The importance of 4b

By Gaynor.

Pushing yourself to the limit and reaching beyond what you thought possible, striving to achieve new milestones.  These are challenges that inspire and motivate us as climbers.  But if all our climbing was like that we would never be able to warm up and we would burn out quickly, both in our daily climbing sessions and over the course of a season. Whilst striving to meet a challenge gives a huge amount of satisfaction, there is also plenty of enjoyment to be had from climbing well within one’s ability.  Whether it is slowly warming up and stretching out your muscles on a favourite line when you first arrive at the crag, or simply doing a route because it looks good and enjoying the movement and flow on it.

For me, having the opportunity to climb without being scared allows me to connect with my body, to listen to how my body feels, and to enjoy the flow of the movement.  Reaching for a high hold and feeling the stretch down one side of me, knowing that my feet are firmly anchored on a ledge. Stepping my foot high and rocking onto it, consciously making sure I rock all the way over, feeling the pressure change across the ball of my foot and onto my toes, knowing that my hands are on big jugs and my foot is not going anywhere.  This doesn’t challenge me, but it allows me to relax, it enables me to take stock of my technique, and to get reacquainted with how the moves should feel.  It enables me to lay the groundwork so I am better equipped for when I get onto harder routes.

After a 3 month trip climbing around Europe, the grade at which I climb has definitely jumped up a couple of notches. But it was only 18 months ago when I was regularly falling off 6a sport climbs. When 6a is your limit, then 5’s can also feel quite tough, which really doesn’t leave many options for climbing within yourself.  Add on to that the fact that many “easy” routes are quite sparsely bolted, it can make leading 5’s quite a scary prospect.  So I was thrilled when I discovered the brand new lines that had been put up at our local sport climbing crag, Stanhope Quarries in County Durham.  Up a lovely wall through an interesting groove were two 4b routes with bolts every 2 metres.  These were interesting climbs which still required technique, but were so densely bolted that there wasn’t an opportunity to be scared.  They are the sort of routes that enable climbers who max out at 6a to warm up properly, and to be able to climb within their ability. They are also the sort of routes that enable those who are learning to lead to practise techniques in relative safety.

I have always assumed that most climbers climb higher grades than me. This is primarily because I started climbing when Jonathan had already been climbing for 20 years, so the people I interacted with were all very experienced and good climbers.  I was the only one falling off the warm up routes.  However, looking at the UK Climbing public logbook in the last 5 years the average sport grade climbed was 6a+, and the average trad grade was MVS. This puts my personal climbing statistics slap bang in the middle.  I am an average climber.  So although I am surrounded by people looking for the 7a’s and 7b’s to push themselves, there are an equal number of people looking for the 5’s and even the 4’s to warm up properly and to be able to climb within their limits.

UKC Public Logbook statistics
My logbook statistics

So I would like to applaud route setters and crag developers around the world (who are no doubt above average climbers), for taking the time to bolt routes that are graded 4 and 5. It allows those of us at the lower end of the curve to enjoy a day out climbing with the full range of choice from easy to hard within our personal grade spectrum. Thank you.

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