5.10 Grading system

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Patrick Clissold
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5.10 Grading system

Post by Patrick Clissold »

I recently saw an paddlign article from the US about a grading system they were using, which is basically borrowed from the Yosemite Climbing grading system.

Grade 1-4 is the same as we know it, but there has always been a wide band of what exaclty grade 5 is. In effect if grade 6 is 'unavigable' then grade 5 is everything that has serious consequences of swimming to what is deemed grade 6, which is constantly shifting.

So grade 5 starts at 5.1 and the article suggests that the hardest that has been paddled to date is 5.7. As harder and harder rapids get paddled you just up the number.

I personally think this is a great idea, as we all know the grading system doesn't really work when you get to the high end. Also if it can work for climbing, which has a lot of variable factors like rivers, then I don't see why it couldn't work for paddling.

What are people's thoughts?

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BigPhil
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by BigPhil »

This has been on the American Whitewater guides for as long as I can remember - I'm surprised you haven't seen it before e.g. see attached for the Green

http://www.americanwhitewater.org/conte ... il/id/1080

As you say it makes a lot of sense as there is a some grade 5 on the green and some of it is harder than others.

Let's hope this thread can make it to 10 pages...

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by PMB »

This does make good sense and reflects the variety of difficulty under the grade V definition. Valid alternatives remain using the Addison or Storry scales where you split out the difficulty and danger (and remoteness with the Addison scale) of the run.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by Poke »

I suppose this isn't the best system that has been proposed in terms of usefulness (i.e. if you were starting again from scratch the addison scale might be better), but the big advantage is that it slots directly into the existing system, and even if you haven't had it explained to you, it is easy to work out what is meant.

Will this make Easan Dubh grade 5 again?
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by sinkorswim »

But the problem is that it simply doesn't work ......

Grading makes one big assumption we all forget ...... called repeatability.

The dart loop varies from say Gd3+ downwards. You'd be what you'd able to walk down during a long hot summer's drought could sweep you away to your death during a flood .... so much for repeatability.

The danger is as beginners we all said - yep, I did the club trip last month and the guide book says its a stiff grade 3 - I'll go and do the loop now; not realizing that the supposedly stiff grade 3 was that day in reality gd 2 because it had no water.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by Poke »

sinkorswim wrote:But the problem is that it simply doesn't work ......

Grading makes one big assumption we all forget ...... called repeatability.
Aah, I see. What you're saying is that there should be no grades.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by DaveBland »

I just don't see a need for it, clever though it is.
If you are experienced enough to be paddling at grade 5 level, then the nuances of 5.2 or 5.4 etc, really will make no difference to your decision making process. "Grade 5" and "hard grade 5" are really enough guidance.

At any level, the whole point of grades is to get you to the river – to make an informed choice if it's worth considering or not. After that it's up to assessment on the day based on how you are feeing etc.

If the grading system were to be expanded, I'd be for adding more refinement in the lower grades. That's where they are most relevant.
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ion
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by ion »

The decimal system for class 5 in the US see's pretty much no day to day use that I'm aware of. It was an initiative lead by American Whitewater and is used in their online river database exclusively. Because such an attempt at ascribing such precise difficulty rankings for such a subjective subject matter is very hard to coordinate across the extent of the US it relied upon a calibration table of well known rapids on the most popular rivers in the various regions at stated flows:
http://www.americanwhitewater.org/conte ... markrapids?

Is it a breakthrough? No, not really, its best feature is that it at least conveys some sense of relative difficulty within the same run, but between rivers and regions with differing volume, paddling mentality, and geology it's still essentially meaningless. I know many of the rapids on that list, and subjectively to me their difficulty ranking is debatable, which is probably the same for most folks.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by Franky »

DaveBland wrote:I just don't see a need for it, clever though it is.
If you are experienced enough to be paddling at grade 5 level, then the nuances of 5.2 or 5.4 etc, really will make no difference to your decision making process. "Grade 5" and "hard grade 5" are really enough guidance.

At any level, the whole point of grades is to get you to the river – to make an informed choice if it's worth considering or not. After that it's up to assessment on the day based on how you are feeing etc.

If the grading system were to be expanded, I'd be for adding more refinement in the lower grades. That's where they are most relevant.
I realise I'm being boring here, but I think the system is fine as it is. Grades are always going to be a rough guide, owing to fluctuating water levels.

My first white water trip was a beginner's trip to the Tees. The water levels were medium and it was mostly grade 2 with the odd bit of grade 3.

18 months later our club did the same trip, but the water was massive and it was solid grade 3 most of the way. No way was it a beginner's trip. I think the beginners enjoyed it, but there was a lot of swimming!

Adding decimal places to the lower levels wouldn't, I think, make the grading system any more "scientific". To call the Tees (up to Abbey Falls) grade 2+/3 gives enough of a flavour of its character.

Conversely, we recently had an "intermediate" white water trip to the Towy and Usk. The water was so low that for most of the length it was no different from paddling in East Anglia - except that we kept getting beached on rocks, and every stroke had to be a sweep stroke because the water wasn't deep enough for power strokes. Hence it was rather tiring, but not in the way anticipated.

I agree that fine-grading grade 5 rivers is probably of limited use too. I don't expect ever to paddle at grade 5, but presumably when you're at that level, gradations of difficulty say more about risk than required expertise.

As for grade 6... I don't think a river should be downgraded simply because some nutter has run it without dying. The inherent difficulty of the river hasn't changed.
Last edited by Franky on Thu Dec 18, 2014 9:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by DaveBland »

I totally agree it's fine as it is. Kinda what I was saying. My only point about it was that if it was valid to add finer gradations between grades it would make more sense lower down. I think the 3-4 gap is probably the biggest.

...but totally... it's all okay as is.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by Franky »

DaveBland wrote:I totally agree it's fine as it is. Kinda what I was saying. My only point about it was that if it was valid to add finer gradations between grades it would make more sense lower down. I think the 3-4 gap is probably the biggest.
Well this is true and in fact I'm still a bit confused about the boundaries lower down. The Upper Tryweryn is supposedly grade 3 and so is the Lee Valley Legacy loop... But I found the latter more challenging than the Tryweryn... or perhaps I just wasn't used to the fast-circulating eddies of concrete runs.

Then (as someone else pointed out in a different thread I think)... There is the issue of "likelihood of a swim" vs. "consequences of a swim". On the Tryweryn I was advised that one stretch was "not a good place to swim" but it looked OK to me so I had a go... on the Legacy, there is a good chance of a swim if you're at the "improver" level, but the risks of injury are less than on a real river because there aren't rocks everywhere and there are safety geezers at the side.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by sinkorswim »

[/quote]

Well this is true and in fact I'm still a bit confused about the boundaries lower down. The Upper Tryweryn is supposedly grade 3 and so is the Lee Valley Legacy loop... But I found the latter more challenging than the Tryweryn... or perhaps I just wasn't used to the fast-circulating eddies of concrete runs.

Then (as someone else pointed out in a different thread I think)... There is the issue of "likelihood of a swim" vs. "consequences of a swim". On the Tryweryn I was advised that one stretch was "not a good place to swim" but it looked OK to me so I had a go... on the Legacy, there is a good chance of a swim if you're at the "improver" level, but the risks of injury are less than on a real river because there aren't rocks everywhere and there are safety geezers at the side.[/quote]

Exactly. So really, a good grading system would have two parts - difficulty + consequence - the number being its difficulty and a letter the consequence.

eg

4a being technically hard, safe to swim
3b, technically intermediate but a bad place to swim

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by DaveBland »

…ah, but… if you can't work out if it's safe or dangerous to swim/roll/screw your line – then you shouldn't be paddling it unsupervised - in which case grades are meaningless.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by sinkorswim »

Yeah, but you've wasted a tank of petrol getting their to then decide you'd better go home. Its more for planning which river to go to with a reasonable chance that when you've got there its the one for you.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by DaveBland »

...but that totally ignores the uncertainty of unpredictable water levels which have a way bigger influence on the difficulty / danger.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by mpplant »

DaveBland, if you check out rainchasers.com it tells you whether a river is low, medium, high or huge. If the river is normally considered grade 3, but rainchasers says that it is at a high level, then you can assume that it might be more like a grade 4.

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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by davebrads »

You are taking a massive assumption that the river is going to get harder at higher levels which is not always the case. The Spean Gorge comes immediately to my mind, on the more dangerous end of grade 4 when very low, but becomes an easy bouncy wave train when it is very high. And there are rivers which are technically difficult when low, ease off at medium levels when things start getting covered, and then increase in difficulty again at high levels when large features start being formed. At that is the trouble with trying to put more precision into the grading system, even with the six grades we commonly use there are many rivers that can jump two grades depending on water level, if you try to fine tune it further you are only going to increase the complexity without really offering any more information.

Experienced boaters have learnt to use the grading system only as a guide. They will take account of other factors such as remoteness and take a best guess at water levels before setting off, and if they get to the river and it isn't the level they were expecting they will change their assessment and perhaps move on to a different river nearby which may be more suitable to the conditions. I know this doesn't help the newbie, but this is just another skill that you have to learn on your way to becoming an expert.
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Re: 5.10 Grading system

Post by DaveBland »

Yes! - the point Dave so eloquently makes above, is what I been struggling to get across over several posts.
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