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A comment on the rating system

by Eric Coomer
July 8, 1998

"Huh. So you say it takes like 70 heads?"

"Yeah. And 30 blades and 20 beaks and 8 rurps. A bunch of arrows and some angles thrown in. There's no pitch you're going to go more than about 120 to 150 feet if you blow it."

"Uh, A3+ huh?"

"Yeah." The sly smile of the devil crossed Warren Hollinger's face. Today, A3+ is a whole lot like the 5.9+ grade of the golden age of free climbing. It could mean anything. I've done A3+ pitches that involved nothing more than leap frogging good cams up a perfect splitter crack. Other pitches have been full on nailing fests with copious hooking and many insecure placements. It seems like most new routes and downgraded old test pieces fall somewhere in the A3+ to A4 range. Meanwhile, old outdated trade routes still sport A4 and A5 pitches on the topos. What's an aspiring wanna-be to do?

Warren also confided that he thought his new route was the second hardest route he's ever done on El Capitan. That's quite a statement. It appears that the Reticent is the only wall to receive a modern A5 grade that has stuck. Even so, a recent ascent party argued that it was already A4+.

The aid ratings have gotten out of hand. It's the opposite problem with the open ended free ratings. Everyone at the top end of the free scale wants the first 5.15. In contrast, no wall climber wants to rate his pitch A5 only to have others laugh and call it a light A2+. The grades have become compressed and it lies right around A3+. Maybe it's time to rethink this whole problem. Maybe it's time to give the Casual Rating System (CRS) another shot at life.

After doing the second ascent of Warren's new route, we (myself and my partners Eric George and Brent "Call me Eric" Ware) all agreed that the route was Pretty Darn Hard (PDH in CRS terms). Warren asked us what we thought and we told him straight. Lots of good hard climbing but some good gear on the pitch somewhere. No real death fall potential except in a couple of spots- maybe some of the pitches need a Real Heads Up (RHU) modifier. Another member of the first ascent team, Miles Smart, had one of the two crux pitches. He confided that during the route the sandbagging got a little out of hand. He wanted to call his pitch A2+. They all realized that this was a ridiculous claim. The pitch has one of the only real bad falls on the route, tenuous beaking, and a high fear factor. That's when they decided to call the route A3+. They really wanted to rate it PDD - Pretty Darn Disorderly.

Endless arguments abound in the Center of the Universe parking lot (the Lodge Lot in Yosemite) about whether the latest route of interest is indeed A4-, maybe A3++, but no one argues whether the routes are hard. They are, and we all know it. Most of the old trade routes probably fall in to the Not Too Bad (NTB) category these days, but a few still sport RHU pitches. By going to this sort of scale no one really has to wonder whether we're talking new wave or old wave. NTB is just that - Not Too Bad. RHU? You better watch your fall or you might end up pretty messy if you fall. PDH. That'll keep you on your toes pretty good. PDD - be prepared for some good fun.

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