Grade Chasers. People who dedicate their climbing time towards progression by numbers. Those rock jockeys who evaluate their climbing prowess not by the days they climbed, nor in the quality of the routes, but in the little letter and number after their last climb. 5.10, 7a, V5, M8. Know you need a better warm up? Don’t do the climb. Then you can update 8a.nu with the onsite and get more climbing “points”. Who cares if everyone knows that your 12a would be 11d anywhere else, check that box and be a 5.12 climber. Can’t tell a cam from a hex but you crush 5.10s. Gnar-Yeah.
Cyrena asked me to write about the futility of grade chasing. How climbers blinded with the metrics of progression miss out on the beauty of the sport. I agreed. I regret it.
Grading Chasing is… now, I’m undecided.
Ten years into climbing I struggle with the meaning of grades. It’s easy to write about the difference in styles and stone. A Gunks 5.9 does not mean the same thing as Vedauwoo 5.9.
But maybe those are just my excuses.
Years of keyboarding, sitting, and tendinitis have made me good at them. Excuses.
Because grades, in a way, do matter. They are the short hand for our world. They evaluate our strength, skill, and telegraph meaning within the community. My father doesn’t understand the nuance that separates V5 from V6 but the collective burn in the climbing community forearm does.
The gal sitting on the mat next to me pushing for her first V7 is feels a world of difference from that V6. Because within those two grades is a world of lifting heels, empty arms, inconceivable transitions and perfect balance.
The problem with grades is the difference between mathematics and poetry. Do you use numbers to explain the world? Are numbers and letters a paintbrush you use to describe beauty, struggle, and complexity? Or are you sitting in the bouldering cave jacking through equations for the sake of equations?