We need to sort out the grading system!

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We need to sort out the grading system!

Post by Dr Robin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 8:50 pm

If the Ulla had been in the Alps, Slime would have graded it 5+, but Farquharson grades it as 4+ in his Norway guide. Sladdon grades the Glen as 5, but I'm sure it would have been 4(5) if it had been in Farquharson's Norway guide. For example, I've run Slime 4/4+ in my space cadet, but there's no way in hell I'd run Farquharson 4/4+ in a playboat!

The result? We have two systems. Intermediate boaters are only aware of Slime/Sladden grading, and think they occasionally run grade 5. Elite boaters are aware of the two systems, but generally use Farquharson grading, otherwise everything would be 5.

I don't know how to grade things anymore. Do I use Farquharson grading, or Slime grading? Recently, an intermediate boater said that he'd heard that I was a grade 6 paddler. I laughed, but then I thought: "well, maybe by his definition, I am?".

We need to sort this out! Let's tell Slime and Sladdon to drop everything by a grade in the new editions of their guidebooks!

Who's with me?

Dr. Robin.

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Post by Mark R » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:08 pm

Or...we could just get out and inspect.
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Post by james fleming » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:19 pm

I think for me, personally, ill look at a rapid and either say yes or no. Simple.

However, I know what you are referring to when’s a four a five and when’s a five a four? Bla bla bla

How about this method…

Definite Any one can do it regardless and have a good laugh doing it.

Difficult You’ll spend a good while looking at the rapid and want some expertise on your side helping you.

Dangerous Expect a good working when it goes wrong and it probably will.

Over all the numbers are good. It people interpretation of them. But what I do know is that when I see fours or five mentioned, more often than not, I’ll look at the rapid and go back to basics.

Yes

Or

No

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C'mon!

Post by Dr Robin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:45 pm

C'mon! This needs to be sorted out!

As it stands, an intermediate boater capable of Slime grade 4 might go to Norway and get on Farquharson grade 4 in a playboat! This is crap!

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Post by cswalker » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:50 pm

This sounds like me, shall I join in?

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Post by Mark R » Sun Dec 11, 2005 9:57 pm

Anyone looking at pictures like this and unable to discern it from the scene on the front cover of 'Alpine Ice Cream Runs Volume II' deserves all that is coming to them.


The moment you begin to try and quantify the unquantifiable the whole process becomes a joke.


By the way, the Ulla IS Grade 4. No technically harder than a bimble down the middle Guil, although it has a few waterfalls...which is perhaps where you're getting confused. We don't grade rivers by how photogenic they are.


PS Note how I've managed to stay on topic and avoid laughing out loud at your 'Am I a Grade 6 boater?' comments.
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David McCraw

Post by David McCraw » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:05 pm

It's all very well saying you can get out and inspect, but that's only one facet of the grading system (and possibly not the most important one).

If I want to go and paddle something new, I'll flip open my SCA guidebook.

The given grade for a run, combined with my existing experience of how scottish grading is related to my 'internal' grading system, is how I decide whether to make the six hour round trip, plus a hefty trek up the side of a remote glen -- I'm looking for something challenging but not beyond me!

Now when I run 5 I will be hopping out to have a quick look over each horizon line... while I don't require the guidebook to be accurate to stay alive, I don't want to end up portaging the whole river at grade 6+ (or finding it's all grade 4 either).

I think Simon Dawson summed it up well (although I'm not convinced his system is the panacea):: "Guide books and grades are not there simply to keep poor decision makers alive. They are there to help good decision makers have a high quality and enjoyable day on the water."

D.

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Post by Jim » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:17 pm

james fleming wrote:However, I know what you are referring to when’s a four a five and when’s a five a four? Bla bla bla
The system exists already, it's in the already mentioned Whitewater Europe guide (not sure which one and only have 1st Ed's becasue I haven't been to the alps for soooo long), it's the "peanut butter factor"

I only run grade 5 drops never continuous 5 and I often question if they are genuinely more difficult or just scarier - take Easan Dubh as an example, it requires some reading but once you've seen it and worked the route out it isn't particularly difficult to make it, unless you get lost! Perhaps you could use me as a detemining factor for regrading - if I run it it's grade 4, if I portage it's grade 5? Oh wait that still leaves Easan Dubh up in the air since I run it 50% of the time.......

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Post by James F » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:19 pm

It's quite difficult, as a chap staring at the take out of a river he's just done, with a view to conveying the gist of the run to someone else, to sum the thing up in one of six numbers, with possibly a plus or a minus added, for good measure.

If I've misled people, I'm sorry. It was only a guess. I imagine everyone else in the position of writing river notes, similarly feels that they were only sort of guessing in the hopes of giving the general idea to others.

If it helps, my definitions are as follows.

1. Moving water
2. Surface white water apparent. Though there is a best line down river, a chap could sit slumped in his seat, blindfolded, and make it down no problem
3. Same chap definitely has to sit up and manoeuvre through the rapids. Failure to do so will cause embarrassment though nothing serious. Only a beginner is maimed on class III.
4. Definite need to nail lines otherwise chance of unpleasant swim with attendant bumps and bruises etc. Consequences of one's mistakes could be much worse than bumps/bruises, but more often than not, aren't.
5. Definite need to nail lines or extremely serious swim/beating leading to broken limbs/drowning etc.
6. Can see a fantasy line down it.

(good work with the surname spelling)

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Post by neilfarmer » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:26 pm

I still think that the grading system should be 'sorted out', mainly for the 'lower grades' - ie grade 4 and some of the easier 5's. For 'intermediates', I do not think that it would be too hard to 'widen the system of numbers' from grade 2/3/4 to, for example 2-8. That would provide people new to running white water with a better & safer progression. That is what we are aiming to provide anyhow, I think.

I am coming round to the idea that grading harder drops is pretty much impossible - a system of 'Y - has been run', 'X - has not been run' with a note of the effect of water level / commitment factor would be far more satisfactory.

Just my thoughts!
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Post by Dr Robin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:35 pm

James: I was in no way criticising you, I think you've written an excellent guide. You had to grade the Ulla as 4+, otherwise everything in your guide would have been 5! I think other guidebook writers should be in line with you.

David: You said you consider how Scotish grading is realated to your internal grading system. This is exactly my point, we all do this. e.g. I know that Slime grade 5 = Farquharson grade 4 = my internal grade 4. But this is stupid, let's just all use one system!

Mark: Your tone was a little sharp, I'm trying to make a serious point rather than criticise anybody. We have to try to quantify the unquantifiable or we can't use guidebooks! And I don't consider myself a grade 6 boater, this is my whole point. My grade 5 = very old school grade 6. For example, if you believe Slime/Sladdon, I'd argue that the chap running the bottom drop of the Ulva in your photo is a grade 6 paddler. If the Ulla is grade 4+ (which it should be in my opinion), then the Glen is 4 and so is the Inn shoot. Slime and Sladden should get in line with Farquharson.

Robin.
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Post by Hywel » Sun Dec 11, 2005 10:41 pm

That grading makes sense to me - I generally only paddle Grade 3 with small bits of 4. The reason I don't paddle more 4 is that I don't even want much of a chance of bumps and scrapes, let alone worse. And I have no inclination even to try anything which looks like 5.

I can't really seen that one of the earlier comments "If it looks like 5 I have a quick look over the horizon" really matches with my idea, or the James F (I'll skip the surname) defn., of Grade 5. If there is real risk, doesn't it warrant a bit more than a quick look? I do hear of loads of lads claiming to paddle Gr4/5 regularly which sound more like 3/4 to me.

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Post by Steve B » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:13 pm

There's nothing wrong with the grading system. If you have a problem with JF's grading in Norway (and I make no comment on that as I have never paddled there) then why not take it up with JF?
Dr Robin wrote:Intermediate boaters are only aware of Slime/Sladden grading, and think they occasionally run grade 5. Elite boaters are aware of the two systems, but generally use Farquharson grading, otherwise everything would be 5.
If one person is using the grading system in a different way (and again I make no comment on whether that is actually the case) then it is both arrogant and dangerous.
David McCraw wrote:I think Simon Dawson summed it up well (although I'm not convinced his system is the panacea):: "Guide books and grades are not there simply to keep poor decision makers alive. They are there to help good decision makers have a high quality and enjoyable day on the water."
Simon's system (read it here) is nonsense, but at least he published it in the spirit of a proposal for discussion, he didn't just start using it unilaterally.

More and more runs at the top end of the scale of difficulty are being conquered. More significantly, the runs which fall just short of that - yesterday's "top end" of difficulty - are now being run routinely. There is clearly a case for modifying the grading system to encompass this. But just about the last thing to do is to re-grade class 5 rapids into the already overpopulated class 4. In fact, the biggest weakness of the established system is that grade 4 covers too wide a range, we certainly don't want to exacerbate that problem.

So why not expand the system upwards? In principle we could, but half the "elite" boating community isn't interested, because runs at the very top end of difficulty don't lend themselves to precise grading. The other half does support the idea of expanding the sytem upwards into grade 6, 7, 8, whatever, but in several years of reading discussions on the subject I have *never* seen a concrete proposal for how the grades should be defined.

[Edit: I spent such a long time writing this that the discussion has overtaken some of it. Never mind, I'll leave it be, just pretend it's three or four slots higher up the page]
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Post by Poke » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:32 pm

Aside from the name, Corran Addisons grading system did make some sense. Theres a lot of rapids graded higher than they should be due to the consequences of a mistake, having a separate "technical" and "consequence" grading makes sense to me.
Steve B wrote:
Dr Robin wrote:Intermediate boaters are only aware of Slime/Sladden grading, and think they occasionally run grade 5. Elite boaters are aware of the two systems, but generally use Farquharson grading, otherwise everything would be 5.
If one person is using the grading system in a different way (and again I make no comment on whether that is actually the case) then it is both arrogant and dangerous.
I think thats the problem. There are a large proportion of paddlers who interpret the grading system in a different way to the "classic" grades given in guidebooks. They do this to differentiate between grade 5 and grade 5 ;-)
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Post by Dr Robin » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:33 pm

Did you read my last post? I said that James had written an excellent guide.

I think the easier creeks, which can be done in a playboat, should be pushed down to grade 3. We should introduce the idea of "grade 3 creeking".

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Post by Hywel » Sun Dec 11, 2005 11:52 pm

Never hear of Corran Addison's grading system. Sound like Terry Storey's? That made sense to me. Risk needs to be separated from technical difficulty. I paddle plenty of Gr2/3 technical difficulty streams in Wales that actually can be risk category d or e because of logs jams, barbed wire etc.

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Post by Steve B » Mon Dec 12, 2005 12:28 am

Dr Robin wrote:Did you read my last post? I said that James had written an excellent guide.
Did you read my post? I said that I had written it before yours and several others, and that the discussion had overtaken it.
I think the easier creeks, which can be done in a playboat, should be pushed down to grade 3. We should introduce the idea of "grade 3 creeking".
There is no problem at all with reconsidering the grades of specific sections in the light of experience, and that includes experience with newer equipment that reduces the difficulty. A classic and very well-known example is Euthanasia on the Dart, which is rated 5 in the older guides but would only be considered a 4 nowadays. But that is *not* because the grading system has changed, it is because running it in a short plastic boat is not like running it in a 3.5 metre glass boat. Today's paddlers applying the same rules come up with a different result.

That is not the same as changing the rules themselves.
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Post by neilfarmer » Mon Dec 12, 2005 12:41 am

Dr Robin wrote: I think the easier creeks, which can be done in a playboat, should be pushed down to grade 3. We should introduce the idea of "grade 3 creeking".
A very dangerous path to go down. Should we grade any creek that has been run in a playboat as 'grade 3 - creek'? Or just ones that you have done? If so, many of the west coast of NZ runs would become such [a friend of mine did his world tour inc NZ and Canada in playboats and ran many of the harder runs].

Robin .... Steves points on 'downgrading' are valid. If we need to differentiate between 'easy grade5 and hard grade5, increase the grades up. If not, grade them all 5. Moving them down to grade 4 is pointless. Are you suggesting that the 'fairy glen' should be graded the same as the Dee, for example? [I have done neither!]

Winter climbing back in the late 80's went though a similar debate. Super modern hard routes were being climbed, those a little easer were graded '4'. Now, many of these routes are given grade VI or VII.
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Post by Ryan Clements » Mon Dec 12, 2005 12:47 am

In my opinion grading rivers is never going to be a precise buisness, there are simply to many variables; not least the subjective view of the person paddling the river and the person writing the guide! I know that people need a general idea of what they're getting in to (a point well argued already), but surely there are not that many (any?) runs that have been affected so severely by the shift in what is now possible that the grading of them has become too misleading?

If somebody is paddling grade 4 (whatever that is ;-)),I would assume that they would have the competence to judge what they see effectively and not get themselves into trouble.

As for James F's guide I found it to be very useful, sure there were runs graded 4 that would be harder here etc, but when you paddle in a different country you should expect that the grading system will have been interpreted differently. If you looked at the range of runs in Norway and their difficulty the gradings "sat" where they should have in the scheme of things. This to me seems more important than the grades meeting the "definitions" of the grading system.

But that is obviously only my (once again subjective) view.[/b]

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Post by Dr Robin » Mon Dec 12, 2005 1:10 am

Ryan, this is a seious problem. In Wales, I rarely bother with anything which doesn't contain 5 according to Sladden, e.g. Conwy, Mawdach, Gamlan. But in Norway, I'd think VERY seriously before attempting something graded as 5. This is a huge discrepancy. And I don't accept that we should have some prior knowledge of the difficulty of paddling in Norway to interpret the grading: it should be universal.

Neil: The Dee is a good example. When I started boating I was told that Town falls is a 4. But at the old Dee tours, I used to watch people bimble down town falls in playboats on every conceivable line. It's a 3, and the Glen is a 4. Many of the "old" 4s should now be 3s.

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Post by Ryan Clements » Mon Dec 12, 2005 1:45 am

Dr Robin wrote: I don't accept that we should have some prior knowledge of the difficulty of paddling in Norway to interpret the grading: it should be universal.

I wasn't refering to Norway in particular but to any new area or country, people who paddle in one area for a period of time will "adjust" their perspective to suit the range of rivers in the area (and how they are graded); you can argue that this is unfair but to my mind it is part of the experience of paddling somewhere new... and I quite like it!

While I can see the logic in what you have said about the gradng system, I feel that our sport is one which is constantly evolving and so to is the placement of particular rapids within the system. I feel that the changing nature of our sport is reflected quite well by not neccessarily the guide books (they can't be published every other year) but by the people who paddle regularly- you illustrate this in the quote below. Change- yes! But by evolution NOT revolution. I do not want what I do to be pigeon holed by an overly descriptive and complex grading system....nor do I want to go to a new river knowing EXACTLY what I'm going to get.
The Dee is a good example. When I started boating I was told that Town falls is a 4. But at the old Dee tours, I used to watch people bimble down town falls in playboats on every conceivable line. It's a 3, and the Glen is a 4. Many of the "old" 4s should now be 3s.
[/quote]

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Post by googlebot » Mon Dec 12, 2005 2:06 am

From my point of view the gradings are always a guide. I and my regular paddling partner have very different views of the gradings. He sees a 4 where I see a 5.

But then he has been paddling in Europe, where only this weekend I did my first descent of the upper Dart, which was my first taste of actually feeling that perhaps I was out out of my depth. It depends on your own view and what you feel you are capable of.

Looking back at the Upper Dart, I did not encounter any real problems with the paddle, although at times I felt like brown sticky stuff was running through my shorts. Its graded as 4. But does this mean I can now move onto grade 5? I think not.

I believe at the end of the day you look before you leap and I always take gradings with a pinch of salt. I have never felt afraid to say no to running a drop I feel that I am not capable of doing without injury. As others have said a guidebook is just that, a guide.

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Post by James F » Mon Dec 12, 2005 8:28 am

Steve B,

Is change "arrogant and dangerous"?

Arrogant, definitely not; dangerous, more like unsettling until the adjustment is made.

I like to think you get very angry when you post things like that.

Regards,
James

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Post by Mark R » Mon Dec 12, 2005 8:49 am

Several points...

- I have paddled most of the stuff in Farquharson's guide and I don't think it is undergraded. Bigger drops, more spectacular, more continuous etc, but not harder.

- The current grading system serves beginner and intermediate paddlers well. It does not offer much to those who call themselves 'Grade 5' paddlers. But the point is, if they are what they claim to be, then they don't need more info or more precise grading.
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Post by Zoe Newsam » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:18 am

Winter climbing back in the late 80's went though a similar debate. Super modern hard routes were being climbed, those a little easer were graded '4'. Now, many of these routes are given grade VI or VII.
Neil's right. It seems to me there are many similarities between winter climbing and river gradings- in that routes / rapids are never the same twice, and change with the -conditions. As a relative beginner I am only just starting to learn about the river grading system, but I grew up around rock / ice climbers and I do know that the grading system is entirely subjective, according to who wrote the guidebook, the conditions on the day and how you feel in yourself. Climbers generally accept that Scottish / NE / Yorkshire / Peak / Wales / Southern UK grades differ slightly- because they're routes on different rock and written by climbers with, as a result, different specialisms.

Maybe we should just accept that people grade things differently according to their own specialism, and look at it with a sensible head on and a pinch of salt on the day.

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Post by Simon » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:31 am

Steve B wrote:-
David McCraw wrote:I think Simon Dawson summed it up well (although I'm not convinced his system is the panacea):: "Guide books and grades are not there simply to keep poor decision makers alive. They are there to help good decision makers have a high quality and enjoyable day on the water."
Simon's system (read it here) is nonsense, but at least he published it in the spirit of a proposal for discussion, he didn't just start using it unilaterally.


Steve,

In the spirit of debate - why is it nonsense. You are perfectly entitled to your views, I am not challenging them - just interested as to what the arguments behind your statement are.

In my opinion there are two important things to do in any new system.

1. Widen the number of grades from top to bottom. As we add in new levels of difficulty at the top, then an increasing range of difficulty gets squeezed into each of the current grade points. If you follow the arguments above, grade three now covers everything from just above what can be done on a beginners white water course to anything a bit easier than the upper Dart. No wonder people get confused.

2. Divorce difficulty from risk. It is the paddler that defines risk not the river. An expert can be safe on a humungously difficult and high volume river, and a novice in danger on flat water. Grade six should be simply a level harder than grade five and easier than grade seven, no more and no less. Whether it is a high degree of risk depends on you not the river.

I first started making these arguments in 1988, and I know of people saying similar things much earlier - so I doubt if things will change.

Simon

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Post by James F » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:47 am

I-
I
I+
I/II
II-
II
II+
II/III
III-
III
III+
III/IV
IV-
IV
IV+
IV/V
V-
V
V+
V/VI
VI-
VI
VI+

That’s 23 degrees of separation without including, “Generally this Class (With a couple of portageable harder drops of this class).”

It works for me.

The reason the system has not seen fundamental change is that no-one can come up with a concrete argument for doing so.

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Grading

Post by callwild » Mon Dec 12, 2005 9:54 am

Mark has said
I have paddled most of the stuff in Farquharson's guide and I don't think it is undergraded. Bigger drops, more spectacular, more continuous etc, but not harder.

- The current grading system serves beginner and intermediate paddlers well. It does not offer much to those who call themselves 'Grade 5' paddlers. But the point is, if they are what they claim to be, then they don't need more info or more precise grading.
and I tend to agree.

When writing WWLD I pondered for ages on this topic and could not come up with a solution which suits all people, on all rivers, in all countries at all water levels.
I quite liked Terry Storry's seriousness factor and Addison's similar style. In Corsica I got used to Dawson's extension of the grade as everything would have been grade 5 so splitting it from 5 -8 made sense there.
Do we have grade 6 in the Lakes? Maybe not but if you define it as say death or serious injury may occur and it is only runnable at certain specific water levels then yes we do. Although it may well look pathetic compared to a grade 6 elswhere.

I have been through the same debate with rock climbing and winter climbing.
In both these cases the grading system was updated and changed and although initially there was plenty of arguement and debate a consensus was eventually found which now allows an ever increasing extension of the system.

However there are a couple of big differences with the climbing parallels.
1) Remember nearly every country has a very different grading system.
2) When the winter climbing system was changed the overall grade of the route was still kept within the 1-6 system to show overall seriousness and the increase in grades were a technical grade for individual pitches.

So although I see where Dr Robin is coming from and having used and liked many different systems I come back to our existing system as a good base to start your own assessment from.
Arriving in a different country or a place with a different style of paddling it makes sense to drop down a grade a get used to the locals assessment of their rivers.

No grading system can really portray the very different grades produced by different water levels.

So rather than stating the current system doesn't work maybe one should approach the problem by saying " I find it hard to relate to the current system".
Then there are two solutions. Either change your approach, be flexible, and relish the differences between countries and guides which is all part of the adventure experience or paddle every river in every country at every level then devise the new best system which everyone will understand. love and change over too.

Stuart Miller

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Post by sandie_ » Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:29 am

The problem is data compression.

Any system which summarises a river in two or three characters is flawed. Detail will be lost.

Image


Image

the second image file is 1/10th the size of the first image. even at 1-10 its hard to see whether im paddling grade II or IV.

Sandie

OK, so the images arn't working, but you get the idea.

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Post by Mark R » Mon Dec 12, 2005 10:41 am

Here's a bombshell for those who want to nail down every facet of a river by adding more grades, letters, whatever...

Rivers can have different flows.
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