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Distinguishing between protection ratings R and X
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By Mark Kauz
From Madison, WI
May 4, 2010
Up on Rat Stew.

I was just wondering everyones thoughts on where they draw the line between R and X ratings on climbs? Its seems obvious to me that while a PG-13 rating could be a scary fall, its generally not indicative of serious injury potential. Lets for a second, forgo talking about things like "well, some sport climbs can cause death because of missing clips at the bottom" which has happened, even recently. Even though those situations are possible, on a Trad or Mixed climb poor or lacking placements lead to groundfalls or bad swings. So where is the line drawn in the "serious injury potential" grades of R and X?

Note: 1) I am not planning on going out and doing any of these things at this time. I'm definitely not ready or at a level where I am comfortable. I just want to gain some insight
2) Nick Rhoads, I'm looking forward to your comment. If you don't comment, I'll be really surprised.


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By Bill Duncan
From Jamestown, CO
May 4, 2010
Leading the 3rd pitch of West Side Story.

My South Platte mentors indoctrinated me to believe that X meant serious injury or death, usually through groundfall (or ledge impact) potential. R meant a big ass whipper or pendulum, but you'd probably be OK if you have a competent belayer.

That said, there is that gray area of personal opinion. The Platte has some fair runouts, and there are some routes that have the R rating, but would definitely qualify for the don't fall rule. It had to be at least 20 feet to the next gear to qualify for R. (There was no PG-13 then.) I know some guys that thought if your belayer could jump off the ledge to keep you from decking, it was just R. But that might be the fringe . . .

There are routes where the first gear is 20 feet of the ground . . . does that make it X? No, probably just R with a necky start.

Back to personal opinion . . . if you're leading and your head tells you it's R, it might be R. But if the gear is not far below your feet, it's probably not.

Two classic mentor quotes and I'll shut up:
"When in doubt, run it out!"

"First rule of climbing offwidth: don't use offwidth technique."


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By Mike Howard
Administrator
May 4, 2010
RGG silhouette

LD90 for fall=7 stories
The median lethal dose (LD50) for falls is 4 stories, or 48 ft, and the lethal does for 90% (LD90) of test subjects is 7 stories, or 84 ft.
Reference: Rosen P, ed. Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 4th ed. Mosby-Year Book, Inc; 1998:352.

2 points:
Remember, the plural of anecdotal evidence is not data.
More importantly: It is not the height, it is the deceleration that is important.


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By Garrett Soper
From Duluth, Minnesota
May 4, 2010
Leading at DL

Mark Kauz wrote:
I was just wondering everyones thoughts on where they draw the line between R and X ratings on climbs? Its seems obvious to me that while a PG-13 rating could be a scary fall, its generally not indicative of serious injury potential. Lets for a second, forgo talking about things like "well, some sport climbs can cause death because of missing clips at the bottom" which has happened, even recently. Even though those situations are possible, on a Trad or Mixed climb poor or lacking placements lead to groundfalls or bad swings. So where is the line drawn in the "serious injury potential" grades of R and X? Note: 1) I am not planning on going out and doing any of these things at this time. I'm definitely not ready or at a level where I am comfortable. I just want to gain some insight 2) Nick Rhoads, I'm looking forward to your comment. If you don't comment, I'll be really surprised.


As someone who climbs at the lake and pays attention to mp, I'm looking forward to that comment too. Some routes at the lake are obviously X rated (Acid Rock?), and others are kind of grey. Does an X route have to have a ground fall run out over the crux? Because I know that on Happy Hunting Grounds you could easily deck from 30 or 35 feet onto some big boulders at the bottom, but the climbing inside that 35 feet is relatively easy. I'm not arguing that HHG is X rated, or compares to Acid Rock, but that it's hard to draw a line on some of the routes at the lake. Interesting discussion.


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By Mark Kauz
From Madison, WI
May 4, 2010
Up on Rat Stew.

Bill Duncan wrote:
Two classic mentor quotes and I'll shut up: "When in doubt, run it out!"


My question stems from a instance that was similar. A friend read the guidebook and said

F: "oh, lets warm up on this 5.8. Its a nice easy sport route. Do you want to rope gun and set up a toprope?"
Me: "Sure. How many bolts."
F: "I see two, but it doesn't look like its in the guide book. They're probably up over that bulge."
Me: "Okay... I'm sure I'll see them when I get up higher."

Two bolts in the first 20 feet, then another 30 to the anchors after not finding more bolts, and I didn't want to back down so I finished it. I was in doubt, so I ran it out. Looking back, I wouldn't ever really want to do that again, because I was thinking the entire I was being lowered, "Wow I could have gotten messed up, that was a bad idea". I guess I just need to get a better head for sketchy things. Climb more trad. But since then, I've wondered how people make the distinction between the sketchy things they've done.


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By Aaron Martinuzzi
May 4, 2010
end of the day in the black canyon.

traditionally, my understanding is that R-rated routes have stretches of protection-less climbing in which a leader fall would result in some injury; X-rated routes have death fall potential.

in practice, however, it seems like a lot of routes get an "R" rating that are simply runout, but lack the risk of serious injury.


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By Scott McMahon
From Boulder, CO
May 4, 2010
Bocan

I would venture to agree with the "death" and "run out" concept, but I guess the problem lies as to where the line blurs.

But if you run it out enough where you'll deck, now it's an "X" climb. I did a fun 1 pitch climb up in the Ironclads. Lower section was nice, but the seam ended and the only place for pro was a hollow, rotten flake before the anchors. R or X? I say X...a piece might have slowed me down, but I was pretty much equal length on the rope from my last piece. I would've gone skittering down to the ground.

If I was 2 pitches up (no ledges), I'd give the same section an R.


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By Greg Barnes
May 4, 2010
Hanging out with Karin on the summit of Warlock Needle. Photo by Josh Janes.

Super easy answer - to distinguish between R and X you look for routes with R/X ratings - like about half of all routes in Tuolumne!

Or do you not have R/X ratings in your guidebooks?


The old Tuolumne guide was simple, and many hard core folks think that this should be the defining rule for R vs X:
1) decking potential from near the top of the second pitch on a 5.8: R rated (eg Magical Mystery Tour).
2) Decking potential from 35' on a 5.11 slab: X rated (eg The Pinhead).

Also no pro at all on a 5.8 pitch on a 5.9: PG rated (PG in Tuolumne is "protection good" - same as G in other guides) eg Dixie Peach. Risking a 100' plus fall on big cheese-grater knobs: PG/R (same as PG or PG13 in other guidebooks) - eg Great Pumpkin...


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By Buff Johnson
May 4, 2010
smiley face

Bill Duncan wrote:
My South Platte mentors indoctrinated me to believe that X meant serious injury or death, usually through groundfall (or ledge impact) potential. R meant a big ass whipper or pendulum, but you'd probably be OK if you have a competent belayer. That said, there is that gray area of personal opinion. The Platte has some fair runouts, and there are some routes that have the R rating, but would definitely qualify for the don't fall rule.


Also should relay on where the technical difficulty is as well. You can basically entrance into the friction climb at a steady grade of 5.8 for the first 35 or so feet, but the route is rated 5.10 without seriousness, as the crux is well protected which actually happens to be another 80 or so feet higher.

Whereas the 5.10X would mean that should you fall at the unprotected crux, you will probably die. It was a manner in which .12 climbers were one-upping each other (then also adding that the rating was a devious 5.8 -- or the dubious 5.9+ -- but that's another issue; which may be more pertinent to this topic; all the more value of mp.com and checking consensus beta).

5.10R would mean that if you fell at the technical crux, you may or may not be injured, but you'll be taking a ride. The first 35 or so feet of unprotected 5.8 is considered inconsequential as you are rising to the level of 5.10 for success of the climb.


The SPlatte friction actually gives me a good lead head in which I kinda take the same approach to ice -- if I can't climb at the steady rated grade for the first 30'ish feet before throwing a screw in, I shouldn't be leading that climb. Granted, always exceptions.


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By Finn the Human
From The Land of Ooo
May 4, 2010
Mathematical!

I just usually take R to mean runout, and X means there's no way I'm going to try the climb :P


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By crankenstein
May 4, 2010

Once upon a time there was a guide book that spelled out the difference. I don't remember which book and I probably don't remember exactly how it described the difference but I do seem to recall that on R rated routes you could expect runouts of 15 feet on climbing close to the difficulty of the crux and on X rated routes you could expect no protection and/or runouts of 30 feet or more on climbing close to the difficulty of the crux.
Both of them mean don't fall to me.


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By Bill Duncan
From Jamestown, CO
May 4, 2010
Leading the 3rd pitch of West Side Story.

Mark Nelson wrote:
...5.10R would mean that if you fell at the technical crux, you may or may not be injured, but you'll be taking a ride. The first 35 or so feet of unprotected 5.8 is considered inconsequential as you are rising to the level of 5.10 for success of the climb. The SPlatte friction actually gives me a good lead head in which I kinda take the same approach to ice -- if I can't climb at the steady rated grade for the first 30'ish feet before throwing a screw in, I shouldn't be leading that climb. Granted, always exceptions.


Excellent observation.


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By Tony B
From Around Boulder, CO
May 4, 2010
Got Milk? How about forearm pump? Tony leads "Alan Nelson's Bulging Belly" (5.10, X) on the Lost and Found Flatiron. Belayer is Mark Ruocco. Photo by Bill Wright, 10/06.

R means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing day.
X means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing year or career.


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By Brian in SLC
May 4, 2010
Climbing in Smuggler's Notch

From Erickson's "Rocky Heights":

"If "R" is placed after the grade of a climb, it means that there exists the possibility of a longer fall, say 20 feet, onto good protection or perhaps a shorter fall onto more dubious protection that could pull. There is a fair chance of being hurt.

If "X" is placed after the grade of a climb it implies a very serious lead. A chance of an extremely long fall, a chance of ripping several pieces of protection out, a good chance of being very hurt, etc.

These gradings will be used only in significant places compared to the route's Decimal grade, i.e. a death pitch of 5.4 on a climb rated 5.9 will not be well-documented, but, a death pitch of 5.6 on a 5.7 climb will be."

Not a bad description...(the first in a guidebook?).

Cheers,

-Brian in SLC


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By J. Albers
From Colorado
May 5, 2010
Bucky

Tony B wrote:
R means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing day. X means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing year or career.


Nice. +1


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By PTR
From GA
May 5, 2010

Dick Williams includes a discussion in his guide to the Trapps. Here it is in full (pp. xxi-xxii):

PROTECTION GRADINGS

The protection grades, G, PG, R and X are used to describe the quality and availability of protection for the crux of a particular pitch or climb. Many people think G is for "good" and PG means "protection good or pretty good," Not so. These terms come from the Hollywood yardsticks for describing violence or sex in a movie [...]. The system's whimsical inventor was Jim Erickson in his Colorado guide of 1980 called Rocky Heights. A protection grade has nothing to do with how difficult or strenuous it might be to place that protection; it is telling the climber about the level of security that a placement is likely to offer. When it's unusually difficult or strenuous to place protection, this guide may take note. If certain parts of a pitch are more poorly protected than others, this is usually mentioned, one example is Nurse's Aid [....]

"G" implies good protection that is closely spaced so that only short falls are likely.

"PG" implies that the protection is more widely spaced or not so good, and that moderately long falls are likely, up to 15 feet.

"R" implies that the protection is widely spaced or relatively poor in quality and that along fall (over 20 feet) is likely, with a pretty good chance of hitting a ledge or something else and getting hurt, or it could be that a short fall guarantees hitting a ledge. Also many "R" rated routes have unprotected boulder problem starts that can be made safer with a good "spot."

"X" implies that there is NO protection to keep you from being very seriously injured or killed. I am not recommending "R-X" of "X" routes.

DIFFICULT or STRENUOUS TO PROTECT: Means that it takes a lot of work/strength/energy and/or ability to place protection.


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By john strand
From southern colo
May 5, 2010

I think also where the r/x is plays a part. A well protected 5.11 with very run out 5.9, is it x ? If x really means death than not so many x rated route exist. If we mean serious injury then OK.


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By kachoong
From The Outback, Texas
May 5, 2010
Climbing at Frog Buttress

If you relate the grades to what you would likely see in the movies it makes sense: G you won't see anyone die, PG you won't see blood but might hear a pansy shreak, R might make you poop your pants as you scream with excitement, and X will have your ass raped just before being impaled on a pitchfork.


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By JohnWesely
From Red River Gorge
May 5, 2010
Gunking

I think those Gunks guide protection ratings are pretty far on the soft side.

R=falls greater than 20 feet with possible ledge fall? Without a ledge, twenty feet just isn't that long of a fall. If you are eight feet above your pro you will probably fall 20 feet. Heck, when I sport climb, I routinely takes falls greater than 20 feet.


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By Tradoholic
May 5, 2010

I prefer the more modern "movie ratings" for climbs. (PG-13, R, X) "X" isn't the only rating that means death, you can and people have died on easy "PG" 5.6 routes (See Goran Kropp).

The movie rating system works better because one mans "R" is another man's "X" and these movie ratings don't really have any distinguishing characteristic that changes it from one rating to another. These ratings are just like difficulty ratings, they are vague guidelines to help people seek and get on routes that are suitable for themselves.

To answer your question directly Mark, there is no once characteristic to distinguish "R" from "X", only that "X" is generally more serious than "R".

For clarification and because there are many guidebooks and people who still use the more old school definition of "R" and "X", "R" is run-out with good potential for injury and "X" is run-out with suspect gear placements and if placements pull good potential for serious injury or death.

Hope that helps ;)


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By half-pad-mini-jug
From crauschville
May 5, 2010

Tony B wrote:
R means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing day. X means a fall (where it would be likely) will likely end your climbing year or career.


yup.


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By Darren Mabe
From Flagstaff, AZ
May 5, 2010
wham bam hand jam. Wrapping up the final moves of Twist of Fate, Oak Creek Canyon. <br /> <br />photo: Blake McCord

for me, those kinds of letters (R, S, X, etc) tell me that i should feel comfortable enough that i could practically solo the route (and i generally dont free solo). but come to think of it, i dont think i have ever attempted an X-rated climb that i knew about(or had desire to).

and btw, Tony's description is pretty definitive.


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By Buff Johnson
May 5, 2010
smiley face

Interesting comments.

Most of which are relaying the serious rating of the climb should apply to the entirety of the route -- similar as to ice & aid ratings.

Whereas, rock free-climb ratings are actually defined by cruxes, and that the dispute in the free ascents demand the most difficult moves define the route.

Or, we could do what is done elsewhere -- dual ratings -- mandatory & crux -- 5.9R mandatory, 5.11c -- telling you that you must be able to climb 5.9 without falling, but the crux goes at 5.11c protected, (or can be aided in some cases).

The dual system is prevalent elsewhere, it's just not used in this country. Or, I haven't seen it, which may be more accurate for me to say.

It is interesting/kind of an irony that the cruxes are expounded upon as a free ascent and generally the focus of the route's reporting, but you may not actually get a feel for how serious a climb may be in just the one number free grade.

Frankly I think 5.9R where the R is in 5.6 terrain and the climb has a sequence of 5.9 but is protectable should be 5.9 without seriousness, as you are expected to rise to that grade in order to free climb it.


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By Darren Mabe
From Flagstaff, AZ
May 5, 2010
wham bam hand jam. Wrapping up the final moves of Twist of Fate, Oak Creek Canyon. <br /> <br />photo: Blake McCord

i also agree with mark...

for example, when i am equipping a route, then i protect it according to the crux (especially if rapbolting)... in other words, the crux is protected well generally for a leader at that limit, but easier areas may be potentially more spaced. my personal rule of thumb is that there are no 'run-outs'within 2 number grades below the crux grade. for example if the route is 5.12, then generally runouts up to 5.10 should not be an issue to the leader. but similarly, if the route is 5.10, then there should be no runouts harder than 5.8. hope that made sense.

if the route happens to be trad/mixed and/or ground up then of course the cracks dictate the pro and i dont think about the serious rating much, and i let the chips fall where they may, so to speak.


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By Fat Dad
From Los Angeles, CA
May 5, 2010

Greg Barnes wrote:
Super easy answer - to distinguish between R and X you look for routes with R/X ratings - like about half of all routes in Tuolumne! Or do you not have R/X ratings in your guidebooks? The old Tuolumne guide was simple, and many hard core folks think that this should be the defining rule for R vs X: 1) decking potential from near the top of the second pitch on a 5.8: R rated (eg Magical Mystery Tour). 2) Decking potential from 35' on a 5.11 slab: X rated (eg The Pinhead). Also no pro at all on a 5.8 pitch on a 5.9: PG rated (PG in Tuolumne is "protection good" - same as G in other guides) eg Dixie Peach. Risking a 100' plus fall on big cheese-grater knobs: PG/R (same as PG or PG13 in other guidebooks) - eg Great Pumpkin...


You gotta love the Meadows. The place is a awesome and humbling at the same time. I'm always surprised by how much of your A game you need to bring to a non-descript 5.8 or 5.9 there. Makes me glad I cut my teeth at Suicide. Virtually all of the face climbs there are PG or R.


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By J mac
May 6, 2010
Zermatt

WiledHorse wrote:
i also agree with mark... for example, when i am equipping a route, then i protect it according to the crux (especially if rapbolting)... in other words, the crux is protected well generally for a leader at that limit, but easier areas may be potentially more spaced. my personal rule of thumb is that there are no 'run-outs'within 2 number grades below the crux grade. for example if the route is 5.12, then generally runouts up to 5.10 should not be an issue to the leader. but similarly, if the route is 5.10, then there should be no runouts harder than 5.8. hope that made sense. if the route happens to be trad/mixed and/or ground up then of course the cracks dictate the pro and i dont think about the serious rating much, and i let the chips fall where they may, so to speak.


this is pretty common but I don't like it for the same reason I don't solo. There are other variables that may not depend on the climbers ability, a hold could break, bat flys out of hole ect. I realize it does not bother most climbers but there is nothing I hate more than finishing a sport climb at my limit with safe bolt spacing to find a 30ft run out on easier ground to the anchor.


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