Mountain Journeys

Rock climbing grades – what’s all the fuss about?


The smile says it all. Colin at 72 and still loving the climbing 🙂

There’s some amazing rock climbers in the world, we hear them talk about grades that for most of us might as well not exist. Those of you who know me will know I’m no grade chaser, in fact it’s quite the opposite, grades don’t matter. Or do they?
It’s the people, the location, the atmosphere, the moves, the exposure. That’s where the enjoyment of rock climbing comes. I’m certainly sticking by that and always will.
The saying goes, ‘the best climber is the one having the most fun’. I think is an important quote to remember. Never mind what you’re red-pointing or on-sighting, just enjoy the being.
Over the last few months I’ve witnessed great joy from a climber lead a grade 4 sport route and another climber kick themselves about not cleanly leading a 7b. One was happy, the other not.
However, these numerical grades exist so we can measure ourselves against others and ourselves. We can keep track of our improvement, if we want to.
So where’s this all going? Well, I’ve decided to start pushing myself a bit harder in a bid to improve my personal climbing.
Currently being a pretty average climber and have operated around the 6a+ sport / HVS range for a few years. Some of the people I’ve climbed with in recent months have been operating well above that level, so the opportunity was there to have a go at some much harder climbs. How were they? Much harder of course! Often not enjoyable, but usually there was an element of fun lurking in there somewhere.
Having seconded some of these routes, I thought why not try leading harder climbs? What’s the worst that can happen? Failure!!!
But anyone who ever tried can never be accused of failing. Not trying is the failing. But having a go and not quite managing it, that adds to our experience and development.
So whilst at a local crag yesterday, I picked a route that would offer a massive challenge, an overhanging 6C. Oh dear!!
To protect from a ground fall, the 2nd bolt was pre-clipped, but after that I was on my own. Looking at the route prior to the ascent I thought maybe I was mad! But I began to program my brain to accept what was about to happen, this route would be climbed, I wouldn’t fall off, all would be well, and it would be fun.
Pulling through the low bulge felt brutally hard and I did fall a few times. However, once on the upper wall things began to flow much better and very soon I was clipping the lower off, success.
Feeling pretty chuffed, I decided to see if this was a fluke, so picked out another 6C, this time the route overhung even more, the initial moves looked quite improbable and this time a fall, even with a pre-clipped bolt, would have probably meant a ground fall or very close. But I wasn’t really thinking of that, I was in ‘the zone’ and this route would also be climbed, this time in better style with less falling.

Something that's especially relevant when pushing harder physically, is the necessity to warm up properly beforehand. Spend a few minutes stretching and doing some more gentle exercise, this will help prevent strain injuries.

And remember, It’s the people, the location, the atmosphere, the moves, the exposure. That’s where the enjoyment of rock climbing comes. A classic 'diff' on a Gritstone edge, or mountain 'v'diff' in the Lakes can and so very often do make for fantastic routes and the best days out.

Thanks for reading




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