Yonder Grading and Route Setting Philosophy
Yonder Grading and Route Setting Philosophy
We always get a lot of questions about how we grade problems; who decides what grade they are, how does the grading system work and why are grades here different from other climbing walls? We thought a blog post would be a great way to address some of these questions, along with explaining a little more about why our setting is the way it is. What better person to explain than our very own Head Route Setter, Ben Norman.
Where did grades come from and what are they for?
The need for some sort of rating of difficulty for boulder problems became quickly apparent with the start of the bouldering boom. The first attempt at such a system was created by bouldering Godfather, John Gill. Gill’s system took a rather simplistic approach with only 3 grades; B1, B2 and B3. B1 was defined as "... the highest level of difficulty in traditional roped climbing". B3 was designated only to routes that had only had one ascent and any B3 boulders that received a second ascent were duly reclassified as B2. Despite the attractive simplicity of such a system, constantly moving standards created issues and soon Gill’s grading system stopped providing the clear rating system of difficulty that it was designed to be.
Over the years a number of alternative bouldering grade systems were created and adopted across the globe. Long gone are the days of the Peak District ‘B’ grade and the British technical grade (used to denote only the single hardest move of any boulder). These systems have now been left behind in favour of one of two alternatives, the Fontainebleau grading system or the Hueco V-scale. Both systems are used to represent the overall difficulty of a boulder, from start to finish, and cover the entire range of difficulty from the very easy, to the very hard. These two systems have now been universally adopted, with virtually all bouldering destinations and climbing centres adopting one or the other. In the UK it is generally accepted that the Fontainebleau system reigns, mainly as most keen UK boulderers will have made a trip or ten to Font and therefore should have a pretty good grasp on the system, along with some experience on the ‘benchmark’ problems of each grade. Indoors you’re more likely to find yourself working with the Hueco V-scale. This is partly as it is simpler to use and explain to those with less experience with grades, but also as the generally thuggy and powerful style of climbing indoors fits much better with the steep roofs of Hueco than the balancey slabs of Fontainebleau.
Outside, the first ascensionist will give their new problem both a name and a grade, over time grades are adjusted to reflect the consensus view of how hard the problem is. Unfortunately, inside, we don’t have the luxury of time to gather consensus grades. With each problem only being up for 2 months, grades are proposed by the setters when the problems are tested, leaving a little more room for error. It’s important to remember that grades should be treated as guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules, with each climber having their own opinion on relative difficulty of each bloc.
Yonder’s Route Setting Philosophy
At Yonder we really pride ourselves on creating complex and engaging problems through the entire range of grades. We believe that even the easier problems should challenge the climber and require them to climb with thought and good technique. There are a few reasons for this, first of all, we just think its more fun! We want to keep the climbers engaged, challenge the mind as well as the body and make you want to come back and climb the problem again on your next session. We also want to help you to improve. When we’re route setting we try to create challenges that require knowledge and use of good climbing technique to solve them. Creating problems that require climbers to analyse sequence and technique, even in the lower grades, helps people develop the climbing skills they need at this vital stage of climbing development.
This approach does have its downsides. Problems may seem extremely tricky, hard to read or difficult for the grade, but don’t be disheartened, you may have to work harder to succeed on a climb but you are sure to be gaining a huge amount of valuable skill and knowledge along the way. When problems are hard to read or complicated, ask a friend, a fellow Yonder climber or a member of our friendly staff for help. Sharing beta (knowledge about a climb) is a great way to make new friends and develop your skills as a climber as there is always someone out there that is brilliant at the things you may be struggling with. With perseverance, you will often find that once you unlock the trick for a certain problem it doesn’t feel so hard any more, you may even find you can do it every go from now on.
Yonder’s Grade Philosophy
The roots of all grading systems are based firmly in the world of outdoor bouldering, with certain iconic boulder problems serving as global benchmarks for quality and difficulty. These boulders are climbed by people all over the world, creating a global consensus on where each grade lays. Despite the obvious differences between bouldering inside and out, we believe that it is these benchmarks that must be followed when trying to set grade boundaries inside too. V3 in Yonder should feel as hard as V3 in Magic Wood and V11 in Yonder should be as hard as V11 in Rocklands. Our setting team, both in-house and freelance, have a huge amount of experience and a deep knowledge base of many of these world benchmarks and they use this when deciding how grades at Yonder are allocated.
As a climber at Yonder, you may have felt a discrepancy in the grades between our centre and others around the country. It’s not uncommon for the grades at climbing walls to adapt and morph over time into something that is only consistent within their own centre, this shift generally means that the climbs at those centres may feel easier than you would expect for the grade. At Yonder we’re are constantly reassessing our setting and climbs to try to stay as true to the grade benchmarks as possible, this helps us avoid to inevitable creep of grades when setters and climbers stay within the bubble of a single centre.
Things to Remember
Next time you’re climbing at Yonder and you’re stuck on a boulder, ask a friend, fellow Yonder climber or member of staff for some tips. Often a single piece of advice can turn something from feeling improbable to something well within your ability. Think outside the box and try as many options as you can, you may not only find the crucial piece of beta you need, but you’ll also learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t along the way.
Try to remember that grades are subjective and not a hard and fast rule. The idea of grading works because the grade is based on a consensus from many types of people, when we take this consensus element away (like we are forced to when grading inside) we have to trust the opinion of a small number of (hopefully) well-informed route setters to provide their opinion. This means the grades provided will never be totally accurate and will take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the route setting team. For these reasons its crucial to take the grades as a guide to which problems it would be good for you to try, rather than assuming you can climb every problem at a certain grade.
Don’t let the grades limit which boulders you try. At Yonder we leave all of our new sets ungraded for a week before we add the grade tags. The idea behind this is to allow climbers to try all the problems without being put off by a grade on a boulder that they perceive to be too hard for them. Everyone has their own strengths so you may surprise yourself. Just because you struggle on some V3’s it doesn't mean you won’t fly up another V5 or V6.