Flaws in the Yosemite Decimal System


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Big Wall climber
Denver, CO
Sep 13, 2017 - 09:19am PT
BITD 5.9+ was the most suspect rating there was.

So true! Especially in EBs and early shoes of that ilk. Heh
Floyd Hayes

Trad climber
Hidden Valley Lake, CA
Sep 13, 2017 - 09:46am PT
I love the YDS, subjective as it is. A difficulty rating simply gives a general idea of what to expect and it is very helpful when planning a climbing trip. Sometimes a climb feels a bit harder than what I expect, sometimes it feels a bit easier, and sometimes it feels just right. It's unusual for a climb to feel much harder or much easier than what I expect.

Sep 13, 2017 - 09:57am PT
Yeah, I always like the subjectivity too, from area to area to area to area. I always thought the 10c/11c rating was fun and usually not representative relative to what a 10b/11b felt like. Perfection is hella boring.

Trad climber
Sep 13, 2017 - 11:19am PT
For bouldering back in the day it was B1, B2 or B3. Lots of people can do it, only a couple can do it, no one can do it. Still works for me except that I used to do B2 problems and now I can't.

Trad climber
Sep 13, 2017 - 12:15pm PT
My amplifier goes up to 11

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Sep 13, 2017 - 12:41pm PT
Joshua Tree has a unique version of the Yosemite Decimal system. In order of difficulty, the sequence of the grades is something like this:

5.10a, 5.10b, 5.9, 5.11a, 5.10c, 5.11b, 5.10d, 5.11c, 5.12a, 5.11d Ö Beyond that itís even more screwed up, but all you need to know is that itís gonna hurt.

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 13, 2017 - 01:01pm PT
I am hesitant to post on a thread about grading, but I opened the link in Don's post and read the crap there about how the rating system, any rating system, gets abused, as if it were the fault of a comparative rating system. Lots of things are rated comparatively--music comes to mind. I think dancing, surfing, and figure skating would all fit. There is rarely anything difficult about something that has been mastered. Alex figured he would go hang for a bit after his light workout. Rating systems work fine as long as enough climbers agree on the climbs that are being compared. In the 70s, when Bridwell proposed the a, b, c, d extensions, he thought that climbers were not being honest in how difficult their new climbs were, and wrote an article about it. Pratt climbed something at the Cookie multiple times to finally conclude that it was 5.9 for Ropers' guide--I thought it was really hard, but Chuck was right: if you didn't blow the sequence, and had the skills, it was 5.9. But, it only felt that way a few years later after I had developed finer skills in working out sequences. Bev Johnson complained that Berry Bates' rating were 5.4 for anything less than 5.10. Everyone's rating system is comparative. But there is no communal value in each climber having their own rating system.

A few years ago, I was in a discussion with a current climber talking about run-out slabs in Middle. His impression of the difficulty did not match my memory, so I proposed a new, objective rating. If there was no bolt nearby, the moves were 5.8, max: close to the bolts the moves are harder.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 13, 2017 - 01:26pm PT
Roger that Roger...there is no communal value in everyone having their own rating system, AND there is no value in a rating system that is not communal. Ratings should be by consensus...the initial rating by the first ascensionist should not be held sacrosanct.

Your point about Pratt wiring climbs and then rating them is a good example. Ratings are most important for someone who has not done a climb and should be onsight ratings not how the climb feels when wired.

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Sep 13, 2017 - 01:41pm PT
There is rarely anything difficult about something that has been mastered.

Back in music school a frequent topic of discussion was "which is the most difficult instrument?" The French Horn and Oboe always made the list, while the consensus was that the saxophone and clarinet were piss easy. Later I realized that they are all equally difficult in the hands of a master who pushes their playing to the limit of what they can do with their instrument.

Mastery will bring relative ease to a performance below the master's limit. For example Adam Ondra will climb a very hard route showing total mastery at that grade, which is inside of his limit, but obviously he is not satisfied until he pushes himself to a new, higher limit. A true master must push them self to the edge, and this is never easy.

Trad climber
the middle of CA
Sep 13, 2017 - 01:54pm PT
a, b, c and d are dumb. Why didn't they just make the numbers go higher?

Is there an old article about that decision? I can't find one but would love to understand the strange addition of letters instead of increasing numbers.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Sep 13, 2017 - 05:44pm PT
It was either 5.9+ or 5.10-.

There were no alternatives.

Sep 13, 2017 - 05:50pm PT
a, b, c and d are dumb. Why didn't they just make the numbers go higher?

That was Bridwell's system.

Better go ask him.

Ratings are just a "window" into the "climb" you'll still need to open the door and do it.

That's all ......
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 13, 2017 - 05:51pm PT
Limpingcrab, here is a link to Jim's article, "Brave New World," https://web.stanford.edu/~clint/yos/brave.htm

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 13, 2017 - 06:09pm PT
The a,b,c,d gradations were added because the original YDS was a closed system that was supposed to end at 5.9...little did they know. The reason that 5.9 pluses done in the 60's and early 70's are feared is because climbers were doing much harder routes but felt constrained to still rate them 5.9.
The 5.10 grade finally came to be but climbers still felt the constraints of the closed system that had been in place. Bridwell deserves credit for opening up the grading system to more accurately reflect the rapid increases in the difficulty of climbs.
The YDS system now has become an open grading system like the one used in Australia. The differences are that there is a 5 in front of the important number and you need to go thru the a,b,c,d gradations before the whole number changes...higher math skills not required.
August West

Trad climber
Where the wind blows strange
Sep 13, 2017 - 09:53pm PT
The Yosemite system does a pretty good job of describing the hardest move and is widely understood in the US.

But the hardest move obviously doesn't tell the story on what it would be like to lead it.

If I had ever written a guide book, I would have listed two "Yosemite" grades. The grade of the hardest move and how strong of a leader the typical climber would want want to be in order to attempt to lead that climb/pitch.

So a 5.9 bolted face climb with bolts every 10 feet on a smooth slab might be 5.9 (5.10a), if it was bolts every 15 feet and a 70 degree somewhat knobby face (somewhat unpleasant fall) it might be 5.9 (5.10b), if it was 4 bolts per pitch maybe 5.10d.

If the hard section is protectable/aidable but other sections are not it might be 5.9 (5.7).

A continuous crack where you could protect/yard through every single move might just be listed as 5.9 (C1).

Sure, how strong of leader an "average" climber would want to be for any given climb is completely subjective. But I think there is enough shared understanding that it would be a useful and pretty easy addition to the current one.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 14, 2017 - 03:58am PT
August, initialy and traditionally the YDS takes everything into account, not just one element. While the rating cannot be less than the hardest move, the rating can be greater than the hardest move. Reeds Direct and The Good Book come to mind to illustrate single move versus pitch difficulty. That said, runouts are not captured and were added separately with r or x.

The Grade rating was meant to capture seriousness as well as time but after Beck and Sacherer's speed ascents, grades became less informative: the Nose and the Salathe are now either Grade VI or Grade I.

There have been threads on Supertopo previously where some climbers argued that YDS ratings are based on the hardest move. While it is easy enough to debunk this with the written record, if climbers believe it YDS is based on the hardest move, then YDS starts to fall apart: it is a comparative, communal system, and has no value if the same rules are not applied. It only works if everyone agrees that pitches with the same rating are the same difficulty, assuming the leader has the requisite technique. Off-width is the poster child for ratings that totally depend on having the requisite technique.
Alan Rubin

Sep 14, 2017 - 06:14am PT
August--The French grading system (and some other European ones as well)uses a system similar to the one you propose, especially for alpine or long rock routes. The route (or pitch) will have 2 grades--for example--6c+, 6a (obl.).The 6c+ (11c)is the pitch done completely free, the 'obl.' (obligitoire)is the difficulty of the hardest moves that can't be avoided by grabbing gear (10 a or b in this example). So someone who wants to do the entire route but not climbing as hard as 11c knows they can still get up it, if they can climb 10b, if they are willing to use some aid.

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Sep 14, 2017 - 06:56am PT
I like mention of hardest obligatory moves to know if backing off might be necessary.

While the rating cannot be less than the hardest move, the rating can be greater than the hardest move. Reeds Direct and The Good Book come to mind to illustrate single move versus pitch difficulty.

Meat Grinder was the classic climb I remember for this- supposedly no move harder than 5.9 but rated 5.10c. I don't remember the first pitch but got shut down pretty close to the start of P2. I think that is a case of fear/exposure as much as difficulty- a tricky start that would seem easier following, and then so much wide above that having enough gear to feel comfortable is highly questionable.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 14, 2017 - 07:02am PT
Given the subjectvity involved, grading systems will always be a guide rather than being absolute.
Whether you can do it and how much fun you have will always be the true measure of any climb.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Sep 14, 2017 - 07:07am PT
Hoo, boy. Reeds and Meat Grinder, classic enduro problems. I'm a fan of simply using + or - rather than a,b,c,d, which always seemed to cut it too fine.

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