Should Everything be Downgraded?

Knee pads, better shoes, better chalk, internet beta, and other reasons you might be tempted to downgrade a climb.

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Climbing must be getting too easy. An abbreviated list of climbing headlines I read the other day included 3-year-old becomes youngest climber to send 9a; Indian Creek 5.13 offwidth sees 43 different sends in a single day; and Newest V17 in Colorado sees its first barefoot ascent. Personally, I still have a difficult time summiting my warmup most days, but some other climbers appear to have gotten just a little too good at this sport. Are all the rock climbs suddenly wicked soft, or has the collective climbing consciousness finally elevated itself to mastery by successfully sending every single benchmark Moonboard problem? Do we need to start downgrading everything?

In all seriousness, there’s been increasing chatter on the Internet of gasp! downgrading some rigs thanks to the invention of knee pads and/or discovery of better beta and/or freakishly strong pros showing up and calling everything soft, and everyone and their ancient great grandmother seems to have an opinion on the issue of changing grades. Some folks are adamant that we remain faithful to the FA’s assessment of difficulty, regardless of the fact that the climb went up before the invention of downturned climbing shoes or Friction Labs or rest days. Some think that if you’re using adhesive spray to glue two pads on your freshly shaved thighs, you’re ethically obligated to take fewer points for the send. Some new-agey types think that adhering to a single grade is offensive to the inherently vast range of human body types and physiological conditions. Mr. #tallnotstrong only gets to take V6 points for the reachy boulder while yours truly – at 5’2’’ plus nothing – gets to log 8 big ones because she needs to dyno through the crux. (Note: yours truly does not dyno through any cruxes and rather accepts defeat when too short for standard beta.) Plus, the FA was a dude and therefore the original grade is an artifact of an oppressive and severely outdated patriarchy. Plus, sometimes gravity is high and shit’s just hard. 

It’s undeniable that an individual climb can be harder or easier depending on your height, your ape index, your flexibility, your aptitude for finding knee bars, your shindex, the humidity, the temperature, the wind speed and direction, how long you’ve been doing your Lattice training program, your employment status, how much you numbed out on your warm-up, the number of beers you brought to the crag, how many dogs are barking in the background, the status of your Bitcoin investment, your hair color, how many episodes of Euphoria you watched last night, your astrological sign, the phase of the moon, the last time you showered, whether you’ve paid your taxes yet, the grade you got in 8th-grade English, your capacity to consume gluten, how well your houseplants are doing, and your particular climbing strengths and weaknesses. So, should you downgrade the rock climb just because it felt really soft for you? Alternatively, should you take more points because it was 95 degrees outside when you sent, and one other person logged it as a V11 instead of the guidebook-given-grade, V10? In the interest of settling this issue once and for all, I’ve made a quick quiz to help you figure out what grade you get for that V10:

1. How tall are you?

A: Very short

B: 5’2” to 5’8”

C: 5’8” to 6’3”

D: Very tall

2. What is your ape index?

A: I have T-rex arms

B: -1” to +1”

C: +1” to +3”

D: I can always reach the food on the top shelf

3. Did you use knee bars?

A: Hell no

B: Just one and it was pretty scummy

C: Several

D: I am actively sitting in a knee bar right now

4. Are you a Gemini?

A: Yes

B: No

C: I don’t know

5. Have you ever been to France?

A: Yes

B: No

C: Je ne sais pas

6. What is the Fed’s inflation target?

A: Less than 2%

B: 2%-2.5%

C: 2.5-3%

D: I’m going to eat a burrito for dinner

7. What are the Bokkenrijders?

A: Swedish bandits who gather on the 5th new moon of each year to parade in their stolen attire

B: Dutch ghosts who ride the backs of flying goats provided to them by demons

C: Belgian cyclists who only ride whilst consuming Tripel Karmeliet

D: Finnish sorcerers who dwell in an underwater paradise built by enslaved arctic char


Let me quickly tally your score… Ok! 

It looks like you get to call this climb a V10, just like everyone else! Unfortunately, you don’t get more points just because it was really hard. You also don’t have to downgrade my project just because several eyewitnesses saw you using a knee bar on it last September. You are allowed to call it soft, but if I’ve learned anything from the several years that I’ve wasted reading absurdly long-winded Instagram sagas, it’s that people get pretty upset when they’re told that their project is soft. We all know that climbing grades are exceedingly subjective and that, on the whole, all the soft rock climbs we do are canceled out by all the sandbagged ones we don’t do, and yet still the idea that our beloved project is “soft” is as triggering as an acne-laden pre-teen asking if they can do a warm-up lap on it – “I promise! I’ll be quick. I’ve done it 50 times.” So, anyway, you can call my project soft, but please do it out of earshot and – for the sake of my incredibly delicate self-esteem – please don’t downgrade it.

Now that we’ve settled, once and for all, whether or not we should be in the business of changing the historic, God-given grades assigned to all of the rock climbs, I’m going to go eat a burrito.

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