route setting what is sandbagging

Route setting – To sandbag or not to sandbag

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Route setting – To sandbag or not to sandbag

Before I even start I should explain sandbagging to readers who do not know.

Sandbagging – a route that is way harder than the stated grade. This is because the climber who established the route had intentionally or unintentionally graded it easier than it should have been. Think of it as you are climbing with a sandbag strapped on your back figuratively speaking.

Why are routes sandbagged?

There are a few reasons why routes are sandbagged be it setting routes in climbing gyms or establishing a route on natural crags.

1. The route setter is super strong

If the route setter is a climber that sends 8a-ish routes like a walk in the park, it is quite hard for him or her to tell the difference between a 6a and a 6c. A good crimp for him can be an impossible hold for us, mere mortals.

2. Body physique

Some climbers say that if you are good it doesn’t matter if a route has big moves. There isn’t such a thing as moves for tall or short climbers. It’s finding a unique way to solve the problem. But in the physical universe that we exist in. Span difference is real.

A tall route setter may set routes with moves that are well within reach for them, but for those who are both vertically and horizontally challenged “well within reach” may be many inches too far. So for tall climbers, a route may be an easy 6a but for a short climber, the same route may feel like a 6c.

3. Mystery moves and hidden holds

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Have you ever found yourself stuck on an easy route? Not because the moves are hard but because you have no idea how the route goes. No matter what you do you can’t find a way past the “crux” until someone points out a different beta or a hidden hold making the move easily doable.

4. Exposure

Your body and mind respond differently in the face of fear. A seemingly easy move can be undoable because of the exposure of the route. Or when bolts are few and far apart. Inexperienced climbers may find the route harder than it is. Hence routes may seem under-graded in such situations. However, exposure and fear should not be a factor when grading a route.

5. Climbers’ ego or a lack of

This was made known to be a fact by the great man himself Adam Ondra. The world’s hardest route Silence, established and sent by him. Adam Ondra graded Silence 9c after a lengthy consideration because he fears other climbers might climb the route and downgrade it which would be embarrassing and he does not want that to happen.

Even a climber of Adam Ondra’s calibre fears his route being downgraded by others. This is not unique as most route setters tend to under-grade routes they set. No route setter wants climbers to say their route is easier than its grade. This is why most gym routes are graded through consensus by a group of route setters.

Why do grades vary from place to place?

The difficulty of routes in a gym or an outdoor crag will attract climbers of different skill levels. Therefore gyms with many easy routes will attract more climbers who are less experienced or climb at an entry level because it is less intimidating. Whereas, gyms with sandbagged routes will attract stronger and more experienced climbers.

So how routes are graded can also be attributed to the type of climbers the gym wants to attract.

Is sandbagging good?

This is a loaded question, different climbers will have very contrasting views. First of all climbing grades are subjective. So for those with a strong opinion about sandbagging feel free to comment at the end of the article.

Let’s look at it this way. If you score straight As for your school exam because your questions are significantly easier than those of other schools that doesn’t mean you are smarter. Yes, it makes you feel good. But you’ll lose that feeling very fast when you take exams elsewhere. So if you are too used to over-graded or “accurately” (there is no such thing) graded routes you will find it difficult to climb at places where routes are sandbagged. However, things will be very different if it is the other way around.

setting routes
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I am not advocating for crazy and ridiculous sandbagged gradings. But I do think that slight to moderate sandbagging is good and necessary. Making things feel easy does not make us better. So how do you know if a route is sandbagged or you have been living in a climbing grade bubble at the gym you frequent? When you show up at a new gym or crag and can’t send grades you would have normally sent with ease. Whereas, everyone around you can walk up the same routes effortlessly. This is how you know you have been in a climbing grade bubble.

Sandbagging is a good way to put you in your place. Just when you thought you were good…. but you are not. I too know the feeling. After working for months on a project, I finally sent it but was told the route should be 2 grades lower by other climbers.

How to Sandbag the correct way

Be it you are setting or trying out a new route. You should always give the route the lowest possible grade. Get other climbers of different skill levels to try and go through a few rounds of debate on the correct grade. And the lowest suggested grade will be the correct one.

Adam Ondra’s take on climbing grades

Poll – Sandbagging what’s your take

So do you think that sandbagging route is a good practice? Let us know your opinion by leaving a comment.

Share with your friends and find out what they think of sandbagging.

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