Friday 26 April 2013

Why do some centres succumb to sandbagging?

Sandbagging: The art of undergrading boulder problems.

Everyone knows it, everyone moans about it.
The regulars learn to ignore it, and the beginners don't know any better.

So why should we care?

Well - with the growth of the climbing industry, and the increase in choice for the general public, it has never been more important for the 'product' of a climbing centre to be the best it can be.

And that includes the grading.


Sadly, rational consumers (the general public) make up a large portion of the paying customers and they are liable to seek out the 'best' product. Which in their eyes includes the quality of the grading.

I had a think about that and have come to these conclusions about what they really mean, and what we can do as setters to convince them to pay for our work.

When people ask for 'better' grading, I think they are really asking for 2 things.

  1. Grading is accurate in relation to the other places that they might climb.
    e.g. other indoor walls, dartmoor, portland, peak etc
  2. Greater consistency *within* the centre
    i.e. If something is graded 7a, it should be roughly equivalent to any other 7a in the centre (obviously)

Since the general public think this, and they are the ones giving money to the centre, it is somewhat important to get this sort of thing right to keep them happy. After all, who wants to come to a centre where they are sandbagged all the time?


As a regular climber both inside and out, I don't really mind being sandbagged *cough Craggy *cough*, because I know where I am relative to myself (mostly). Unfortunately most punters don't, and their ego gets hurt when they are shut down on something 2 grades lower than normal.

Now looking at these posts on UKC it seems that the first point is the major request, rather than grading consistency.

I think the main factors affecting boulder grading can be outlined as followsprobably stem from a few things:

  1. Some of the setters/graders not getting a huge amount of outside bouldering done on a regular basis. (not necessarily a bad thing, just something to take into consideration when grading)
  2. Grading without actually climbing the problem or climbing it and then forgetting to grade based on current condition (have you been climbing for 5 hours already?)
  3. You dont want regulars or other setters to call you a weak punter so you grade it hard and let the customers deal with it.

One arm!

The first point is a problem because people have good days and bad days.
If I go outside and struggle on a 7A, then my benchmark for 7A naturally becomes something that I find hard...

But what if I was having a weak day?
What if the conditions were crappy?
Or I train hard between that day outside and the next setting job I do?

My standard for 7A is still 'something that I struggle on' but in reality I have become much stronger in the interim.
Unless I can somehow compensate for this by guesstimating my ability increase, then there is no way for me to grade accurately, and things start to get sandbagged.

The second point is obviously a problem - and I hope no one does this...
There is a reason setters should forerun their problems, and it isn't just because you need to check the holds are all tight.
When I am setting at my limit, I will try to get the opinion of someone else (preferably stronger than me) to have a play and tell me what they think.


The third point is probably the largest contributor to the problem, and not just in TCA.

By putting a grade on a problem, you are putting your reputation on the line.

  • If you overgrade, then people accuse you of being soft and cheating the system. People don't like that because it undermines their achievements and gives them a false sense of progress... remember James Pearson's E12?
  • If you sandbag, then people might moan about you being wrong. Perhaps claiming that you are clearly stronger than you think... unfortunately this is actually a very kind, ego boosting, backhanded compliment, and one which I think many setters tend to enjoy receiving.

Naturally this leads to us - as setters - consciously, or subconsciously, leaning towards the sandbagging option...

I think the best response to all this, is to climb outside as much as possible. We can then talk with others and suggest a grade based on the opinions of a group of people that have a wealth of experience at all difficulties (preferably recent).

Unless someone actively pulls a sandbag grading system in line (possibly getting some abuse for being soft along the way), then I dont think it will normalise on its own.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Forest Rock and beyond

This weekend I met up with Pete Wycislik, Marcin Franiak, and Rob Gajland to go and investigate 'Forest Rock' - a small slate quarry near Leicester.

Before we went, Pete had been telling me about some of the problems there - including one called 'The Enchantress' that has recently been opened by Mike Adams (I think). At 8A, it was somewhat tougher than anything that I have done recently, and would indeed be the hardest thing that I have ever done at all! With this in mind I laughed him off, thinking that I would be be shut down hard on at least one move and have to entertain myself with other things.

Pete's face after I expressed my doubts

Nevertheless, after warming up on a selection of 6C's, 7A's and a neat problem in the back of the cave (orginally graded 7C with wet holds, but definitely easier - though I didn't actually finish the problem before moving on) I started to try the challenge of the day!

'The Enchantress' follows a line of undercuts up an overhanging wall, most of them are fairly large and easy to hold with the first 3/4 of the problem really only being about 6B once you have worked out the beta. After that you are faced with a couple of super tough moves before the final jug.

  from Archie CB on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, despite managing to do all the moves in overlapping halves, I was too tired to put in any real  efforts and had to resort to taking some film and trying to stay warm. :-(

I'm well psyched to go back and try the problem again this coming weekend, and I am very happy that it is close enough to visit for a day. The extra hour and a half saved on driving to the peak, as well as the increased light hours from the seasons make the day a far more relaxed venture.

In other news I did a Craggy 7a on the second attempt today! 
Jakob Schubert eat your heart out!

Who needs mojo when you have SWAGGA?

Friday 12 April 2013

Makin' movies, watching films and Climbin' Round The World! from Archie CB on Vimeo.

Sometimes I feel as though climbing videos are a little stale, and with this video I didnt really want to make another clone with 'Pretty Lights' backing music etc.

After cracking up while watching some of the videos on, I decided to try and make something similar for climbing. It was just after I started, that I realised that the thing people like to see in climbing movies is the climbing. So I made sure to put in three different trips in a car to start.

I had to tone down the ridiculous action from the inspiration so that the climbing still made sense, but I hope that some of the themes are still pretty apparent.

After I finished editing the first song's worth of video, I realised I had loads of stuff left over, so I decided to try and play around with some different styles, themes and atmospheres. I think that this will be pretty obvious once you start watching.

If you like certain parts, or have comments on others (remember the first part is somewhat of a joke) then please leave a comment below!

Toit de Cul de Chein - 1:10
Aerodynamite - 1:25
La Joker - 1:50
Carnage - 2:10
La Mouche - 2:40
Hopper - 3:15
Swingers Club - 3:25
Senza Denti - 3:42
So Lonely - 4:02
Dr Crimp - 4:41
Brechstange - 5:25
Not to be Taken Away - 6:58
Ben's Wall - 7:24
Razor Roof - 7:24
Captain Hook - 8:00
Brass Monkeys - 8:30

The music tracks are:
Excism - Xrated (ft Messinian)
Mountain Man - Animal Tracks
Of Oceans - In Love, Not Limbo

Friday 5 April 2013

Mojo still MIA

I just got back from our Font trip this easter with a fairly disappointing list (compared to my objectives)

I succeeded on:

Ah, Plus Facile
Pif Paf
De Brevitate Vitae

I repeated:

Lapin ou Canard

I worked:

Deux Faux Plis en Plats Reels
Sur Prise
Noir Desir

This trip was tough for me due to the nature of our 'accomodation' which, in conjunction with the weather, conspired to make top end attempts somewhat of a pipe dream (how interesting).

Basically, trying to perform at your best is not helped by camping in sub zero temperatures while achieving only about 6/7 hours of broken sleep at night...

Nevertheless, when day broke we headed out to the rock and plied our trade on the rock. Sadly this resulted in me fairly quickly finding out that all my muscles ached and that I was not in a ready state to climb anything on my wishlist. My attempt on Tristesse this trip was quickly ended when I found out that I wasnt even able to get into the starting position for the throw (which I caught and held on the last trip). Despite this I decided to join Omar on Noir Desir, which is a climb that I have tried in the past and completely failed to do anything on. After my experience on Tristesse I felt that it was just going to be another shut down effort, but since I didnt have a guide to check out anything else in the area, I thought it might be worth having a go (at least the conditions were good...right?)

After a few flails at the middle move up from the undercling, I found myself sticking the move on a fairly regular basis! What I learned after this though was not thrilling - apparently the following moves are really hard as well. I cant tell until I get back on it in a fit state, and actually do the boulder - but right now it feels like one of the hardest things that I think I have tried and felt that I could succeed on.

Sur Prise was an afterthought after a day up on the Isatis hill, and my strength on it reflected that. I think I need to get on it while fresh to really stand a chance of getting up that....

Finally I tried DFPePR, which I have been looking forward to giving a go for a long time as it is such a striking series of holds.
Some things that I didnt expect to be the case:
-The first move is the hardest one
- The holds are all tiny sloping crimps in the back of the break
- The heel hook is total balls

Still...I managed to do all the moves aside from the first one and linked through the 'crux' bit. Since this is fairlry burly, crimpersome and very technical climbing that I am not at all ready to be doing in my current fitness I'm fairly confident that I will be able to do this when I am back on form.