The Great Grade Debate

In a great post (a.k.a. self proclaimed “rant”)  by, author BJ Sbarra identifies the frustrating practice of identifying routes by their grade rather than their name. . . I love the points and completely agree!

I wanted to combine the argument with another that I had heard recently (I apologize to the author as I can’t recall where the post was) with regard to caring more about the number of “stars” than the grade.  To build upon both of these points, I wanted to pull out some of my archives from a long ago trip to Joe’s Valley, UT.

I still remember the name of my favorite bouldering route at Joe’s Valley. . .Self Service,  a V4 climb that I greatly enjoyed.  It was a fun route with some neat moves.  I recall the climb vividly, even two kids and eightyears later.  You just can’t forget something like that.  So yes, I’m a firm believer that the best climbs are great because they have cool moves and a nice line and that rating doesn’t matter so much.  Still, it didn’t hurt that I was climbing at my technical/strength limit on that route and that I enjoyed the challenge.

The grade of the route and the quality of the route are only a few of the measurements that we can use to judge a climb.  These don’t account for routes that summit with a fantastic view at the top, or the beautiful scenery/image you can capture in a photo of someone climbing the route.  A classic example, this climb in Joe’s Valley.  If I recall correctly, the route was not much to write home about, but it sure made a great photo op!

What other qualities do people use to judge or measure a climb? And by “measure” let’s not be constrained by quantifiable measurements. . .Safety? Good Fall? Great protection? Does aesthetic count? What about quality of the rock?

Back to ratings. . . My personal experience has shown that I care less about the rating of a climb when I’m climbing with less time and/or added distractions (kids).  I quickly find myself focusing primarily on the routes with 3 or more stars.  I’d equate it to the inside trick college students learn – that it is not about the topic of the course so much as the quality of the professor.  In my experience, just as you should pick classes based on the professor teaching them, it’s usually a win to pick climbs based on the number of stars. Obvious to some, but a difficult thing to completely “get” as there seems to be a smaller ratio of “classic” climbs at the lower grades.  There aren’t many four star 5.7 or 5.8 climbs as compared to the total number of climbs at that grade.  It may just be something that takes experience (and a stronger climber) to truly appreciate.  After all, it took me a few semesters of college before I picked up on the professor trick.

New River Gorge with Kids

New River Gorge Climbing Trip We finally made our way back to the New River Gorge in West Virginia for a weekend of climbing.  It has been years (pre kids) since we had been to this area as it seemed to be a bit less kid friendly than other areas that we had been to.  Our app was showing predictions of snow on Friday night - and it wasn't far off.  The drive took us eons, especially in the Appalachians with the travel trailer.  We … [Read More...]

Hiking in a Creek

Have you ever started out on a day hike with children only to have it turn into something completely different that what you planned?  Ha. Of course you have. Many of our adventures start out as one thing ("I want to climb X route" or "sleep at X campground". . . "I want to relax in a tube on the water", or "I want to sleep in the sand") and end up as something completely different ("The route had a group staked out on it for the day" or "I couldn't … [Read More...]

Climbing Gym Etiquette With Kids

Tips for taking kids to the climbing gym. There are few things more troublesome than going to a new place and not knowing the spoken and unspoken rules.  Add to the uncertainty the presence of children, and it can be quite intimidating to enter into unknown territory.   For those new to indoor climbing and/or new to indoor climbing with kids, here are a few tips for bringing your kids to the gym. Those that know me will laugh at the irony. . . My … [Read More...]

Stand Up Paddleboarding

The best rock climbing areas tend to be located in or near wilderness, national parks, mountains, and forests.  There are exceptions, of course!  Still, when we took a family trip to the jersey shore this summer, there was no rock to be found.  As usual, my husband and I sought out something both "active" and "family friendly" to try with the kids. Surfing, Kite Surfing, Kayaking Ryan has wanted to try surfing for years, but that's a solo endeavor, as … [Read More...]

The Mount Rushmore Dilemma

Visiting Mount Rushmore with Kids Our summer trip to Wyoming and South Dakota was amazing.  We combined climbing with family time, history, geography, science and more.  When we planned the trip, climbing was the main focus, but hitting some of the National Parks and National Monuments were also a must.  Mount Rushmore is one of those locations that combines both.  There are amazing climbing opportunities in the shadow of the National Monument.  There are … [Read More...]

About Laura Boniello Miller

Laura Miller is a internet marketing professional and a mother of two. Her interests include sport climbing, bouldering, reading, traveling, and spending time with her family. She believes that playing outdoors is integral to health and well being, and that if your kids aren't dirty, they haven't had enough fun.


  1. Great points, last summer we ran into some visiting Australians and they said they were "collecting stars." They didn't care so much how hard it was versus how quality the climbing was, since they had limited time in the states. Many of the parents I know feels this way also, with only so much time to spare, they are only looking to climb the good stuff.

  2. Climbing Mom says:

    Thanks BJ – It also may be because I don't have quite as much endurance now . . can't waste my energy on the crap climbs – have to go straight to the good stuff before I pump out :) Gotta get back to training!!