Home > 2013, Beta, Grades > What’s Up With The Grades?!

What’s Up With The Grades?!

This is the Now*

The Spot Bouldering Gym Spot Scale to V Scale Chart

*Please take with one grain of salt. There really is no direct correlation, we judge based on factors like hold size, move size, and move difficulty, group consensus, and our past experiences.

We’ve been getting the question about our grades a little bit in the last few days, and it’s not unexpected. Since the last comp we have been trying to dial the grade scale in to where it “should” be. If you are wondering why we would do this to you, here’s what we are thinking:

We were getting a lot of comments that people were hitting the brick wall, so to speak, at a certain grade. We were also having a situation where some felt that there wasn’t much difference between 5 spots and 5+ spots. That is 2/15ths of our scale, used up in basically one grade. Similarly, the low end of the scale wasn’t getting spread out very much. While it is true that to the 4 spot climber, 1 spots, 2 spots, and maybe even 3- spots will feel the same, we are trying to spread out those lower grades so that for a 1, 2, or 3- spot climber they can fairly distinguish between difficulty and see progression. Similarly, we want to move the higher grades into more consistent levels so if you do a 5+ spot you know you’re climbing really really hard! We’d like there to be a more visible progression between 3-, 3, 3+, 4-, 4, 4+, 5-, 5, and 5+. Remember, if you are climbing a lot harder than a grade set it may be difficult to distinguish why a 3+ is easier than a 4-, but if you are projecting 4- it may be very very obvious when a crimp is a bit too small or a move a bit too large for the problem to be 3+.

The problem with any grade scale is that different problems of the same grade can feel completely different. Let’s take an example my friend Rocco recently shared when we were talking about grades in Hueco. In the East Spur Maze, which is a very popular and well traveled area, there are 3 classic V5 problems: Jingus Bells, Jigsaw Puzzle, and Slim Pickins.


Slim Pickins is a technical smear slab with imaginary holds.


Even Boone Speed looks gripped


Jingus Bells Hueco

You start way down left at ground level, climb up, climb right, climb up more, and then dyno for the lip!

Jingus Bells is a route-length problem on a huge slightly-overhanging boulder through fairly decent holds with a large dyno at the top.


Jigsaw Puzzle Hueco

Start on the far right, move left and up through the puzzle pieces to a mantle at the sideways lip.

Jigsaw Puzzle is a fairly beta-intensive sideways climb through incut edges on an shortish overhanging face.


Most people who top out anywhere near V5 (or V6, 7, 8, or more!) cannot do all 3 of these problems, but most people in that ability range can do at least one. I, for example, did Slim Pickins on my first trip to Hueco. I did Jigsaw Puzzle two years ago (and I still maintain the beta is to try like it’s V8 instead of V5). I will probably never do Jingus Bells, as the dyno is big and very scary for me. Other friends I know have had the opposite experience. Jingus Bells is pretty straightforward, so if you can dyno you can pull through it without much in the way of beta. Slim Pickins is very beta intensive. Jigsaw is a mix depending on how strong and how lucky you are. The styles are completely different. But they are all considered the same grade.

With that in mind, consider that different problems of the same “grade” at The Spot will not always feel the same. That does not mean we’re big jerk idiots. It means there are many factors, and it may be your inexperience with a certain move/hold/type of climbing, it may be beta you haven’t figured out yet, we may have misestimated the difficulty of a certain move or hold, something could have spun, you could be tired (or, if you flash harder than you think you should, you could be having a super good day), etc etc… The point of grades is to give you a base guideline so you have an idea of what you should be warming up on, what you should be trying, and how you are progressing; however, they are not perfect, and please know that we really are trying hard to make things as consistent as we can so you can have a good time and push yourself at The Spot.

As always, with questions or feedback please email us at routesetting@thespotgym.com


Categories: 2013, Beta, Grades
  1. Ivan Rezucha
    February 11, 2013 at 11:48 am


    It’s great to hear that The Spot is giving thought and care to the grades.

    It should be obvious that grading across types of routes, e.g., very steep, slopey, technical, will not feel consistent to any single climber, but grades within a type of route can be consistent. And, a climber climbing at a given grade, should be able to distinguish most of the time between the slightly easier and slightly harder grades.

    But note that outside, very often a “+” will be harder than the next higher “-“. A serious example of this is Eldo 9+ which is often way harder than 10a. (But there are historical reasons for this.)

    I can often onsight 4- routes if they are slightly overhanging or less, but I sometimes struggle on the very steep 2+ routes due to, I think, bad hand strength. And forget the big slopers!

    One downside of the grading changes is that the next time I’m there, I’ll either be “better” or “worse” than before, and either by falsely happy or falsely depressed.


  2. Jackie
    February 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Ivan!

    Thankfully I’ve warned you so you hopefully will NOT be depressed. : )


  3. February 12, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Nice post, Jackie! As a setter at another front range gym, i know where you’re coming from. One thing I’ve noticed is there are a lot of people that just climb in the gym these days that maybe don’t have the experience outside where you would/could learn the subtle nuances of how style affects things. it’s amazing how the variety can change within an area, let alone amongst several areas. Is it our job as setters to educate about all this? Seems daunting…

  4. Jackie
    February 16, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Honestly I think it’s almost nicer to have no known correlation between outdoor grades and gym grades. That way the gym experience is fun, and when you go outside you will hopefully be pleasantly surprised by what you climb instead of upset and disappointed at either the outdoor grades or the grades back in the gym after you climbed a certain grade outside. It’s just supposed to be for fun and fitness anyways, right? Doesn’t solve the different styles within the gym problem though…

  5. Paul Puhr
    February 19, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    I can understand some of the grading quandary that you face. Did you spend any energy getting input from the climbers themselves? A couple of other choices that you could have gone with, maybe you even considered them:

    1) Leave the existing grades exactly as they were and just add more spots on the high end. This would have the benefit of not confusing everyone, as they could continue climbing the same grades that they always had.
    2) Just give the routes their true bouldering “V?” rating and get rid of the spots. I know it is a “branding thing” at this point but there is a lot of virtue in just calling it what it is.


    • Jackie
      February 20, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      Hi Paul

      We did consider adding more spots at the top end, but in the end we decided against it.

      The important thing to note here is that we did not so much change the “V” value of any of the spots 4+ and down, rather, we dialed them in to what they were intended to be all along. i.e. 4+ spot was always supposed to correspond to V6, 4 spot to V5, 4- to V4, etc… We had gotten a bit soft and we were hearing from many customers who reached out to us that they felt the lower grades did not get enough attention or separation. We are simply trying to give those grades more attention and also to dial them in so there really is a difference between 3 spot and 3- or 2+ spot and 2 spot, just as there is a difference between V2, V1, and V0, and within that, differences between V0 and hard V0. As you probably know, in places like Yosemite there are V0s and V1s that may be nearly impossible for climbers of any ability. That is how the V system works, it does get regionally specific, some grades do depend on style and abilities and the locals, and that is part of the reason we have tried to have our own system at The Spot–so folks can have fun climbing without getting wrapped up in why a certain Spot problem is or is not as hard as an outdoor problem of a corresponding grade.

      The change in the scale is that 5- now encompasses V7 and V8 instead of just V7; 5 spot is now V9/V10 (instead of V8) and 5+ is now V11 and up, i.e. really, really hard. In this way we can again avoid the specificity of, say, V8 and V9 while offering climbers of the approximately 5- ability room to work problems in that range without getting too hung up on whether it is V8 (like The Egg? or Stegosaur?!). Same for 5 spot and 5+ spot.

      We hope everyone will enjoy the new system as soon as they get used to it. From the feedback we’ve gotten so far, everyone seems to be adjusting nicely and relishing the opportunity to challenge themselves.


  6. March 29, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Although a blow to the ego, I do appreciate the greater attention to rating the problems around my level of climbing.. which was a 4 spot but now some 3+ problems make me think. Once I through out my ego issues, its great to have a more precise and diverse rating system.

    • Jackie
      March 29, 2013 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks Ben! We’re trying our best to make things fun and interesting for climbers of all levels at The Spot. : )

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