What We Learned From Our Routesetting Survey

 Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli

Photo by Lorraine Ciccarelli

Last month, we put together a Routesetting Survey and sent it out to all LIC members. Comments like “too reachy” or “sandbagged” get thrown around the gym all the time, but we wanted a way to address those concerns and get some solid insight into our members’ experiences. Routesetting is an imperfect art—it’s a labor-intensive job that requires constant creativity, climbing ability in all styles, and an end-product that serves everyone: from beginner to experienced, child to adult, tall to small.

First off, we owe a huge thank you to everyone who participated in the survey—almost 800 of you! At The Cliffs, our goal is to provide you with the best climbing experience possible, and we’re always looking for ways to improve. All of the feedback we got was thoughtful and constructive (and for everyone who told us to keep up the good work, we appreciate you!). Here are a few things from the survey that stood out, and an overview of the changes we’re making as a result.

 Photo by Sasha Turrentine

Photo by Sasha Turrentine

Consistency of Grading

While you improve as a climber, grades can act as milestones of achievement, and it can be frustrating if the difficulty within or between grades fluctuates. We all know grading is subjective and that factors such as height and body type play a big role in how easy or hard a climb may feel. Regardless, it’s important for there to be consistency of grading in your home gym so you can track your progress.

Moving forward, we will be working with a climbing app to implement consensus grading across the gym: the routesetters will offer a suggested grade, and climbers will be able to vote on a grade through the app once they’ve completed the climb. By shifting to consensus grading, the community as a whole will be able to self-regulate the consistency of grades. You can decide if that climb feels like 5.10, or if you’d rather not, you can rely on the consensus of your peers for a fair judgment.

 Photo by Joshua Pestka

Photo by Joshua Pestka

Bouldering Grades + Route Grades

Last year, we announced that we’d be removing grades from the bouldering walls and placing them off to the side on grade sheets. Around the same time, we moved away from grading rope climbs with the YDS a/b/c/d system and started using a more informal +/-. Our goal in doing this was to stress that grading is and will always be subjective, and to place the importance on the quality of the climb over the number/letter attached to it.

After going through responses from the survey, we’ve decided to return boulder grades to the walls, as well as a/b/c/d grades to the routes. At the time of the set, the routesetters will offer a suggested grade and climbers will be able to vote on a grade through the app once they’ve completed the climb. For rope climbs, the setters’ suggested grade will be posted on the route at the time of the set and will be adjusted accordingly if the consensus grade is significantly different. For boulders, grades will not be posted for the first week of a new set (though the suggested grade will be available on the app), after which the climb will be marked with the consensus grade.

We hope these adjustments will maintain the positive outcomes of removing the grades from the walls while adding back the convenience of having grades right in front of you. This is also a reflection of how outdoor climbing ethics handle grades. The first-ascensionist (in this case, the setter) will propose a grade, and as more climbers tick it, alternate grades may be proposed until a consensus grade is reached.

 Photo by Sasha Turrentine

Photo by Sasha Turrentine

Accessibility

In the survey, we asked if you were satisfied with the variety of climbs in your grade range. Our goal is that every climber who walks into the gym—regardless of experience, skill level, or body type—can find a spread of climbs that is accessible to them. You should have a reasonable number of warm-ups, on-sight climbs, and projects available - some old, some new, some in your style, and some not.

While the vast majority answered “satisfied” or “very satisfied” to this question, we also found that about double the amount of people were requesting more crimpy/static climbs versus people requesting more powerful/dynamic climbs. While not every climb will be your style, you can expect to see a few more crimpy and static lines in the gym, and our routesetting team will continue to provide you with the most fun and challenging climbs they can deliver.

 Photo by Chris Moon, missing setters Adrienne Lange and Vinny Campos

Photo by Chris Moon, missing setters Adrienne Lange and Vinny Campos

We’ve already begun to transition our practices to put these changes into effect, and we’re currently working with app developers to smooth things out so we can be ready to launch. Through the app, you will also be able to track your progress, save your favorite climbs, and engage with the gym community!

Have questions about any of this? Feel free to reach out: routesetting@thecliffsclimbing.com. And once again, a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey!