Apparently the sales of ropes have dropped off significantly from Peak District climbing shops, while at the same time, sales staff note that more and more bigger bouldering mats are being sold, and Sheffield Accident and Emergency wards have never had it so good in terms of knackered ankles.
The highball boom is upon us. More and more people are finding that gritstone routes are making for perfect highball boulder problems. Why waste time on a sit-start eliminate when you could be twenty feet up on a mythical three-star Dawes classic?
Recently, routes once considered bench-mark E6, 7 or even 8s are now being padded up and fallen off. Obviously this means that, in this style, they are no longer E8, 7 or even 6. They are scary boulder problems. But the grade is no matter, and while people can argue that this devalues the route somewhat, in essence it means that these climbs are not being top-roped before a lead, which must be a good thing.
Tom Briggs’ ascent of Moffatt’s Renegade master in 2002 was the first big example of this trend. In 2007, Adam Long highballed Angel’s Share, previously E8, after some scary falls onto pads. Recently Ned Feehally and Dan Varian did the third and fourth ascents of Ron Fawcetts’ uber-tech Toy Boy, E7 7a at Froggatt, declaring it a boulder problem. Waddage.
More will fall in this style, and while this trend is mainly being pushed at the upper levels, what happens there ultimately filters down the grades. One only has to look at the example of helmets. These were once confined purely to the first ascents of E10s, and the other day at the crag I saw one being worn on a VS! Where will it end?
BMC guidebooks have always prided themselves in being at least five years behind the times. However we currently find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of actually responding to this new trend. Over recent editions, many highball boulder problems have been given an ‘E’ grade to show that there is an extra factor. Hence there are grades such as ‘V7 (E4 6c)’.
In the new edition of Froggatt to Black Rocks, this system will be extended even further. Any routes that have been, or might well be, bouldered out, will, if possible, be given a ‘V’ grade*. In descriptions, climbs such as Toy Boy will get their traditional route grade of E7 7a, but at the end, have ‘highball V10’ added.
If they are treated like this, it means that they are not highball problems, but routes that can be highballed. Please see the attached pdf download page of Black Rocks for an example. In it you will see the E2, Golden Days. This has the supplementary grade of ‘highball V5’. Incidentally, there is also a ‘boulder problem’ – Shredded Feet, which gets V7 (E5 6c). This gets different treatment because although it finishes at the same height, if you have done the vastly-harder lower section, then the upper flake of Golden days shouldn’t cause too much hassle.
It’s all in the application. Have a look at the pdf and see if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, ask your boss to explain it.
*We still use V grades, not font grades, to avoid confusion between these and British tech grades. If you don’t like it, why not get really agitated and put your thoughts down on a website.
View highball example page
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