The Era Vella Downgrade Debate
Era Vella is a classic route at Margalef, Spain that was first climbed in 2010 by Chris Sharma who sent it as a warm-up lap.
Sharma said the route was likely a soft 5.14d (9a), but a number of climbers since have suggested it’s more like a 5.14c (8c+). Jonathan Siegrist recently sent the 45-metre route on his third try and wrote on his blog:
“I climbed Era Vella and I had a lot of fun doing it. Grades are there to offer a foundation for difficulty but the more I climb the more I realize the plasticity of grading. I could comment on how I feel that Era is easy and make a list of routes graded 8c that are much harder and blah blah blah but what I’m after is not a grade, it is an experience. So never mind all that.”
Read more about what Siegrist has to say on his blog.
On the climbing website 8a.nu, which has long been the go-to climbing source for accurate grades and route information, a debate has started as to what the route should be graded. Visit the site here.
For most of us, the difference between 8c+ and 9a is not within our grasp and one could argue, “Who cares?” But, for the climbers who’d climbed Era Vella as their first 5.14d, it could potentially be a big deal to downgrade the classic line.
The following paragraphs are a quote from Jesse Bruni’s comment on 8a.nu.
“It is quite possible that Era Vella should not be considered a 9a. Let’s look at the facts. For many, many, people, Era Vella is their first 9a. Alex Barrows, Mar Alvarez, Sasha Digulian (if you count that Pure Imagination was downgraded), Kai Lightner, and probably several others. Generally when someone breaks through into the next grade, they have little reference point of what that grade really feels like, and will often just take the topo grade. None of these people should be blamed in any way for taking a soft grade because they are simply deferring to the people like Adam Ondra and Ramon Julian who have done it and do have a good reference point.
“The counter point to this fact is that most of these people have a good reference point of what 8c+ feels like, and as Alex Barrows said, Era was harder than any 8c+ he’s done. This tells us that Era Vella is either 9a, as it currently is, or very hard 8c+.
“This seems to indicate (not prove, just indicate) that the true difficulty of Era Vella may very well be right on the cusp of 8c+ and 9a. As anyone who has sent a route that seems to be directly between two grades knows it can really feel like either depending on the conditions, how tired you feel, whether you had enough sleep the night before. I’ve personally sent routes that were graded 7b+ and felt they were 7b, but came back the next day and done them again and thought 7b+ the second day.
“Now we have to look at the people who ought to know what the 9a grade feels like, people who have done lots of 9a’s in lots of different styles and see what their opinion is. According to Jens, Sharma thought it was soft in the grade, but still 9a. Ondra sent it second try, and gave it 9a, Ramonet gave it 9a, and Siegrest said he thinks it’s soft and indicated that he didn’t think it’s 9a but didn’t actually propose a lower grade. So, of the people who know best what the 9a grade feels like, none of them actually proposed a downgrade. This can be for either one of two reasons:
1) Era Vella is 9a
2) Era Vella is very slightly easier than 9a but the difference is very small and hard to tell
“Sharma was the FA. Routes tend to feel very different for an FA than for repeaters, and generally the first ascent is the hardest for a number of reasons, not knowing the beta, not being sure if it will go or not. Often when people perform a high end first ascent they propose a grade but will publicly state that they’re not sure and that it could go either way. That’s why we wait for “grade confirmations”. So Sharma’s suggestion of soft 9a should be taken as any FA’s grade is taken: tentative and awaiting confirmation.
“For Jstar we have to bear two things in mind. The first is that this route seems to be totally his style, resistance climbing. Non stop, 5.13 moves. The second is that he’s spent the last four weeks at the old school Spanish crags and if you follow his blog you can see where he talks about how sandbagged some of these routes are. When he says that he can come up with a list of 8c’s that are harder than Era, he is likely talking about these sandbagged routes. That of course leads into a new discussion and I think maybe it’s what Jonathan was getting at in the first place. No one argues about these sandbagged 8c’s or 7b’s. Everyone knows they’re sandbagged, but no one actually upgrades them. Why is it that people are arguing about the grade of this particular 9a? Why put so much effort into narrowing down whether it’s a 9a, 8c+, or 8c+/9a? It really doesn’t matter. I think he’s pointing out the irony in the way we argue incessantly about the grades of some routes but ignore others.
“One final reason why this route my not have gotten the downgrade for so long is the fact that Sharma is the FA. Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra know more about hard climbing than just about anyone on the planet. I can think of very few routes that either one of them have established that have been downgraded, or even upgraded. And it makes sense. Who would want to be the one to essentially say “Sharma is mistaken”, especially when you know that you’re not as experienced as they are? Most would just defer to the experience of Sharma and take him at his word. Even, I suspect, Adam Ondra. If you watch any videos of Ondra it’s clear he has a ton of respect for Sharma. I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam Ondra thought this route could be 8c+ but also could be 9a, and instead of making a choice simply left the grade as what Sharma proposed out of respect. Of course that’s pure speculation, but it’s in line with what we know about him.
“So to summarize my argument: If Era Vella is not 9a, it is probably very hard 8c+. This would be in line with all those who sent it as their first 9a, it is very reasonable for them to call it 9a as it would be harder than all their other 8c+’s. It’s in line with Sharma’s FA, as the FA often has hardest time narrowing down the grade. Sharma has a lot of experience and it wouldn’t be surprising for him to hit pretty close to the mark of the true grade, and he thought it was soft in the 9a grade. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to believe that all the factors that go into doing a first ascent made it seen slightly more difficult and got it a “soft 9a” rather than “hard 8c+”. And finally, if repeaters had thought it might be hard 8c+, they would have to first propose it and have to be the one to disagree with Chris Sharma. Not only that, but they would have to actually have done a reasonable number of 9a’s to have any confidence in saying that. That second fact eliminates half the people who have done this route. And the first fact is hard to deal with as most people wouldn’t want to disagree with Sharma.
“Ultimately, none of us who have not done the route really know.We can just sit here and speculate. But honestly, I enjoy looking at facts and creating a hypothesis. I like speculating. I’m not going to dress it up and call it anything other than speculation. But I like to think it’s at least educated or directed speculation. So, for those of us who can not climb 9a and can do nothing but speculate we might as well speculate in line with what we know and that’s what I’ve tried to do above.”
So excited for big @kailightner sending Era Vella 9a today! Was inspiring seeing his hard work pay off. Each day for about a week he’d been getting closer to the chains, a move or two at a time. I really enjoyed our time at Era Vella and even got to set up a fun rope swing on my way to jumar up the pitch but I’m stoked we get to do something else in Spain tomorrow! Oh yea! That’s right! @shaneclimbs @chris_sharma @evolvusa @prana