Concerning Problems & Grades - Maintaining The Yorkshire Region

3 months ago

Concerning Problems & Grades - Maintaining the Yorkshire Region

As I begin to write and edit this blog; Nalle Hukkataival has just finished his Lappnor boulder Project and has awarded the line the world’s first 9A grade. Nalle has called this historic line The Burden of Dreams. An outstanding achievement which will spark off many discussions about various problems and projects around the globe, and most importantly, the grading of problems and how one may settle on ‘confirming’ a grade.

The clearest way to ‘confirm’ a grade is to gather a consensus; this is best achieved through people climbing routes and passing their opinions on the proposed/recognised grade.

This is something that 27 Crags is extremely useful for. Problems are entirely individual experiences and grades provided in climbing literature are used to describe the difficulty of the hardest move on a line only. When users of the site climb a problem they can cast their grade opinion and after 5 ascents are logged the grade will change, increase or decrease, or stay the same depending on votes cast to provide an average grade opinion. The more users providing these opinions will help provide validity to a problems grade.

The most appropriate example would be that of the world’s first f6A boulder problem; La Marie-Rose at Bas Cuvier, Fontainebleau. This has to be one of the most climbed lines in the world and indeed sees many recorded ascents on 27crags.com. Most ascensionists have agreed with the 6A grade or cast an opinion above this. The grade still stands as 6A on average and as this is written, with more users of 27 Crags climbing this route, will the grade of this historical problem stay the same? Or will it in time change? We do feel that this user input and real-time opinion casting will help grades ‘settle’ to where they deserve to be and encourage a consistency of the information provided and ultimately passed on in future guidebooks and websites.

This blog post isn’t focused on a discussion of grades specifically but the relay of information for the user and grade accuracy we have set out to correct. The use of online resources for log-booking and providing climbing information is currently ‘disjointed’ at best. Many resources disagree with each other or provide vague (Or missing) information about where a problem is, how it is climbed, what is eliminated or included on the problem and the most important piece of information; the grade of the problem.

Grades of problems are usually the most useful piece of information. Depending on your climbing level you will often use this key information to find and climb a specific problem based on its grade which will be either your current average climbing grade or an aspirational grade. Grade discussions will continue forever due to their nature being entirely subjective and based on experiences. Grades have no scientific or mathematical measure for comparison (to my knowledge but happy to see evidence of what constitutes a 6A and the difference between that and a 6A+ for example). The only real approach to grading seems to be experience based – ‘Problem 2’ feels harder than ‘Problem 1’ so I’d say it’s 6A+ or maybe 6B with ‘Problem 1’ being a 6A.

Therefore, with the acknowledgement that grades are completely subjective, we need consensus on as many routes as possible to allow them to ‘settle’ around their appropriate grade. Which is where the use of sites such as 27 Crags we should, in time, achieve a better consensus and agreement on a problems actual grade. With this said we can all disagree because it is our opinion and our right to it. 27 Crags allows for this too by encouraging users who are log-booking to submit their grade opinion and provide details/discussion if they wish.

Through the use of local guidebooks alongside researching current online resources it is evident to us that the information provided is generally of poor quality, with vague descriptions or simply inaccurate/opinion based submissions with no substance or discussion to clarify the route, the crux, the lines path, and particularly, why it has been given it’s submitted grade. We now set out to try and provide clarity within our own region – Yorkshire.

Much needed maintenance – The Yorkshire Region on 27 Crags

To help rectify this, on a local level, and provide accurate information the #YorkshireGrit team have been making a huge effort to update and improve the quality of this information on 27 Crags. This website is the most user-friendly we have come across so far with many users from the region log booking or using the site for information, rather than a guidebook in some instances. The site can take some time to get used to at first, particularly in regards to navigation, and is far from perfect to all users, but overall the features it allows users to take advantage of are the best currently available in our opinion. The ability to add topo images and draw lines on the image (which can be edited for accuracy) is a brilliant feature and incredibly valuable tool. 27 Crags users can easily take a topo image of a boulder or crag section and upload it to the site - then add the lines in an often more accurate and detailed way than in some guidebooks.

The ability we now have to edit, check and correct information means that the information will be more accurate and in line with the most current guidebook than it ever has been. Indeed many major crags and some smaller ones in the area are almost fully ‘verified’ with many classic lines displayed clearer than ever.

As enthusiasts, proud of our local climbing history, we believe this work is important in upholding the posterity for future reference. Another worthwhile blog on this subject regarding the documentation of a single crag can be found here; https://27crags.com/climbers/danwatson/blog/spofforth-pinnacles-and-the-challenges-of-topography.

Therefore, it is important to explain the processes of providing the information recorded for use on 27crags.com for the Yorkshire area by team #YorkshireGrit.

Developments

This year (2016) has seen the most activity on 27 Crags for our region. New crag areas and problems are being documented and added almost daily. This is fantastic for current and new users of the site wishing to find information about crags in the region and enjoy bouldering and traditional climbing in Yorkshire.

The #YorkshireGrit team has spent time checking existing information on 27 Crags and cross referencing available literature (discussed below) and other online references such as local climbing websites and user contributed databases such as UK Climbing.

We were aware quite quickly that the larger crags in particular had many issues around the recording of problems. The most common were misspellings, inaccurate grades, poor quality topo images and vague or missing descriptions. We have set to the task of improving all of the above issues and with the help of the 27 Crags team we have resolved many of these issues at the larger crags already.

The Process

To help clarify where the information comes from and to provide much deserved credit to what has gone before, the following text is an important acknowledgement to the resources we have used. The information now available is the most clear and concise information we can find and present for 27 Crags users. When deciding how to reference problems and provide a guidebook grade we used the following process;

1. If a problem exists with a long standing and recognised name it is always to be used as the problem title and will never be altered. This is important to preserve the history of the problem and recognise the achievements of those who established them. Only in cases where a name hasn’t been given should an alternative be given. Usually the name given is associated to the description of the climb, a tenuous or preferably strong link to the sector name or the long standing problems that exist around it. These names were given for identification purposes only and may change as new information comes to light.

2. At nearly every crag you visit you will find a problem named Left Arete, Right Arete, The Crack, The Slab, Short Wall, The Nose, The Groove and so on... These names are helpful for the user as they describe the problems’ main feature and often exactly how it is to be climbed. Often the only addition we’ve made here is to clarify where it is located and add a useful description (Often a combination of guidebooks or from our own experience of the climb).

3. The most commonly renamed problems are those that were simply identified as a number or letter. These lines are often mentioned with little or no description, as seen in many older guidebooks e.g. Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering, Alan Cameron-Duff (Rockfax 2000 guide). Leaving ‘Problem 3’ as a name causes confusion between guidebooks and for current users as many other guides also have a ’Problem 3’ but yet this could be on a different block or even in some cases on another crag! Nearly every crag, boulder or sector you visit will have a ‘Problem 3’ and without a clear description we find problems are often confused for another or inaccurate. For clarity and identification purposes only, previously numbered problems have been given a name. This will only change when a new guide is released with an alternate name given.

With this point made it is important to reference the guide books we use to check and provide information. The following resources are the main, but not complete, sources we use to verify and detail problems in the Yorkshire region. A description of how we reference the information from each guide is also identified as we are starting to include the codes from where the problem was first recorded, if clarity is needed. We check across all available guides to ensure the latest climbs are added and also old lines are not forgotten. We check other online resources to try to keep up to date on the latest additions. If however you believe you have found and climbed something new – 27 Crags lets you add those lines, but it is always worth checking first to see if it is indeed a new problem. The #YorkshireGrit team will be able to check and verify the information submitted if the problem exists on a crag moderated by #YorkshireGrit and will only ever be altered to provide clarity.

The Guidebooks;

Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering, Alan Cameron-Duff, Rockfax (2000).

This guide has a wealth of knowledge documenting bouldering at the larger crags in the Yorkshire region. The positives of this guide were its wealth of information and the sheer amount of problems described at each sector/area of each crag. Many of which were omitted from more recent guides probably due to the addition of larger full colour topography and to avoid ‘overcrowding’ of topo images/provide quality information on the most popular routes and sections.

The negatives of this however were lack of names, vague descriptions and the use of British Technical grades which had to be converted to 27 crags preferred grading system; the Fontainebleau system. This is not a criticism of choice or a personal preference, merely an issue when transmitting information to the end user. It seems the current guidebooks for any location adopt this as the preferred grading system and as guidebooks are updated they all seem to be preferring the Fontainebleau system.

This guide has been an exceptional wealth of knowledge and provider of problems for the region on 27crags.com. Many additional problems throughout the grades are now available to be enjoyed by the user and referenced to this guide.

You will see on many problems a short reference code such as CD B1 P1, which simply means; Cameron-Duff guide, Boulder number 1, Problem number 1. Occasionally, you will also see CD B1 P1a – which will identify an extension or alternative line to the original and has simply been added for clarity and to further reference the source.

Yorkshire Gritstone Bouldering Vol.1 & Vol.2, Steve Dunning & Ryan Plews, Total-Climbing (2008 & 2011).

This guide provides an excellent summary of the classic and high quality problems at each sector of the major crags. Both in Volume 1 (The major crags) and Volume 2 (the slightly smaller and more esoteric crags). The outstanding feature of these guides were the first addition of full colour and clear picture topography. This is the way forward for all modern guidebooks and one of the main attractions for using 27 Crags is to be able to provide line drawings for increased clarity. It makes finding and climbing problems so much easier for the user. The clarity of TC Bouldering guides images and topo’s is a fantastic tool for all climbers. The guide also included updates of new problems and extensions so added to the amount of problems we could document in the region.

The only negative with this guide is its lack of problems for the lower grade boulderer in comparison to the concise nature of the previous Yorkshire Gritstone Guide. However, it does provide all the best known lines and classics at each major crag for the region at the time of publication.

Where this guide had updated problems that do not exist in previous guides the following code has been referenced; TC A1 P1, which simply means Total-Climbing guide, Area 1, Problem 1. Again with this guide there is the occasion for a mentioned extension and alternative problem and a letter has been given based on it’s reference appearance TC A1 P1(a,b,c etc).

Yorkshire Gritstone Vol.1 & Vol.2, The Yorkshire Mountaineering Club (2012 & 2014).

This is currently where “the book stops”. These are the most recent guidebooks for the region and where the majority of references and information we have provided will come from. These guides are the most recent and have been put together by local climbing legends, people in the know and their efforts deserve to be well acknowledged. This is where the source of all up to date grades for the Yorkshire area have been taken from or altered to. When you click on the description of a problem the guide book grade should reflect the grade shown in this guide. You will however come across altered grades as people use the site more often and the grade opinion changes and settles based on user votes.

These guides have also adopted the approach of naming problems that previously were numbered, to provide clarity and distinction between problems which makes these guides extremely useful and valuable for the user.

The YMC guides have included a lot of problems including, for the first time, a combination of both bouldering and traditional climbing routes on full colour topo’s in the same guide. The only negative to be found were occasional inaccuracies on often very small topo images. Often to compensate for this however, the problems’ descriptions are quite clear with useful beta and touches of history including first ascensionist acknowledgements.

If problems in this guide were not previously mentioned in older guides they have been referenced by page and problem number as follows; YMC Vol.1 Pg34 P3. Which simply translate to YMC guide Volume 1, Page 34, Problem 3.

Progress

So, with help from the 27 Crags team and with our own enthusiasm, we have managed to fix many of the issues discussed above. This is an ongoing process but at the time of writing, we believe the information provided for the Yorkshire region is the most clear and concise you will find with all problems known of being added to provide the most definitive guide available online.

Currently there are the following fully documented crags in the region; Almscliffe, Ilkley (Cow and Calf), Little Almscliffe, Shipley Glen, Simon’s Seat, Snowden, Spofforth Pinnacles and Swastika Stones. These crags have been checked and updated using the literature mentioned and other online resources.

The more users of 27 Crags and the more input users give to each problem; the greater the value of the information we relay will be. As Bouldering and climbing pursuits become ever more popular the preservation of this information will become even more important. Both in terms of validating existing climbs and establishing and recording new ones. The work to provide this information will continue to steadily be checked and updated but progress is only ever achieved when discussion is encouraged, opinions are accepted and people care enough to ensure that what they love is protected. Team #YorkshireGrit.

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