A community perspective on climbing grades

April 24, 2024 4 min read

A community perspective on climbing grades

Soft. Reachy. Friction dependent. V2 in my gym.

Comments we've all heard at one time or another in the grade debate.

Sometimes it's fun to jump in on these conversations with our climbing partners, and other times it's...well...just plain hurtful to ourselves and those around us.

Can you relate?

Keep scrolling to read a few Dynamite Starfish community perspectives on climbing grades shared during our weekly Climber Question series.

It’s kinda like checking your body weight on a scale

This analogy from Corey and Ahna Porter resonated with many climbers from the DS community and is especially relatable if you're into exercising outdoors during the summer months.

When it's hot our bodies need to consume and retain more liquid to stay cool and hydrated. This can translate to a higher number on your scale. However, skipping out on those liquids results in feeling tired and sluggish!

Next time you find yourself fixating on climbing grades, remind yourself:

"They’re helpful to keep track of your overall progress but obsessing over the numbers never does any good!" @evolutionboulders

(Photos courtesy of @porter__evolution and @ahnarose_p)

Use them, don't get hung up on them

These days I mostly boulder outdoors and I'm wholeheartedly OK with the fact that I'll never be a pro climber. Most folks who know me would probably say I'd be the last person to join an argument, and I rarely talk numbers on social media.

But...I'd also be lying if I said grades never affected my way of thinking.

A few years ago, I found myself on top of a boulder after 25ish sessions of work 
— a problem that had seen ascents from the likes of Dave Graham and Spanish legend Nacho Sanchez. Perhaps even more special was sharing the moment when one of my closest friends sent the boulder too! 

Unlike me going for a match finish on the final jug like most previous ascensionists, my friend opted to top out through sketchy no-fall terrain. When he shared his thoughts that it warranted a downgrade, I couldn't help but feel broken inside.

Instead of feeling proud, I questioned my accomplishment. Was my ascent valid since I didn't top out? Does a more experienced climber automatically set the new consensus? Did our 6+ inches difference in wingspan really affect the difficulty?

Luckily these thoughts didn't last long, but it was a powerful lesson in understanding that grades....are just grades. 

If you've ever felt this way, it's OK! Use the grade, know that your opinion counts too, and most importantly Keep Climbing!

(Photo courtesy of @rcallard83 and @smrusso710)

More stars = more hard

But wait! I saw 13247 videos of this mega-polished climb before getting to the crag, and the guidebook says it's a 5-star classic. It has to be good!

Errr...says who?

Reality check. Guidebook authors are people with opinions too. Maybe they single-handedly bolted that 4-star off-width route or have a strange sense of humor in sandbagging warm-ups to deter visitors from coming back (true story).

Remember that climbs that become postcard symbols of an area also change over time. Factors like polished feet, broken holds, or rock erosion can greatly affect difficulty.

There's no obligation to do a climb just because everyone else says it's great. Pick what gets you STOKED and go for it! 

Nervous to try something 'harder' than your max redpoint grade? Check out these two perspectives:

"Don’t think you need to send everything at a certain grade before moving up or you’ll get stuck at that grade!" @erendeavor

'I think they're a useful shorthand, but every new grade I've cracked has usually been before gyms put their grades up...I try harder on things that 'look doable' if I don't see that it's 'too hard' @stviers

(Photo courtesy of Nicholas K.)

Arguing about grades is one of the stupid joys of climbing

Climbing grades are the weird place that sits between extreme subjectivity and popular consensus. It's where ego, humor, and mean-spiritedness come into play with potentially real consequences for assumptions about them.

"They’re ultimately ridiculous, but so is the whole sport. And like anything in climbing, they’re only useful given a larger context: Who put up the climb? What’s their reputation? What kind of rock is it? Where is it?" @michaeljustinmoynihan

Remember that we climb because we love to

It recently dawned on me that I'm nearing my 10-year anniversary with my first visit to the climbing gym. Uhh...like where did the time go?

I certainly couldn't tell you the gritty details from the 1000s of climbs I've done, but there is one thing that stands out: 

Choosing a line solely because of its grade almost always leads to disappointment.

Quick send = not challenging enough. Takes too long = a suffer-fest of emotions. Can't do it at all = self-doubt in ability. Rad pics on IG = meh in real life. The list goes on and on.

"The key is to remember that we climb because we love to. No matter the grade, if you truly enjoy this sport then it shouldn’t matter what it is. If you want to level up and get that higher grade you’re working toward, great!! Let's freaking go!!! But also it’s cool to just hang out, climb something that inspires you, and move your body in a way that feels good! ❤️🫶😌" @emilyclimbsrocks

(Photo of Emily courtesy of @stivwho) 

Numbers ain’t got no soul!

Remember my little anecdote from earlier?

By the next weekend, my friend and I were off trying some other boulder together. Our friendship was exactly the same. Nobody magically changed their opinion of either of us. There was no apocalyptic end of the world. Life moved on.

At the end of the day, it's the folks in your climbing community who have feelings — not the grades attached to climbs.

(Quote by John 'Verm' Sherman was shared by @forever_v3 in the photo) 

How about you? What's your perspective on grades in rock climbing?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. We'd love to hear from you!

Psst…Our tees are a great conversation starter!

With so many styles, we know you’ll be the climber having the most fun at the crag.


Alex Tighe
Alex Tighe

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