Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Latest Grade Obsession: The Walk of Life

The latest downgrading issue has arisen with Dave MacLeod's ascent of Walk of Life first done by James Pearson and graded E12. Macleod's blog explains his experience on the route and reasons for rating it E9. Naturally this has created a little stir in an otherwise moribund climbing news climate with questions about Pearson's motivations for rating a route E12. Bjorn Pohl, one of the people at, really takes Pearson to task at his blog in a surprisingly direct fashion. I quote:

How is this possible? Who or What is to blame?

1. Is it simply a question of James having to get out more, repeating other people's hard routes to get a grip on the grades?

2. Has James felt too much pressure from sponsors (real or imagined), affecting his judgment?

3. Has James been consciously misleading us to get the headlines?

4. Is the E-system to blame?

This is a good example of when someone ought to back away a bit and let the dust settle instead of insinuating that another climber is a liar with not enough experience or judgment. I would respect the contributions of a climber like Pearson who has walked the walk a lot more before before I would condescendingly state "everyone is allowed to make a mistake or three."


Dan Levison said...

That’s a massive downgrade (about 4letters); having said that, slabs are always hard to rate given their technical nature. A consensus will soon emerge after the route sees a few more ascents. It will probably fall somewhere in the middle (E10/11)…

Peter Beal said...

I agree that the grade difference is significant but the fact that Pearson was first to climb it, along with his other routes, is something that carries much more weight. That's what's barely touched on. The 8a obsession with numbers, grades, and classifications obscures the real achievement. It's worth noting that Macleod chose not to lead Indian Face, the Dawes 1986 route. Does that make Rhapsody E8 or E7? Or is Indian Face E11?

Dan Levison said...

Rhapsody (E11 / 5.14b R) is a different story. Who knows, McClure hiked the route with minimal effort while it took Sonnie and Dave many days. Again, consensus will determine if it holds the grade or if it gets downgraded to E10 (or lower). Although there seems to be a dispute as to where the line actually traverses left (eliminate or variant). Since only a handful of people have the prowess to send a route of that difficulty (on trad gear) it may be awhile. More often than not first ascentionists tend to over grade rather than sand bag so it seems.

Narc said...

From what I read, DM didn't lead Indian Face because he didn't feel 100% confident some of the holds wouldn't break?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like McClure didn't really do Rhapsody. He traversed left and skipped the crux moves where the route gets a lot of its difficulty.-

Anonymous said...

I agree that Bjorn was too harsh!

Peter Beal said...

The E grade, believe it or not, also takes into account the quality of the rock. I am not convinced that's why he opted not to lead it but I can't say obviously

Anonymous said...

The Walk of Life is an E7 6c direct start to an Ian Vickers route Dyer Straits... E8 6c .... by the way the pegs were crap, the natural gear is better, and also created more holds when they were removed.

MacLeod is perfectly qualified to give it E9 6c, he has vast experience.

Great effort Vickers, Pearson and MacLeod.

Anonymous said...

On Rhapsody Maclure used the red hold instead of the blue hold!

Anonymous said...

By the way Bjorn is right on the money in his analysis.

Peter Beal said...

If my reading of Bjorn Pohl is correct, he seems to be implying that Pearson was deliberately inflating the grades of his routes for commercial considerations. I am not so sure. Pearson hasn't commented on his blog about any of this and given the hoopla, I am not surprised. This issue of the ultimate E grade raises some serious questions about how climbing is sold in the media, particularly the "death-defying" aspect. Is it appropriate to quanify this for mass consumption?

Anonymous said...

"If my reading of Bjorn Pohl is correct, he seems to be implying that Pearson was deliberately inflating the grades of his routes for commercial considerations."

No he isn't just saying that. People's comprehension skills these days!

He is saying that there are four possible reasons or a combination of reasons for this misgrade.

The first is that JP isn't experienced enough to give such a route this grade. He is right there. JP has never done such a long route before and his experience is almost exclusively limited to short gritstone routes.

The second that that there are possible commercial reasons either real or perceived. Very possible.

The third does say that the grade has been inflated on purpose. That we will never know.

The last, that the E grade is open to personal interpretation. That is well established.

There has to be reasons for such a big overgrade.

Bjorn Pohl is exploring possibilities. You are jumping to conclusions.

Peter Beal said...

Thanks for the scolding, but I am pretty confident of my comprehension skills. I am not saying that Bjorn Pohl was only implying that the grade was inflated for commercial reasons.

Obviously he listed four possible explanations in all. However of all the reasons listed, number 3 "Has James been consciously misleading us to get the headlines?" is the most problematic and accusatory and for it even to be mentioned I felt was unfair. It may be a possibility but if you read the entries that Pearson made in his blog about the route, his sincerity is evident throughout. Therefore I feel that kind of comment is out of line. If you wish to respond further on this issue, please identify yourself.

Björn Pohl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Björn Pohl said...

Well, maybe I was a wee bit too harsh on James. There's no way of knowing whether he inflated the grade, and there's no solid "evidence" pointing in that direction. BUT, claiming E12, an unprecedented grade, he was surely aware he was:
1) Sticking out his neck and
2) Going to get headlines
If you're going to claim you've climbed a "New Trad Climbing Route Considered the Most Difficult on the Planet". If the base on which he based the grade later turns out to be less than solid, I don't think it's such a stretch to suggest he knew that there was at least a good chance he actually, if not inflated the grade, then at least was over optimistic about it. To say that E12 7a doesn't have a higher commercial value than E9 6c, and that athletes aren't aware of this and, at least subconsciously, is more or less affected by it, would be naïve. I still have the utmost respect for James, but this doesn't mean he can't make mistakes.

Peter Beal said...

I agree that not being aware of the promotional value of an E12 route is unlikely. However climbing is not like other sports that are clearly quantifiable. So Pearson was entitled to state whatever grade he pleased that seemed right to him at the time. He took the risk of other climbers downgrading it, as indeed he had suggested with MacLeod's own Rhapsody. This risk ironically is more dangerous to his professional climbing career than the route apparently!

I think that the media can take a wait-and-see approach on routes that appear to break perceived barriers, recognizing that climbers are rarely out to hoax the public in terms of their abilities and achievements. Numbers and grades are not the only things that matter.

Anonymous said...

comprehension skills. lol.

internet spankings are the best.