If Climbing Grades Were People…
Many climbers settle into a niche discipline in the vast expanse of the climbing universe. Some—for better or worse—get so stuck at their grade that their personalities begin to mimic the rocks and routes they choose to climb.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
5.13d lives in the back of his 2001 Honda Civic in Lander, WY’s City Park, and works as a line cook at the Gannet Grill. Although small in stature, his ego barely fits in his Civic or the kitchen. Instead of standing behind the grill flipping burgers, 5.13d can often be found spraying unsuspecting bar patrons about his latest project Come Home Curly (5.13d): “I don’t have a good ape, right, so I’ve got to throw way out wide to this mono, right, and then campus under that into the jug. It’s way harder that way. After that, I get this kind of tenuous bat hang rest—yeah, it’s what it sounds like—and then fire the crux.” In 5.13d’s mind, climbing 5.13d puts you in the upper echelon of climbers. But he does not over-inflate his exploits nor the exploits of anyone around him. To the contrary, he is self-deprecating, some even would say annoyingly cynical. While trying to break into the haloed 5.14 grade, 5.13d tried Let the Cubans Hit the Floor (5.14a) no less than 75 times. But when he finally sent, he called it “Too soft for 5.14” and downgraded it to 5.13d.
5.8 R/X One-Star
5.8 R/X One-Star lives in Boulder, CO, renting out a dark, dank shed in a friend-of-a-friend’s backyard for $60 a month. 5.8 R/X One-Star seeks not physical difficulty in climbing but emotional difficulty. Not the pleasure of movement but the nausea of fear. Choss piles, huge run-outs, vegetation, kitty litter, a change of underwear—these are the thrills on which 5.8 R/X One-Star subsists. 5.8 R/X One-Star has read Kiss or Kill many, many times and loves using phrases like “fast and light” or “anorexic rack,” though no one can figure out how these concepts help him climb 5.8. He can often be found in Eldorado Canyon scoffing at the conga line on the Bastille Crack, yet he has on occasion yearned for just such a moderate classic when, halfway up Unnamed Choss (5.8 R/X), the blown out toes of his TC Pros slide off a hot and greasy smear far above his tattered pink tricam. The potato chip flake he was holding onto disintegrates, sending his carcass careening toward the earth, only to have the rope catch him mere inches above the talus. Although enthusiastic, 5.8 R/X One-Star has a hard time keeping climbing partners, as his favorite style is simul-climbing without gear (“light and fast!”), and not everyone is quite so stoked on the dark art of simul-soloing as he.
In constant rotation between the Buttermilks and Hueco Tanks, V13 lives in her Sprinter Van, works as a project manager for outdoor brands, and takes climbing very, very seriously. V13 and 5.13d actually used to be climbing partners in their coming-of-age days in the rock gym and Red River Gorge. They made a good pair, sharing beta, pizza, bongs, and hip-hop music, but V13 grew tired of three-hour belays as 5.13d loudly dogged his way up routes way over his head. Nowadays, V13 only climbs in the middle of the night when lower temperatures optimize friction. She and her supporters lug generators, floodlights, and huge speaker systems out to the boulders, never climbing without a film crew and Tribe Called Quest bumping in the background. The reason V13 doesn’t climb V14 (her friends think) is that she rarely sleeps: nightmares of the improbable physics involved in V14 crimps keep her tossing and turning all through the night. During the heat of the day, V13 opens up her laptop so that co-workers can see that she is “logged on;” hits vicious handboarding sessions; does physical therapy for her blown A2 pulley, strained rotator cuff, tennis elbow, sprained ankle, and torn meniscus; and smokes weed to get in the mental zone for tonight’s boulder problem.
You can find Modern A4 hanging around the last great bastions of aid climbing (basically just the Fisher Towers and occasionally El Cap) living in the back of her 1984 Dodge Pickup. Modern A4 was born well within the climbing gym era. (In fact, Modern A4, V13, and 5.13d all grew up in the same climbing gym.) Yet, perplexingly to her fellow youth team climbers and coaches, she was more interested in building 19-to-1 pulley systems and taking practice whips on the bashies she hammered into divots on the gym walls. Modern A4 does very little actual climbing; she spends most of her days organizing gear on the tailgate of her pickup and hanging around climber campground squawking to 5.8 R/X One-Star about the butt-clinching perils of “Hard Aid!” When she does climb, however, she likes to leave the ground for a while. As other climbers her age tie in for mostly-free Nose in a Day ascents, Modern A4 is loading her haulbags with 45 days worth of trail mix for an attempt at the Longest Known Time (LKT) of the slightly less iconic Atlantic Ocean Wall.
Hidden in a cave in the hills of central New York State lurks the sour and surly 5.9+. 5.9+ has been around for a long time, seemingly since before geological forces pushed the rock formations of the Shawangunks out of the ground several eons ago. His temperament is poor, his ethics… strict. Words like “redpoint” and “hangdog” send chills down his spine, while phrases such as “ground up” and “hemp rope” are music to his ears. 5.9+ refuses to climb with any technology that has been developed in the last 75 years, “Since those sellouts at Black Diamond took all the grit out of climbing!” The only modern tool he carries on his swami belt is an angle grinder to chop every bolt that comes his way. 5.9+ denies that a grade harder than 5.9+ even exists. (“After FIVE POINT NINE comes SIX POINT ZERO,” he screams at the local watering hole. “FIVE POINT TEN doesn’t make any sense!”) 5.9+ may be a cantankerous old pain in the ass, but he certainly has the skills to back it up. He onsighted The Sting (5.11d) wearing leather mountain boots while pounding in pitons on lead and promptly downgraded it to 5.9+. Even 5.13d has admitted (quietly) that 5.9+ might be worthy of respect.
WI6 lives rent-free in a closet in Bozeman, MT. He has never had a job. Ever. But has sustained a life of ice climbing by digging through Conrad Anker’s recycling bins for discarded crampon parts and scraps of cordelette. Every single day between November and April, WI6 rides his bike into Hyalite Canyon and romps a free solo ice circuit, averaging (some say) 60-100 pitches a day. V13 has begged WI6 for dietary advice (“That energy must come from somewhere!”), but to her disappointment, WI6 subsists mainly off saltine crackers and sugar packets pilfered from diners around town. In the summertime he can be found drytooling perfectly good limestone at Alan’s Spur, much to the dismay and disapproval of local sport climbers. However, WI6 insists that: “I gotta keep up with my training, man. I’m getting ready for a trip to the Karakorum, if I can just find a plane ticket that Conrad accidentally threw away.”
Blue Tape lives in a penthouse suite in the Bay Area, and owns vacation homes in Malibu, The Hamptons, and Paris. He works as a computer scientist and mines cryptocurrency with renewable energy. Blue Tape enjoys climbing at the local bouldering gym, and is often found in the café there with a macchiato and avocado toast behind his laptop working on data encryptions between burns. After his climbing session, Blue Tape likes to indulge in an après seasonal saison at the café, followed by a dry sauna and cold pool plunge. Although Blue tape finds the thought of outdoor climbing novel, he just can’t bring himself to abandon the luxurious amenities and steady WiFi connection at the gym. Blue Tape once crossed paths with 5.13d, who is the subject of a valuable NFT (i.e. climbing .jpeg) in which Blue Tape owns a stake. Blue Tape tried offering 5.13d a cut of the profits, but 5.13d couldn’t understand the allure of owning something he couldn’t touch, and Blue Tape found himself bored by 5.13d’s endless beta spray.