Climbing Grades – Useful guidance or mental stumbling block?

In this blog I will discuss different grading systems and how we grade the routes and problems at Alter Rock. Then think whether grades get in the way of your enjoyment of a climb and can act as a mental block. At the end of the day grades are only there as a guideline and you should enjoy your climbing regardless of what grade you are attempting.

This is a very emotive subject. Most of us, but not all, like chasing grades because we want to be seen as hard climbers and that we can hold our own when we are asked what grade we climb at.

Grades are very complicated, with different countries having their own grading systems which they then try and compare with each others systems. But for indoor climbing generally the French/Spanish sport climbing grading system is used.

At Alter Rock we have decided to use a simple tagging system for the bouldering grades, Very Easy, Easy, Hard and Very Hard. This can be crossed over into V grades.

In the outdoor world famous climbs get repeated by many climbers who have an input on what grade it should be compared to other established climbs. This can take many months to achieve a consensus or even years. Indoors the setter sets the route with an idea what sort of grade he is trying to achieve, tests it once on a top rope gives it a grade and walks away leaving it for the customers to try. Routes generally stay set at Alter Rock between 12 to 16 weeks before they are removed and replaced. This makes the argument about what grade it is a bit pointless as it is not there forever.

bouldering wall with numbers-1

Grades are there to ensure you have a nice time and from an outdoor point of view to ensure you do not end up in a position that may potentially hurt you or even worse.

Grades do have a physiological  effect on the climber. Often we look at the grade and think or even say “I can’t climb that it’s too hard”. And that’s it we don’t even try, and if we do its a half-hearted attempted because we have already told ourselves we can’t do it.

All climbers have different abilities and different styles of climbing because they choose to climb different routes on different rock, cracks, overhangs, short routes, long routes, grit, sandstone, limestone, slate, sport and trad, the list is endless and because Alter Rock  uses a variety of setters there is always a variety of climbs and along with it a variety of grade which may not be consistent.

The only way to have grading consistent throughout the centre is to have 1 person climb them all, but 1 person’s 6a could be another person’s 6b or 5+. They could be tall or short, on form or not on form. The route could be set in the really nice crimps they like or with the horrible rounded holds they don’t like, or it could be on the slab where friction and balance are key or through the stepped over hang where big powerful arms are required.

And there’s the problem; we are all different.

Perhaps the next time you do a climb that you think should have been easy for you perhaps just reflect, maybe you are tired, did you miss that secret hold around the corner, is it because you don’t like those holds and likewise when you climb something that’s graded really hard and you make easy work just accept that you are having a good day and really you are a good climber when all the dice are stacked in your favour.

The grade is only someones opinion and likewise you can have your opinion. In any case the grade won’t be far out, hopefully. Above all what ever you are climbing enjoy it regardless of its grade.

A guide to climbing shoes

Climbing relies on good footwork and good footwork relies on good shoes. There is a lot of technology involved in climbing shoe manufacture to aid your climbing experience. The top climbing shoe manufacturers use a variety of quality rubbers, no rubber is better than any other, but the rubbers used have different properties which operate better at different temperatures. The main thing is to keep the rubber soles of your shoes clean, this will keep them sticky.

How long should climbing shoes last?

Some rubbers are soft. This means they will wear quicker, but poor footwork will wear your shoes very quickly. I go through a pair a year using them about 3 times a week, but like anything, the more you use it the more wear it gets. With age, all rubbers will loose their properties, they become hard and inflexible and they won’t stick.

It is not only the sole that wears. Over time the uppers loose their strength and the shoe does not support your foot as well so there is less power generated through your feet.

Do climbing shoes have to hurt?

Your shoes should not be painful to wear, they might be tight, they might pinch, but they should not HURT. There are more than 5 well known brands of climbing shoe distributed throughout the UK, for example Boreal, Scarpa, Evolv, Spotiva and Tenaya. These brands between them probably produce 50 styles of climbing shoe. The game is to find the shoe that fits your foot like a slipper. From all these shoes I have only found 2 styles, which are from 2 different manufacturers, that fit me. If the shoe hurts it is the wrong style for you.

The importance of getting a good fit

Shoe type is dictated by the style of climbing; rock type, steepness, time wearing the shoe, indoor or out, bouldering or routes, but no matter what style of climbing you are doing the main thing with your shoe is that it is comfortable and this is achieved by making sure it fits correctly.

  • Heel – No baggy spots.
  • Arch – Flat or raised arch, it shouldn’t squelch.
  • Toe – Mortons toe (2nd toe longer than big toe)
  • Toe box – No air gaps
  • Foot – Symmetric (big toe bends inwards to other toes) or
  • Asymmetric (big toe is inline with side of foot)

Female fit shoes – not just for girls

If it is called a female specific shoe and it fits – just wear it. Don’t be gender specific about your feet, female specific shoes have a slightly different cut. There are no male specific shoes, the rest are unisex.

Don’t get too bogged down with shoes. There are climbers wearing trainers that climb better than me, but a climbing shoe that is personal to you and not rented, will give you a better experience whilst climbing. Happy Feet, Happy Climbing.

An A-Z of Indoor Climbing Terms

Here’s our A to Z of Indoor Climbing Terms

Do you know your jugs from your crimps, your clip from your crux or your dyno from your static move? If you’re not sure read our glossary of commonly used climbing terms  below, and you’ll soon be an expert in the jargon.

A

Arete – an edge where two walls meet sticking out.

B

Belay – device used to control the rope by the belayer.

Belayer – the person who looks after the climber ensuring they never fall to the ground.

Beta –  specific information about the route, hand & foot placements

Bolt/sport climbing – plates fitted to allow a climber to clip their rope into

Bouldering – climbing to a low level usually above mats (see High Ball Bouldering)

Bridging – where your left foot and hand are on 1 wall of a corner and your right foot and hand are on the other wall of a corner.

C

Climbing – ascending something with a rope.

Clip – extender, the bit you clip the rope into on your way up.

Corner – where there is a change in the wall direction making an internal corner.

Crab – see Karabiner

Crimp – small hold.

Crux – Latin word meaning cross, is the hard bit of a route.

D

Disco knee – when your legs are shaking for no reason when you are trying to stand on holds (also known as Shaking Stevens)

Dyno – a dynamic move meaning that you are jumping for your next hold so you have no point of contact on the holds

E

Edges –  in cut or some what positive footholds that lend themselves to accurate foot placements.

Extreme – an outdoor climbing grade starting at E1

Egyptian – or drop knee twisting action of foot and leg to pull the body into the wall by dropping your inside knee.

F

Flash – To send, or complete, a pitch on your first try with the help of some beta

Free Climbing – placing gear to prevent the climber hitting the ground

G

Guppy – a protruding hold that is squeezed between the palm and the fingers so that the hand forms a cup.

H

Heel/toe hook – using the heel or toe around a hold

High Ball Bouldering – like soloing but not so high, but higher than bouldering, usually above mats.

Holds – the coloured blobs that we hold onto and put our feet on.

I

Inside Edge – the area from your big toe down is the inside edge of your climbing shoe.

Italian Hitch – Knot used to belay or abseil. Also known as a Münter hitch. Recommended when you have dropped your Sticht plate down the crag. Not recommended for multiple abseils as it twists the rope.

J

Jamming – a technique used for climbing a crack where you jam your feet and hands in it

Jug – very large hold.

K

Karabiner – metal loop used for joining bits of climbing equipment, or crab for short.

Knee bar –  is where a leg “hold” is created by camming your knee/lower thigh up under some blocky, cracky, or roofy feature in opposition to your foot.

L

Layback – a technique used for crack climbing by leaning away.

Lower off – the final clip at the top of the route which you put the rope into to be lowered off.

M

Mantel shelf – coming from the piece above the fire place. Having hands on the shelf  then straighten the arms to then bring a foot up and match with the hands and then stand up.

Matching – using a hold with both hands or even a hand and foot

N

No hands rest – when you are balanced on your feet and you can release your hands.

O

Onsight – means to walk up to a route and send it first try, having never seen anyone on it or being told any beta. (Beta – route knowledge, Flash – having beta)

Overhang – climbing surface that leans towards you. (see stepped overhang)

P

Problem – bouldering line

Pumped – when your forearm muscles become solid through the effort of holding on

Q

Quickdraw – Two snap-gate karabiners linked by a short sling equals one quickdraw. Used to connect protection to the rope when leading a traditional route, or to clip bolts when sport climbing.

R

Redpoint – Leading a sport route after inspecting it, and maybe after practising individual moves, or simply any sport lead where moves have been done before (in the event of a fall).

Route – the line which the climb follows

S

Shaking Stevens – see Disco knee

Slab – climbing surfaces that leans away from you.

Sloper – smooth slopping hold

Smear – with hands or feet where the climber pushes against a surface where there is no hold or the hold is very slopey.

Soloing – climbing without ropes

Static move – where you go to your next hold in control while maintaining 3 points of contact.

Stepped overhang – like the underside of a staircase, it overhangs with the occasional step.

Stickies – climbing shoes, boots or EB’s

T

Thumb sprag – usually on an arete where the fingers are on one side and the thumb wrapped around a hold on the other

Traversing – high or low level moving left to right rather than up

U

Under cut – a hold that is good at the bottom and as you move up it is really positive

V

Vertical – climbing surface that is vertical.

Volume – an added section which is temporary and acts as an obstacle to be climbed around or over.

W

Wired – to have a route “wired” means to have its moves completely figured out, usually through practice or by watching someone else on it.

Whipper – taking a long fall

X

Y

Yo-Yo – to climb a route in a style where, if you fall off, you return to the ground, leaving all your protection in place and then start climbing again after a rest. The yo-yo refers to the repeated up and down movement of the climber who falls off more than once on a hard move. A common style of ascent in the 1970s and early 1980s, before the preferred style became redpointing.

Z

Zone – to be “in the zone” is to be in THE perfect mental state for climbing.

We couldn’t think of any climbing terms beginning with x. If you can, please email and we’ll include them in the list.

Thanks to Chris Bate and Charles Arthur for some of the terms, see this article.

Setting the Scene at Alter Rock

Alter Rock’s Changing sets: Part 2

Making the Most of Your Climbing Facility

Setting the Scene at Alter Rock

There is a regular pattern of setting at Alter Rock. To make the most out of this and to ensure you do not miss out you could follow this routine.

1. When I know a reset is about to happen I climb the lines that are going to get stripped. This information is on the setting board or on the Settings page of this website.

2. A week later I will re-climb the same lines, but now on new routes. Delighting in the new moves and working the new sequences, being introduced to some new challenges, which will make some of them my new favourite routes.

3. The next week and maybe also the week after that I will climb my favourite routes, being relaxed on comfortable moves and pulling hard to make the crux moves. Then its time for another new set and I will climb the routes that are about to be stripped and the cycle continues.

For me I climb every Tuesday with a regular partner. This works well as we don’t want to let each other down so we always turn up.

Then I boulder on a Wednesday just after a new set of numbered boulder problems along with the previous set that now have the grade tags on them.

Bouldering is more intense than climbing so its a very quick session, maybe an hour. Climbing is less tiring as you tend to rest while your partner climbs.

I complete the weekly wall session with another session of bouldering on a Sunday doing a relaxed session on the traverse wall, traverses and a mix of my favourite problems.

To compliment all of this wall climbing I do use a finger training board at home. This is about 30 minutes, a Wednesday or Thursday evening and a Friday. The simple rule with this is never do finger training the day before you intend climbing.

As the saying goes “practice makes perfect”. If you climb regularly you will get stronger, fitter, better balance, improve technique and confidence will increase which all adds up to greater enjoyment. And that’s the key, what ever you do or however you do it, make sure you enjoy it and enjoy the company of the people you are with.

Happy Climbing.

Garry Jackson

Director, Alter Rock

Making the Most of Alter Rock’s Changing Sets: Part 1

How To Choose what routes to climb

By Garry Jackson
There is a regular pattern of setting at Alter Rock. To make the most out of this and to ensure you do not miss out you could follow this routine.
When I know a reset is about to happen, roughly about every 3 weeks, I climb the lines that are going to get stripped. This information is on the setting board in the centre and on this page, Setting the Scene.
A week later I will re-climb the same lines, but now on the newly set routes. Delighting in the new moves and working the new sequences, being introduced to some new challenges, which will become some of my new favourite routes.
smiley hold
The following week and maybe also the week after, I will climb my favourite routes throughout the centre, being relaxed on comfortable moves and pulling hard to make the crux moves. Then its time for another new set so I will climb the routes that are about to be stripped and the cycle continues.
For me I climb every Tuesday with a regular partner. This works well as we don’t want to let each other down so we always turn up.