Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

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Warren G
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Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Warren G » Mon Feb 06, 2012 12:15 pm

Uwe and I had a fun weekend in Wolfberg, starting on Roef, an acclaimed 22 noted for its, well, roof actually. The guide book said it was opened in the late 90's, but asking around it seems to get few ascents, and we were to discover why:

The so called 22 roof pitch was so far beyond our on-sight abilities that we aided thru it, having both given it a burn. this raised two questions that I would love for some discussion on:
1. Was the pitch freed, and if so how could they possibly claim it 22?? The pitch is substantially harder than Celestial Journey, a neighbouring 22.
2. The point of a grade is to allow a prospective party a sense of what they in for, should they choose that route. It therefore makes sense for the grade intervals to be established ,and discernable from one another. Therefore regrading of sport and boulder problems happens- putting the routes in correct alignment- but why doesn't this happen with trad, or old routes? It’s not about "grade inflation" it’s about keeping the scales even so people get caught out. Do we want to keep sandbagged routes, or do we want a fair grading system?

I think relating to both of these questions is the core of trad: adventure. Tradites want it, but it seems that they impose is on themselves in ways that make little sense. Surely one would not seek an epic, but rather to comprehensively manage their way thru the challenges set before them, and the deviations of this being the adventure?
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Justin » Mon Feb 06, 2012 12:34 pm

I'm always skeptical when I get on certain peoples routes, take ADK's routes for instance (it seemed that he was not able to grade accurately below 26!)
Who were the opening party of said route?

Check out Brian Weavers article :arrow: Where did the 8a benchmark go?
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by shorti » Mon Feb 06, 2012 2:36 pm

I'm with you on that one. I've been sandbagged a few times, some of them made really good camp fire stories, but others I simply try to forget and thank the stars I'm still alive. I think what makes trad routes (some of the time) hard to grade, is the fear factor. A high risk move will automatically feel harder, a series of such moves can very suddenly become madness, even though on toprope you'd easily be able to do it. Sometimes the crux of the route is placing the gear. All of this makes it hard to grade, but I agree, every now and then, I come across a route that is just so wildly sandbagged that I honestly can't fathom how it was graded. I've often thought of going through the trouble to suggest a grade change, but have never done it. You are right, for some reason we just don't upgrade trad routes, because it makes us softies. Maybe we should just point out the dangerous ones on the route guides as we encounter them. All I have ever done was to add X's and R's on the trad hit list where I felt it was needed and off course, the stories. I'm not a grade chaser, but I agree with you, a nasty sandbag can get you into serious trouble! I don't think it is unwise to at least warn people about it.

My list of notable sandbags that I can recall from memory:
Spiderman 17 (Makapan's Gat) - This route is simply insane, I can't even see how strong climbers can do it. I had to aid quite a bit and even then it was horribly hard! My two seconds couldn't even do it on top rope.
Salesman 15 (Tafelberg) - I simply couldn't stay on the steep line of slopers, I had to go right.
There are more, but I didn't think they were out by more than 2 or 3 grades (or maybe I just cleared it off my mind).

Then there's the death routes that's not sandbagged but dangerous:
Last Rites / Coffin (Upper Tonquani) - 1st pitch. I don't think anyone will ever be sandbagged on it, it is too notorious for that, but the RD makes no mention of the mostly unprotectable 1st pitch - that is ironic enough graded as the easiest pitch of the 3.
Shut up and die like an aviator (Boven) - There's just nothing good about it, shit rock shit gear.
Amazing Grace and the Beer Hunter (Hamerkop) - Amazing routes, but hardly any gear.
Solitaire (Spout) - I have to put it on the list, because the gear is few, far between and mostly useless. So maybe not a death route, but definitely a ARRRR rated route with a capital R in bold :pirat: It is also maybe a little sand bagged, but it's hard to say since I didn't exactly top out.

I see Brian mentioned in his article about under-graded routes in lower grades. I've seen the same thing with trad routes. Labyrinth in Cedarberg kloof for instance is graded at 10. If you are too short to get into the chimney on the second pitch, you're going to struggle.

I know I probably went off topic a little with the dangerous routes, but I guess it comes down to the same thing (and reasons we don't change it).

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Warren G » Mon Feb 06, 2012 5:00 pm

Hi Shorty

Thanks for the reply, and its great to see we are on the same page about this. I think the problem with these two parallel conversations is it becomes too easy to focus only on the top end- and often sport- but I ask this: what happens if Johnny Bigshoes gets on a sport 30 to try and it is actually a 33? He flails, gets humbled and maybe leaves a ‘biner behind. If a trad climber competent, at 18 gets sandbagged by a "17" then the consequences are far more severe, and there is a degree of responsibility (or at least moral obligation) on the route guide authors to be accurate about their grading, topos and descriptions for this reason.

I do agree with the assertion that there should be benchmarks in grading, both at a national and a regional level, and that this set of routes should be settled upon by consensus. Only once we have the benchmark set can we resolve any other routes’ grade with certainty.
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Nic Le Maitre » Mon Feb 06, 2012 5:37 pm

Style also plays a role, there are several (easy) trad routes that have been bolted and are now seen as sport routes and when sport climbers get on them they are shut down. Particularly routes with lots of jams...

Trad is, to my mind, subjectively more difficult than sport, simply because of the extra weight of the gear and the time required to place gear. The holds and moves might be 15 for instance but leading it can seem a grade or two more difficult
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Q20 » Tue Feb 07, 2012 12:21 am

This is great. Uwe sandbagged myself and Douw two weeks ago at Tafelberg with their new route that they claimed was also 22.
:lol: :lol:
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Of late I have become way psyched on putting up new routes, think about 60 or so far in the last year and a bit. Now Snort is always one to point out that I am too tall to grade routes. This is a valid point. On the flip side I have squat in the bicep department so that must square it up a bit. :?:

Anyway, it is not much use if I write RD's up with no grade, as that is less use than a sandbag. And waiting for a bunch of people to do them first and get feed back it just not practical. Compared to a busy sport crag near a city, the 10th pitch of any country route is never going to get as many ascents, so feedback on grading is a slower process. I think the use of the wiki is good, provided it is not abused, cause then if you legitimately think a route is way off on the grade you can change it or leave a note etc.

My final 5 cents worth is that I have rope soloed a good number of the routes I have put up, so then one does not even have the luxury of a second following it to give you a grade opinion.

I have recently made myself unemployed for the purposes of climbing, so the bribes will decrease in value, but a dozen beers to second ascent of my new route that I put up on TM today. No Horizon (24). Concensus Grading needed :farao:
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by DolphinDawie » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:09 am

From Nani....

Garron onsight freed it opening it, i seconded but fell. We did think it was hard but were expecting it would be something like 20 or 21 when we embarked on the climb, else we wouldnt have tried. I havent done Celestial Journey at that stage and we thought it probably was about 22. It was our best guess of the grade at the time. Maybe some more people should climb it to reach consensus. I dont have an account on and dont want to make one just to post a reply.

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Warren G » Wed Feb 08, 2012 12:03 pm

Thanks for the reply Dave. I have done Celestial, and the roof sequence is substanially harder on Roef, probably 24ish but again I would want a little more concensus on this too. I seconded it, and normally flash 24, but resigned myself to some aid. The reason I hesitate on the grade is the roof is probably easier if you are short- im 196cm- and Uwe is close to 6 foot too.

Well lead! But please don't grade things anymore! LOL
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by mokganjetsi » Wed Feb 08, 2012 1:55 pm

correct me if i'm wrong, but is this not the line douw said will go around 25? and douw is as strong & short as they get haha. anyways, some thoughts on the "evolution" of the seffrican trad grading system:

unrepeated routes gets an "U" affix - "U"nconfirmed or "U"nrepeated. U = beware. i guess the downside is that guide books will not be updated on the 2nd or 3rd ascent but it will at least differentiate between often and rarely climbed routes.

we could think about the british E-scale but maybe an "R" for run-out / bad gear is sufficient. an E-scale does give scope to make it a bit more accurate though. maybe something like RN (normal - good gear every 3m or so / clean falls); R1 (whipper territory), R2 (big whipper / bad fall territory) and RX (hit the deck / ledge from high).

the guidebooks always has a disclaimer about trying to be accurate but it obvioulsy is subject to individual judgment & human error. scope the line as best you can and form your own view as well.

would love to hear some other views.....

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Tristan » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:14 pm

"Some F3's are harder than others"...

Keep the sandbags, "its just the mountain factor kicking in..."

(that's two bastardized quotes from two equally famous folk from the same era)

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Hector » Wed Feb 08, 2012 3:17 pm

I reckon there is merit in sandbagging trad routes. I like that certain routes get a reputation. They prick your ego, drive you mad and make you try harder. I'm not talking about tricking people into dangerous situations - if a route is dangerous it should be described as such in the RD. Assessing how hard a route is by looking at it is a valuable skill. Relying on someone else's opinion of the difficulty is limiting, and translates badly when you're climbing long routes where you might get lost. When the rock you're climbing no longer resembles the RD, accurate grading is irrelevant. You then rely on your own judgment of the difficulty. The same applies to opening new routes.

As far as indicating the danger factor in the grade goes, I say the R and X suffixes are fine. If more detail is needed, stick it in the RD. Sometimes interpreting the RD is as much fun as climbing the route. Some personal favorites:
"Engage mind in reverse and pull through the roof"
"Stagger up to the summit"
"Gear is not everywhere available on the first pitch"
"Climb up to an adequate stance"
"It makes sense to empty your rack into the rail"

It helps to know who opened the route.

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Tristan » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:12 pm

Hector wrote: "It makes sense to empty your rack into the rail"
AWESOME - what more do you need to know? That conveys soooooo much beta, it's almost like cheating :-)

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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by nousername » Sat Feb 11, 2012 1:50 pm

A few of my thoughts on this matter.

More available information/detail on a route inherently makes a route safer, while it is the climber who may decide to increase the adventure/danger by decreasing consultation of the information available.

Perception is used by the statistical population group that has climbed a route, resulting in a consensus of perception only. (see tools for a suggested solution)

Quantifiable data
The length of a pitch, and the length of a person is quantifiable, while strong and short is not.

Authors require feedback and utilize existing information for their revisions. The more feedback is pushed, (see push feedback vs. pull feedback) the better an RD.

Perception cannot be standardized (grades can be statistically measured – see tools). Short codes X,R,U etc. can also be standardized. Most importantly where short codes is used a reference to the short codes should exist to differentiate from others.

On this website exist both a Wiki and Beta section for exactly the purposes of information collaboration.

Feedback forms, this is a unused item in climbing, either on line or printed and enables the climber to provide quantifiable data and perception. This may evolve into a logbook as well. Reference for instance

Consider for a moment aggregated data in a spreadsheet or pivot table with columns called route name, no of pitches,grade of pitch, length of pitch, short codes, notes, number of climbs, perception of grade per climber, average grade, minimum grade, maximum grade, etc. as a deliverable of feedback forms.

It would be achievable to deduce the confidence level (level of consensus) of a grade given the number of climbs and variance of grade perception of a route or pitch.

Push feedback vs. pull feedback
Mostly beta is requested but seldom pushed. In order to increase quantifiable information as well as perception on a route it is suggested that wiki, beta, feedback forms be updated by climbers soon after a climb while information is still fresh.

A sample spreadsheet feedback form has been uploaded here and populated with dummy data and instructions for a dummy RD data website.
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Re: Roef, and "Old-School Grading"

Post by Garron » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:04 pm

Yip I'm not good at grading but I thought Roef was easier then Captain hook and harder then Roulette. Also I thought if there was a tall person that could jam that they would find it rather easy by doing a cross thought to the jam then left foot under the roof (on the left) and then reach though to the end of the traverse, being quite short I could not test this theory.

Did you have a look at the line to the left of Roef, that looks amazing but hard with a very scary, but safe, face after the bottom roof and an very powerful upper roof.

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