something really hard, you always feel that it's a higher grade than when you've actually completed the climb.

    It's a matter of putting your heart, your pride out there and saying "this is the best I can do" and then letting other people basically "judge" you based on what you feel that the grade is.

    Nobody would want to upgrade a problem because then you get into the though process of "If that other climber thinks this is a V12 and I really feel that it's a V14 and I say that, then I'm basically saying I find the problem harder than he does. I then, seem like a weaker climber."

    It seems silly when you put it like this, but this could be a strong factor in this mentality of never upgrading a problem and always downgrading.

    Also, if a few people talking about downgrading a problem and you don't feel it should be downgraded, then if you say so, you're telling them that you think the problem feels harder than the other two do. Then you're making yourself a "weaker outsider"

  21. nicolas Mathieu4/3/10 01:16

    but I think something that's also coming in consideration about the constant downgrading of the problem is that everybody have different style, so, for some, an 8b, will be 8c, and for others it will be 8a so.... like if you are short, you could but a super hard problem for you like 8b+ but then someone super tall would come and skip all the moves, or someone stronger on this style, and I think that's also the origine of this downgrading ==> exemple fontainbleau ==> lots of frequentation, so if a lots of people are climbing the problem, they are more downgraded because there is alltime someone who is more adapted for this style . and it's for this than usually, the grade are easier in new areas ...

  22. Good points everyone. I'm not claiming to have all the answers to this, I'm merely pointing out the problem and bringing it to people's attention. Maybe through the conversation we can find a solution that is going to change things for better.

  23. That's a really brave and great comment Nalle. And i think there should be a committee to set grades standards. This committee will consist of world class climbers that are not afraid of hurting other climbers egos hahaha.

    Nalle, 2 days ago i decided to start my own grading system. But i was thinking about it long time before what happened lately. As i am almost the only guy bouldering in my whole country, and all i do is projects, i decided to start my MG grading system. It might be a funny thing for others, but it really help me, and after some time of thinking about it, i found out it was really accurate. The grade is very very personal, related to my own view of the difficulty.

    i don't want to wait for climbers to come from other countries and to hit me with a number, that if they know what they are saying, i am developing my own grading system, and later, when i get more experienced after some travels, or help with real professionals like you and Dave, i will put a conversion table to what i already established.

    you may read more on my blog

    Marc Germani

  24. Anonymous4/3/10 02:22

    I think grades are basically a mess all through the scale from v0 - v15. The reason for this mess is that we all have unique strengths. These strengths vary from extreme crimping ability to compression, etc. I find it rare that climbers are equal in these abilities. Example a crimpy v10 could be hard or almost impossible for a v11 climber who is good at compression and slopers, where the same v10 will be very attainable for v9 climber with strong fingers. You mentioned Amandla v15 by Fred, he said the crux was the hardest move he had ever done. That is saying a lot from him. He spent years to do this line. Then Paul sends it in one session, calls it v14. Understandable for sure. My point is grading could only be truly accurate if we all had the same physique, the same strengths, height, weight, tendons etc. I think it is very important to grade something you truly feel it deserves, trying to second guess everybody else is crazy. I really admire Fred for establishing so many problems and always giving the grade he believes it deserves. It is Fred that truly has pushed the standards all these years, the rest have barely caught up. I have heard the mushroom roof v8 is soft for the grade, what these people don't realize that mushroom roof at v8 set the standard for v8. Then again John Sherman invented the v-scale. That says a lot for our sport, ha ha, jk. No doubt's we all take the grades a little to seriously. Sandbaggers are just as bad as the inflaters. Brave and humble, more like prideful and egocentric. Basically boulder problems will feel different to different climbers. There iare just too many factors. If the rocklands where situated in the west desert of the US, everything would be a few grades lower due to dryer and colder conditions. Grades are retarded, but most of us have a love affair with them.

  25. @Macca

    Being conservative with the grades surely conflicts with progressing the grade, but I believe we need some of logical standard for 8C before putting up 8C+'s, unless something is clearly a big step above the rest.

    Suggesting upgrades happens very rarely and I think that is one thing that needs to change. One reason why no-one ever upgrades anything is simply, that there are not many problems out there that deserve an upgrade. Also, we do not want to go overboard with the downgrading, just what is necessary to reach some sort of logical scale.

    Dave has a lot of experience with grades and in his opinion Story of Two Worlds is high-end 8C, as high as 8C gets before becoming 8C+. Just like any grade, 8C has a range and Story of Two Worlds in Dave's opinion marks the upper end of 8C. I suppose it is possible that it could get upgraded when repeated, depending on how the grades evolve.

  26. Cool post! When you mentioned "Maybe through the conversation we can find a solution that is going to change things for better." I think I saw a pretty good group of folks on Daila's blog sitting at a cafe drinking beer that could start making that decision! :D

  27. Anonymous4/3/10 03:54

    i think you and dave are just jealous cause daniel is getting all the focus lately and people are calling him as the best boulderer in the world!

  28. Anonymous4/3/10 04:00

    Hey Nalle,

    Very interesting to hear the opinions of the top climbers on grading, a well written post for sure.

    I don't climb at the hard end of the scale myself, but I can see what is being talked about in the grades that i do climb, as there seems to be huge variations in the difficulty of the problems I have climbed/am currently trying whilst being the same grade.

    My thought on the grading is that perhaps trying to decide what is the standards at the very top are and working backwards is perhaps the wrong way round? As you said, 8B is a grade which seems to be solidly defined by certain test pieces of this grade. Perhaps by working upward from these 8B's, setting them as the 'hard standard' (not the hardest mind!) and grading problems in relation right up through to the upper grades would resolve the problem (at least on the upper end of scale)? By starting at the 'beginning' as such (8B for this case), all the above grades can be accurately graded. This may mean that the 'bench mark' 8C problems suggested end up as harder, the same, or softer, but then their grades will be in accordance with the lower grade agreed 'bench marks' i.e. those 8B problems listed. After all, the best place to start is always the beginning, not the end.

    Sorry this turned into a bit of an essay (and probably a bit of a confusing one). Hopefully this is a bit more of an objective view as I have no idea what these problems feel like in difficulty.

    Thanks for bearing with me.

    Paul H

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. Anonymous4/3/10 05:01

    Good article Nalle, it now makes sense exactly why Dave was pissed off with Daniel's V15 upgrade on Desperanza. Especially since he considered personally that Espereranza was a soft V14, adding a few V7 sit start moves to it would hardly qualify it as the benchmark 8C you guys are trying to solidify.

    I only climb about V6 in my local gym but I find there is definitely more esteem attached to a soft V6 than a hard V4. The two problems may be equally as physically challenging, but everyone likes to brag about the big numbers :-)

    Also, is there a video of Dave Graham doing 'a story of two worlds' anywhere? Dosage maybe? Can't seem to find anything about it on the net other than the grading controversy. I would love to see it (or the dagger) climbed.

  31. Anonymous4/3/10 06:21

    These lines are what they are. It really doesn't matter if we call them v16 or v14, what they truly are will never change unless the rock changes.

  32. Anonymous4/3/10 08:53

    Two thoughts:

    - One downgrade doesn't change the consensus grade. If a problem has two or three ascents with varying opinions, it might not be settled just yet.

    - Re: Dreamtime, it was pretty widely reported that it had been "aggressively cleaned" early on and thus actually became easier. Nalle or anyone else with real info on that?

  33. Anonymous4/3/10 10:38

    The fact that grading develops independently in each country makes a world consensus extremely difficult. Take Britain as an example, really conservative grading scale that feels just right to them. From Ben and Jerry, to Malc and on to Gaskins, it's a logical progression which works.....Until they go on holiday to somewhere like magic wood and flash the same grade that may take years in Britain. No opinion on which scale is the correct one, just highlighting the differences between countries.

  34. Anonymous4/3/10 10:41

    Well in my opinion, this whole thing is a problem of you guys climbing these grades... i mean there are not that many people climbing these difficulties this is about. Actually you are kind of a „community“ by yourself and should easily be able to share about your business! So up in your highend grades you should be able to come to one level! The problem is, that if the upper end of the grading scale is not clearly defined, the whole grading scale thing is kind of more fluid than solid (what it should be!). You have the lower end and the upper end. Things in between are relatives to these borders. Defining the lower end is pretty easy and was done allready by alpine climbers long time ago. This definition should be kept! As difficulties grow, the only thing to do is to go up with numbers above the so far upper border! No need to make things fit so far! But as you guys climb harder and harder but try to keep the ultimate 8C border, things below have to fit... sandbagging...
    this is, why especially in popular crags, where you can find many upper-end problems, lower difficulties get downgraded as well. At the moment this seems to work and to be a solution to the whole problem. But actually it isnt! We are all getting stronger. But instead of saying „the maximum thing i can do is moving towards higher levels“ you say „maximum is allready reached, im moving toward this maximum/i have reached this maximum“. So you try to fit a growing spectrum of difficulty into an allready established interval (v0?-v16?). This without doubt makes things inbetween the borders quite messy! At a point in time, 7B will be so close to 7C and 7C so close to 8A, that many many people arent any longer able to get the difference! Espescially looking over an also growing spectrum of styles (of the climbs and the climbers) and strenghts! Actually this is allready happening (also in sportclimbing)! And as a consequence things get messed up even more, because this uncertanty produces more downgrading... this is stupid!
    Practically, the stupidness is like this; in my „likely“-homecrag (so you cant say its because its not my style or im not used to it) cresciano i have to dig really deep to get a 7C or 7C+ done, but in hueco im nearly able to flash it... this in fact (or is it me thinking it?) is representative to my „theory“! In europe, things happen like i described it. Downgreding everywhere. The only one trying to progress (also in terms of grading) was kind of bernd zangerl, who now seems blamed for overgrading. Take US. Over there things go as they maybe should, with daniel woods doing it right (do we know it is right???). Knowing different v15, why not give v16 to something feeling harder? As you know, when something really feels harder, it is!!! otherwise you dont get the feeling, or you are uncertain about it.

  35. Anonymous4/3/10 10:48

    Hey Nalle
    Why don't bouldering grades get a combined grading system, like an 8C B3, for a first ascender grading it 8C. I think something like combining it with the Gill grading system.
    Then maybe there isn’t so much discussion on it. And more ascenders (and grade discussion) will grade it eventually something like 8B B1.
    Nice idea or already tried?

  36. very interesting post and comments, grades might not be that important but i somehow like the subject a lot :)

    apart from the issue of setting a standard for each grade, in my opinion another component of the grade discussion, maybe more important at the lower and mid levels, is agreeing on the meaning of "difficult".

    I'll make it black-or-white with two extreme examples.

    a)difficult is something most people will need to train hard for, even if anyone has the potential to get it. A one arm pullup, or a campus board sequence is an example. A fairly technical problem with no real morpho move will be another.

    b)difficult is something few people can repeat, even if everybody trains hard as hell for years.
    something that requires talents going beyond what we call "training" : a certain body type (morpho stuff), a unique mental strenght (dangerous or very aleatory),the ability/luck to be there at the right time (extremely conditions-dependent problems in areas with shitty/unpredictable conditions year round...), etc...

    if difficult is case "a" you will give a high grade to a problem that generally requires a lot of fitness or attempts, even if it sees a lot of repetitions.
    if difficult is case "b" you will give a high grade to things that don't see a lot of success (much like the bachar scale?), even if odd repeats (too fast or from "too weak" people) happen.

    so what's the opinions here, if you were forced to choose an extreme and let the other go, a) or b)?

  37. @anonymous 10:38

    come to font and try some "first problem of that grade in fontainebleau" (e.g. marie-rose first 6a, la joker first 7a, c'etait demain first 8a, etc...)
    Then try some newer problems in the same grades.
    we'll see if you'll have the same opinion that the current grades are sandbagged ;)

  38. Anonymous4/3/10 11:38

    Hi Nalle,
    Very interesting article.
    I climb in Fontainebleau, in the range of 7A (V6), so i can't really tell about 8B/8C.
    But i still have so questions/thoughts :
    - You climbed The Island, with the same method as Dave (?), and graded it 8C. Now, Vincent Pochon has put-up a version from the ground (adding two V7 moves), that still weight 8C. What do you think about this boulder ?, is-it a good standart for 8C in Font ?
    - I've been climbing for 12 years and done aprox 40 boulders around 7a. Some i did flash, others in 2 attempts and most of them took me much more time. To me, it's really a question of : style/anti-style, good conditions, knowing the beta or trying by yourself, your actual shape. Whatever, even in Font the V6 grade is quite wide !!


  39. Anonymous4/3/10 12:01

    Grades should have depth. Just because boulder A feels more difficult to the person than boulder B doesn't mean it warrants a new grade. In some countries and areas 8c was jumped into before 8b+ had been properly established, in other places it was necessary. Time will show which was which...

  40. @anonymous

    I have been to Fontainebleau and climbed La Marie Rose, La Joker and C'etait demain, the first 6A, 7A and 8A in the world and a lot of other problems.


    I think the idea of combining the Font/V-grage and the B-grade is very interesting, for example 8C B3.


    Vincent's start to the Island may be a little more logical, but in the end it is very very close to Dave's start, just another persons vision. Simply, two 7b moves barely add any difficulty to an 8C boulder. There is a sit-start project to The Island, adding 8 very hard moves directly into it, without a rest, which would surely be 8C+.

    Obviously the conditions, the shape you're in and if the style suits you are huge factors in grading, but what comes to professional climbers, all we do is climb, all year. I'm sure most of us know our own weaknesses, strengths and the shape we're in really well.

    @ anonymous

    Grading is more simple within an area or even a country, but maintaining a global standard is what's hard. One reason being that there are not that many people out there, who travel the world constantly, climbing in different areas.

    Maybe it was a mistake in the first place, when the Fontainebleau-grade and the V-grade got unified.

    I understand that the issues in the upper-end of the scale cause problems throughout the whole scale and I don't really know what to say to that. If the upper-end of the scale is illogical, I'm sure it affects the lower grades too in some way.

  41. I think one mistake that is made in grading (both sport and boulder) is that people sometimes mistake added time for added difficulty. Such might sometimes be the case, but as you approach your limits the amount of time you must put into something goes up exponentially - yet the grade should not.

    Speaking for myself, I've done climbs fairly quickly that were a half-grade lower than a climb that totally shut me down. That 1/2 grade can make all the difference. If I had succeeded after enormous effort, I would have thought, "this is MUCH harder than anything I've ever done, thus it must be a grade harder!"

    That, of course, isn't necessarily true. I might have just reached my limit...

    I think there will always be difficulty solidifying upper end grades...

  42. Anonymous4/3/10 18:42

    its funny you say approach it in a humble manner.. didn't you put up Tequila Sunrise, which now has been downgraded by everyone one or 2 numbers down.. one person happening to be a girl.

  43. Anonymous4/3/10 19:07

    I'm not sure if others have brought this point up as I didnt read every post, and I'm not sure it matters in the scheme of things, but wasn't dreamtime downgraded because folks brushed holds too hard and made them easier? I think there is also something similar going on with El Techo although that may have to do with the downgrade from V13 to V11. I'd be interested to hear though what you think about the Dreamtime issue. Thank you

  44. Anonymous4/3/10 19:39

    The fact that Dreamtime has been chipped is an evidence.. This has been confirmed by a bunch of top climbers.

  45. Anonymous4/3/10 21:39

    Perhaps the problem is that the entire scale continues to be compressed due to the fact the no one ever wants to take or offer the higher grades. This top down compression permeates through the entire range of grades causing discrepancies along the entire grade scale.

  46. Dreamtime did indeed get chipped, but regardless it was never 8C. The chipping/brushing only brought it down from a normal 8B+ to a lower-end 8B+. Now it is broken and it still goes, but it will break again, because the remaining part of the hold that broke is still loose.

    Apparently, there is new beta on Tequila Sunrise, that I tried when I was working on it and did not see it being a reasonable method at the time of the first ascent. It is one possibility that holds got slightly better after the FA, as seems to happen to many boulders in Hueco, making the new shoulder way possible. I have not seen the problem since, so I do not know if that is the case. I also started in a different place than people are starting it nowadays. On the same trip I flashed four V12's and Tequila Sunrise was definitely V13 compared to those problems. Seems like my beta on Tequila Sunrise was not very good for a reason or another.

    I am not claiming to be a perfect role-model concerning grading, or necessarily having a "clean track record". Point is, we can all (including myself) learn something from this discussion. Lastly, I do not see any issue with a girl repeating my boulder problem.

  47. hi Nalle, what do you think about "Kings of Sonlerto 8B+" by Dave Graham in Chironico/Ticino? Don't you think it's also another standard for that grade? but i think it's unrepeated... and have you tried it? or are you interesting in doing so?

  48. I have only seen Kings of Sonlerto, but never tried it because there have been a lot of access issues.

  49. i think bernd zangerl has climbed kings of sonlerto too. and yes, access issues now for that (as well as for the "wheelbarrow project").

  50. also another point to add to this conversation. When a climber finds another easier beta for a boulder, he should not keep it the same grade, just to say that he has sent it. I say he should put the grade he/she feels.

    Like Adam Ondra, he flashed Confessions, he said it was really his style, and he said it can't be 8B+, so he put it 8B.

    his comment on
    Well, 8B+ flash sounds amazing but I can't put as 8B+, it was all too simple compared to The Dagger or La Proue. I just gave it go without expecting anything and suddenly I was on the top and did not find it very hard. But I do not say it can't be 8B+, it might have been pretty much my style or I don't know... To flash The Vice was much more difficult for me. see Martin's comment as well.

    now that's a great comment on an ascent. I say it says a lot more than by just grading it. I would like to see more of it with other climbers.

  51. Anonymous5/3/10 08:13

    New beta or holds got slighty better might be the reason for downgrades with Fred Nicole's Hueco problems as well, don't you think?

  52. Anonymous5/3/10 12:15

    Your argument sounds reasonable at first Nalle. But you are suggesting that all top level climbers who have done numerous 8b+ before suggesting 8c for their hardest climb ever, are all wrong. You suggest that their "new level" problems are also 8b+.

    I find it hard to believe that the two dozen or so climbers that are doing 8b+ today are all climbing problems of the exact same grade. And that they after spending months on one project don't actually climb one grade higher. A climber that projects something that suits him or her can always climb a grade or two higher than what they do in a day on a trip.

    What you and Dave are aiming for is a widening of the 8b+ grade, making it the "widest" and most inclusive grade yet. I don't see the point in that. If we want to keep the 8b+ grade in normal "with" then we need to push lots of 8b+ down into 8b, which only widens the 8b grade, which in turn could be pushed further down the scale. This of course only pushes the problem down the scale instead of solving it.

    I think the story of two worlds, livin large and a few other problems deserve 8c+, as they are significantly harder than for example jade or Terramer which are in turn significantly harder than most other 8b+.

    Why should there be a bigger step going from 8b+ to 8c than from 8b to 8b+?

  53. Anonymous5/3/10 12:18

    Here a comment from Nick Duttle on about Diaphanous sea (former V12)
    "This climb was pretty much standard until I broke the hold off while working Terremer. The hold then was aggressively brushed making both climbs EASIER!! Now is likely V10/11. BLAM!!"

  54. Perhaps grading Story of Two Worlds lower-end 8C+ is the way to go in the end, but as long as there are 55!!! proposed 8C and 8C+ boulders in the world (many of which do not deserve the grade), I think it is very important to have a solid (high-end 8C) standard to compare these problems to.

    The range of 8B+ has changed in the upper end, but also correspondingly in the lower end. Radja, the first 8B+ and the old standard(?) is barely considered 8B+ anymore. I don't think 8B+ is any "wider" than other grades (it shouldn't be at least).

    One other thing that also affects the grading scale are boulder-routes like Wheel of Life which is graded 8C+ even though, being 68 moves long, it should have a 9a+ route-grade (according to the first ascentionist). It is of course very hard to draw the line between what is a boulder-route and what is not.

  55. well, these people giving a grade of 8C (or 8C+) to their FA's, they surely most of the time are experienced climbers, having done bunch of 8B+ problems before. and in their opinion, their climbs deserve the 8C grade, because they follow the logic of "what is HARDER than the 8B+ boulders ive done, must be 8C". and actually i see no problem in this. its logic. its what daniel did with desperanza. but here we see the actual problem. in this case 7B(?) into 8B+ (hard?) makes the 8C grade. and others do 8B+ into 8B+ and give it also an 8C grade... this is resulting in a big uncertanty about what 8C is. some guys try to define it as the ultimate reachable, others say, its just harder than 8B+. actually simple. so its not about defining what is benchmark (its really difficult to compare different problems at all, especially on your own limit) but its all about defining what the word "harder" means, the step that makes 8C coming from 8B+! it has to be a SIGNIFICANT thing! means, something "measureable"/"feelable", but objective not subjective. actually this is about the "+"...

  56. What about GIOIA in Varazze, Italy, put up by former world champion Cristian Core? Have you tried it? Have you heard of it? An Italian magazine has recently reported it to be 8C+, since it appears to be the real next level to all of the strong guys who tried it. Come to Italy!

  57. Anonymous5/3/10 16:25

    It seems a bit foolish of Core to suggest 8C+ as he doesn't know the full range of 8C yet (who does?). How many non-FA 8C has he done?

    On the other hand if he would have suggested hard 8b+ it would probably never be repeated, so high grades attract people and leads to correct grading eventually.


  58. @Peter

    Yes, but what about when those 8B+'s, that the new proposed 8C grade was based on, get later (rightfully) downgraded? Often the 8C grade still remains for a long time, causing more problems.

    Someone mentioned that there is only one way for grades to go and that is down. I do not agree with this statement at all. We CAN give grades that won't get downgraded. The deflation of grades has been going on for too many years now. To stop it, we need to give a little stiffer grades that won't get downgraded as easily. This trend of downgrading may seem pointless to many, but it has been (and still is) necessary to keep the grading scale logical.

    The primary goal is to keep the grading scale logical, even if that is at the cost of slightly changing the upper-end grades from what they are now.

  59. I'm psyched to try Gioia. I haven't tried it, so I can't comment on it. My understanding was that Christian Core graded it 8C and it somehow got upgraded later on, although I haven't heard that anyone would have tried to repeat it???

  60. Anonymous5/3/10 18:38

    @ marco germani

    It's worth noting that confessions had already had a very rapid repeat by Brit darkhorse Mickey Page who thought it was only 8b. Props to Ondra for his honesty too.

    When making first ascents(i've done a few) the feeling of difficulty I think is skewed, partly because there is no beta so it's easy to get fixated on one way of trying and partly the psychological baggage one can bring to a new line. For some it won't affect them at all, others more so. A classic example is Malcolm Smith and the Monk Life. Malc could and can climb 8b in a sess, the guy's a beast. He worked on the Monk Life on and off for 10 years, eventually it was ticked and given only 8b+ which seems like madness considering the time spent. Repeated by Andy Earl after a lot of work and shockingly by John Gaskins after only two sessions who both agreed the level. The easy thing would've been for Malc to give it 8c as it felt a lot harder than Dreamtime but I respect his conservative approach and understanding of the depth needed within grades .....

  61. Anonymous5/3/10 19:31

    Nalle, I really think you are doing a good job sharing the thoughts on the subject...and I agree on everything you say :-)

    Jens Larssen,

  62. Anonymous5/3/10 20:56

    Ditto on Jens Larssen's post, although I find it bit confusing that he also agrees with the arguments put forth by Daniel Woods, regarding the grading of Desperenza (which seems to have triggered the discussion above)...

    But since Jens Larssen commented (and because we are talking about grades here), I tink all of us would like to hear one of you pro-climbers take on the 8a "Time comparison grading theoty"? If the theory holds water, then - as an example - Desperenza, a 7a+ into 8b+, is 8c when you take into consideration how much time X many strong climbers spent on the problem before it was completed.


  63. Anonymous5/3/10 21:04

    Great discussion,here is a comment from the brazilian gueto, My name is Raul and I've been climbbing for 10 years now. I agree with some here, I dont think that for you to send an 8c you gotta link two 8b+ into each other.this calculation for me is a bit crazy. the new generations are comming strong and soon we gonna see 8b+ beeing flashed, but that doesnt mean that the climb is easy. it means that the climber is strong,in a good moment even lucky or all together. I dont see the point of fearing to push the grade, it seems to me that the downgrader is willing to get the media into him rather than being sincerely onest with his self and others, I remember when Adam ondra was downgrading everything that he climbed and always when he did so he got impresive amounts of "glamour" on his back, as if he was the messiah who is bringing the truth, but infact he is just the strongest young kid around, and if he is so superior on the high end grades up to the point of downgradding 70% of his acents, why does he still fucks around and do not open ground breaking routes and boulders, because at the end he has done over 1000 ascents. I dont think that any of his ascents so far took him more than 50 tries. I personally think that Adam ondra, Dave graham and our host Nalle are so, so strong that they have no idea! for them 8b+,8c and 8c+ could be done with the same amount of physical effort! but they don't know that. I'm with the old school I think, Nicole and koymada.
    ps: sharma when he did the mandala said that it was the herdest boulder he had ever done and if I'm not wrong he said it in the video it could be even V14. what you called that? crazy, weak, strong,LOCO? I think i'm getting loco here writing this!!!!! good climb to everyone and crimp until you pop your tendon or break the rock!!!! Rasta live

  64. Anonymous5/3/10 21:25

    Great article Nalle – I agree with most, but not all of it.

    Bouldering is a young sport and clearly the grading system has evolved in different ways as it has been applied in various places around the world. If you live in Switzerland, then no doubt you think that there has been a tendency to keep downgrading things in the past decade. Equally, if you live in the UK, the tendency has been to upgrade things in the same period. The reason? Because, very slowly, due to people travelling more, people are starting to realise the discrepancies between different areas and they are gradually starting to equalise out (grades in Font and the US, tend to be roughly in between those in the UK and
    Switzerland – although there are subtleties, such as that the newer problems in Font are often softer graded than the older ones).

    At the end of the day, what any one person thinks 8B “is” depends on which subset of the world’s boulders they have climbed in and around that grade. In other words, if like Tyler Landman, you’ve grown up in the UK and your first 8B was The Ace, then you're going to have a VERY different opinion as to what 8B “is” than someone who has grown up bouldering in Magic Wood. In fact your whole grading system is probably going to be different by around a grade and a half.

    And is anyone really surprised that Daniel Woods and Dave Graham have differences of opinion as to what 8C “is”. Daniel has never climbed anything hard in Font (I’m not sure he’s even been there) – most of his hard problems have been in Switzerland, Rocklands, or the US. Dave on the other hand has spent lots of time in Font as well as in Switzerland and the US. Clearly, where you have done most of your hard problems is going to have a significant effect on what you view a certain grade to “be”. So people should definitely NOT take these arguments personally – it is precisely these differences of opinion which in time will lead to a consensus between the different areas. Of course, from time to time, there may be an element of certain people grading for publicity, but I actually think that it is pretty rare. For the most part people just grade things based on comparisons with other similar grade problems which they have climbed.

    For anyone thinking that an accurate grading system is completely impossible due to differences in body type etc – well obviously for any one person on a particular problem, that is true. But that isn’t what is being talked about here – we’re talking about systematic differences in the GRADING SYSTEM between different countries, different groups and different individuals. I.e if you took 100 problems that person one and person two had climbed, person one gives harder grades for 99 out of 100 problems. That doesn’t mean that he is “right” and person two is “wrong” – it just means that they have been using different grading systems – and these kinds of systematic differences CAN be ironed out in time – given honesty on all sides and more repeats of the relevant problem sets.

    Over the last decade the systematic differences have been slowly getting smaller, but there is still quite a long way to go. So just because one person gives a problem 8B+ doesn't mean that in fact it isn't much harder than lots of problems currently given 8C.

    One thing I disagree with Nalle about is that this grading “mess” only started in 2000 with Dreamtime. In fact the discrepancies between areas had been just as big or bigger all through the 90s – although the fluctuating conversions between completely different systems (ie Font vs.V grades) sometimes did a pretty good job of hiding it. But it was only really from 2000 onwards that the likes of Dave Graham and others travelled around and pointed out some of the disparities. The growth of the web and sites like also made a huge difference by making some of these differences abundantly clear.

  65. Anonymous5/3/10 21:26

    In a comment above, Nalle said that:

    “Grading is more simple within an area or even a country, but maintaining a global standard is what's hard. One reason being that there are not that many people out there, who travel the world constantly, climbing in different areas.”

    I agree that this IS the main issue - however, I don’t feel that it really is THAT hard – it just is going to take a little time to adjust the average grading systems in different areas to bring them into line. i.e A lot of stuff in Switzerland and Rocklands STILL needs downgrading. A lot of stuff in certain areas in the UK (mainly the Peak) STILL needs upgrading (some of it quite a lot), and some stuff in Font and the US needs adjusting to be a little more consistent.

    Hopefully in time, these systematic discrepancies in grading systems between areas and individuals will get resolved. Then maybe the media and wider climbing community might have a bit more of a clue as to what really was or is impressive or cutting edge - and so appropriate credit could be given where it is due, both to the current generation of top end climbers and their predecessors. At the end of the day it is the feeling that certain people have a much bigger profile than they really deserve which leads to all the resentment and arguments.


    Jens' Time Grading System - if taken literally - is absurd. But I don't think it was ever meant to be taken literally. What you CAN tell from the time someone has taken to do a problem is roughly a MAX possible grade for that problem (or route). You can NEVER tell a minimum possible grade for it. In other words, if Chris Sharma has the flu, is recovering from a snapped tendon, and hasn't climbed for 6 months he could easily spend 5 days on a French 7a.

    So you can NEVER say what grade a problem actually IS from the amount of time they have spent on it. But you CAN say that if someone who has never bouldered 8B+ before suddenly climbs an 8C+ in a few hours, that it is pretty unlikely that the problem really is 8C+. And I think that that is all Jens ever meant to say.

    The problem with a lot of what Jens says on is that he is not very good at english and so I suspect that a lot of what he means gets lost in translation....

  66. Anonymous5/3/10 22:17

    I don't believe he would make more sense in Swedish. He just doesn't have the capacity for abstract thought. For example the way he agrees with two opposing sides here just because they are both strong climbers.

  67. Anonymous5/3/10 23:29

    Where can I find the videos of "Livin' Large" and "Story of 2 Worlds"?

  68. Anonymous6/3/10 00:05

    how did "the game" not get a mention at all yet?

  69. Anonymous6/3/10 02:04

    You HAVE to come and try the Gaskins problems, I swear the man was sent straight from God to send these blocs, iv seen 8c's in america, south africa and font, and his truly do seem to be a hole other level (all be it very specific style and usually fucking ugly problems!)

  70. Anonymous6/3/10 20:15

    I wish people would come over and try Gaskins things. It would be interesting to see what people who have climbed 8c elsewhere think of them in comparison. Are they that far ahead?!

    How does Jade compare with Livin' it Large? Jade took you 10 goes and Livin' it Large 12 days, this doesnt seem to add up even if one is easy and one hard for the grade.

  71. i heard that Jade's famous move is a V13. and the rest is like a V4?! so i think the boulder must be downgraded. What do you really think Nalle? Maybe Low end V14?

  72. Anonymous7/3/10 12:11

    Hi Nalle, great article? But I did not find anything about your opinion on desperanza neither in post nor comments? Do you think some six v7 moves can make 8C out of soft 8B+?

  73. I climbed Jade really quickly and Livin' Large took me 12 days, counting restdays pretty much my whole 5-week trip to Rocklands this summer.

    The break-down of Jade would be something like this: a fairly easy move to a V13 move to a V11 top-out. It's very hard to grade a single move, especially such a basic move. Jade is a tricky one to grade, but it's V15, it's definitely lower-end if not upper-end V14.

    There will be footage of Livin' Large in a new movie called CORE. There is footage of Story of Two Worlds, but it still to this date has not been released.

    "How does Jade compare with Livin' it Large? Jade took you 10 goes and Livin' it Large 12 days, this doesnt seem to add up even if one is easy and one hard for the grade."

    To stop everything from getting downgraded year after year, we need to start giving a little stiffer grades.

  74. there is also the fact that you found Livin Large, so you had to find all the holds, the moves, and that takes additional time. Plus the fact that it's another standard and another style. like not 1 single hard move, but many hard moves. congratulations on both Nalle and on the hard sports routes you're doing

  75. Anonymous7/3/10 20:53

    Dear Nalle, hear is my opinion on grades!

    Take it easy dude!

  76. Anonymous8/3/10 04:18

    I demand the release of "Story of Two Worlds" is necessary to climbing history and obviously the only resolution to this grading problem! Everyone needs to be educated on what a benchmark v15 is and this is obviously a benchmark!

  77. Anonymous8/3/10 12:56

    a very ironic thing about "the story of two worlds" is that one day or another in a distant future, it might get eaten by the mining industry below (as all cresciano really).

    Bad choice for a standard, we need a new one :)

    just curious : why the story of 2 worlds is always mentioned and form dirt grows the flowers almost never? Obviously the second has been repeated and is probably a tad easier, but they were both proposed 8C in the beginning...


  78. a side subject.... but I, too, would love to see Nalle (or another top notch boulderer) come check out Gaskins' problems...

  79. Anonymous12/3/10 13:57

    i do not believe that the story of two worlds has been climbed without a video proof. see, this is where it all boils down..

  80. Anonymous13/3/10 03:30

    A practical question..

    I have a feeling that one can grade only the problems that are close to his personal limits. As you are a top level climber, is it any more possible for you to judge between - say, 6c-7a - boulder problems? WHAT IS THE RANGE BETWEEN THE 'INDICATED DIFFICULTIES' THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO GIVE AN OBJECTIVE OPINION? For examble, if you flash an 8b problem, how can you know how hard is it? An intuition or a social fact (=other peoples opinions)? I ask this because after some of my best sends, I never have a slightest idea of what would be a correct grade for a problem..

    A difficulty is a different thing compared to indexical number that is given to describe the difficulty of a number. The difficulty is always personal (attempts, morphology, research of a new line, mental challenges, personal weaknesses...), on the other hand grades are social 'facts' - therefore 'objective'. But about the high end grades, I think only you top guys can discuss about them..

    Anyway, well written arcticle! I hope that also the other top level climbers would dare to open their mouth :)

  81. Anonymous17/3/10 21:50

    El Techo de los Tres B was downgraded due to a broken hold.

    The fact of the matter is the grades are still successful in their primary objective, which is to guide climbers to climbs that they will find enjoyable and challenging.

  82. Nalle, I agree that to better define the grading system (at least in the upper levels), it would be necessary to get the opinions of those qualified to give their verdict. Just getting the stronger climbers together and having them say "alright this is the standard for this grade" would help tremendously.

  83. Anonymous20/3/10 23:08


    Have you considered that climbers are getting stronger and stronger. 8c may have been the limit ten years ago, but skill and strength of climbers has certainly improved in ten years making 8c "feel" much easier than before. Just a thought.


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