The Innocent, the Ignorant and the Insecure


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My twin brother's laundry room
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 9, 2012 - 03:35pm PT
Anyone know where I can find a copy of this article- is it online anywhere or can anyone email me a scan?
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jul 9, 2012 - 03:45pm PT
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Jul 9, 2012 - 05:15pm PT
In addition, because of a wide range in the 5.10 category, I have added a sub-letter (a through d) to further classify comparative difficulties.

Interesting idea. Bridwell has omitted one other reason to downgrade a route: sandbagging. I never sandbagged anyone on purpose, but my best partners sandbagged me. I guess this is old school learning. Sink or swim mate! If it weren't for them I would have been stuck at my grade and never gone way out there into dangerous territory. I have been accused of sandbagging a couple times but it was a combination of my being able to do the route, and over estimating the person I'm sandbagging. So when my friends sandbagged me it was actually a compliment.

Also we tend to see the opposite effect more often - route grades creeping up instead of down. Since everyone can climb 5.12 these days, thats where we start. I wonder how this relates to the phenomenonn the author was seeing, of downgrading.

One thing Bridwell appears to have been concerned about, but has been lost over time, has been keeping the routes in categoriees: face, hand crack, etc. Routes are directly comparable within these categories, but compare across categories and its apples and oranges.


A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
Jul 9, 2012 - 05:43pm PT
Was that article the first time the "A-D" ratings were tagged onto the 5.10 rating? Thus, restructuring the YDS henceforth?

I never knew it was a Bridwell 'creation' (or made accepted by him?). Interesting....
The Warbler

the edge of America
Jul 9, 2012 - 05:57pm PT
Before this article it was easy, moderate, and hard 5.10. Bridwell does take credit for initiating the four letter grade breakdown.

I thought the old way worked fine.

right here, right now
Jul 9, 2012 - 07:15pm PT
I agree Kevin, just plain old solid grade with a plus or minus is fine.

I do like most of what Jim wrote in the 1973 OP article about downgrading as nothing less than insecure chest thumping.

Perhaps ironically, the A through D system may have instigated rating creep in the other direction. Most routes you come across which are rated in the old plus or minus style are in fact stiffer ratings-wise when compared with "modern routes" -modern, contextually to mean mid-to-late 70s and forward.

And the old sandbag term "not that bad." Ha ha. One of Bachar's favorite tags for just about anything that wouldn't kill you. And we know he was the King of sandbag ratings at upper levels. In his defense however, he was fighting rating creep.

That's like a rebound circle right there.
 Bridwell pulls back the curtains on downgrading.
 Rating creep ensues for whatever reason, (later going all out of proportion when sport climbing arrives).
 Bachar fights rating creep by returning to the stiff old ratings from the plus or minus days (plus some blatant downgrading for good measure), or just "not that bad".

Pretty darn silly.

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Jul 9, 2012 - 07:42pm PT
There's a lot of unconscious stuff going on with ratings too. You tend to see clusters at some ratings and nothing at others (one thing I've noticed is that odd numbers dominate in the V grades, for whatever reason V6s seem scarce compared to 5's or 7s...and this isn't based on one area, but something I've noticed over many years and many areas).

And we all laugh about the old quip that difficulty really goes:

5.8, 10a, 5.8+, 5.9, 10b, 10c, 5.9+, 11a, 10d, 11b, 11c, 12b, 12a, 11d, 12c, 13a, 12d, 13b, etc.

The "Ds" in particular always seem 'bagged.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jul 9, 2012 - 08:01pm PT
Written 39 years ago and spot on. The article, however, doesn't seem to have changed anything.
Don Paul

Big Wall climber
Colombia, South America
Jul 9, 2012 - 09:05pm PT
I didnt even check who wrote this - now that I see who it is I respect Jim Bridwell even more. But do people agree with this assessment of Yosemite?

Group pride, or the pack instinct, exhibits itself when an entire area is downrated. The climbers here are better than the climbers there, because the climbs here are rated harder.

I believed Yosemite rating were actually the benchmark, at least at one point in time, for climbing ratings across the US. If Yosemite climbs were hard for their ratings, its because everyone else is letting their ratings drift.

Now I learn that the ratings were downrated because of insecurity and sandbagging. It's not that the stonemasters were so much better climbers, it's that they were better sandbaggers. The culmination of all this, is like a meta-sandbag.

right here, right now
Jul 9, 2012 - 10:40pm PT
Don Paul,

I think he's referring to areas like, for example: Granite Mountain, Arizona or Devils Lake, Wisconsin.
Pretty stiff ratings, however the original locals could probably claim "innocent" due to the effects of some isolation.

These days, lots of seminal places like Needles of South Dakota, even Joshua Tree, cripes, even Eldorado Canyon get accused of knowingly instigating sandbagged ratings, but this is by people ignorant of the fact that ratings were invented in places like that: they are, were and should be the standard.

I'm sure we can come up with an area that locals sandbagged just to show off.

(And yes, the Stonemasters were very much into sandbagging! More often than not, towards one another).

Social climber
Nov 30, 2012 - 02:23am PT
Bump for a great Bird discourse copied to text by Ed "HairDome" Hartouni.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Feb 16, 2018 - 06:50am PT
Bump for a Contribution from the Bird as contemporary ( just change some of the numbers) as it was in when he published it in 1973!
Stewart Johnson

Mountain climber
lake forest
Feb 16, 2018 - 06:56am PT
5.111d the forgotten grade , everyone wants there route to be 5.12
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Feb 16, 2018 - 07:11am PT
Here's a working link

Trad climber
Polebridge, Montana
Feb 16, 2018 - 08:41am PT
When I read that article it seems to me he is railing on people downgrading routes, claiming they are now EASIER, not harder. Is that what you guys are getting from the article? It doesn't look like he is complaining about the ratings creeping up but rather sliding down in difficulty.


edit-kinda weird. The title works for both directions. If you're insecure you might downgrade to make it seem like you are a harder climber. Conversely insecurity could lead one to grade up and make it sound like you climb a harder grade.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Feb 16, 2018 - 09:08am PT
I’d say he’s mostly pointing out that climbers whose motivations tend to be competitive tend to rate routes in a way that flatters their ability. He specifies downrating as a tool to accomplish that, overrating can do the same depending on the context in which the distortion is used.

It’s only natural that different climbers have different opinions on the exact ratings of particular climbs, the bs surfaces when particular climbers have a pattern of distorting ratings, either up or down to embellish their skills.

In the era this was written, climbers in general were less motivated by competition, and more by adventure and the aesthetics of climbing. As a result, the average climber was more humble and less interested in ratings, as I see it. Gyms and sponsorship have changed that.

Jim’s lack of mentioning “ratings creep” or overrating is testimony to that. This well written essay offers a unique glimpse into what climbing was about then, nearly fifty years ago.


Trad climber
Feb 16, 2018 - 09:16am PT
5.11d the forgotten grade , everyone wants there route to be 5.12

As a friend always says; “When progressing through grades, always skip the 5.xd and move on to the 5.x+1a. The former are largely put up by curmudgeons, while the latter are likely to be from someone wanting to say they put up a “5.x+1”, even if it falls a little short.”

Jingus Newroutaineer
Feb 16, 2018 - 09:39am PT
Here's a working link

Written in 1973...

And, imo, a further divergence between the wide and slab/finger crack climbs has occurred with footwear improvements and gear (granted big cams make wide far less committing than it was).

Leading Serenity with only nuts and Kronhoffers has changed dramatically with today's micro cams and slippers with C4.

Generator is arguably easier in old school wide boots...

"Compression of the Grades" in wide and a softening of standards for thin....someday we may address this...

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Feb 16, 2018 - 12:13pm PT
And easier yet, in New School Wyde boots with sticky rubber!😎
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