Climbing is a huge part of my life, and I love rock climbing.
All of types of rock climbing.
(*with a rope)
One thing I have noticed while being immersed in the climbing world, is that pro climbers, and especially the pro climbers that get the lionshare of the publicity, tend to be highly specialized. They are the very top echelon of their specific sub-type of climbing. And this goes beyond just sport vs trad - the people who make the big headlines are often specialized down to even the specific type of rock, specific type of hold and movement, and specific angle.
For example, the climbing community might revel at somebody sending a 5.15, but often the person doing the sending is just really good at steep overhanging mono dynos, and if you were to put them on a 5.10+ flared fist crack, much less an A2 bigwall (which are both pretty moderate in grand scheme of things), they would struggle.
Maybe you can see where I'm heading with this - that I'm going to make an argument in favor of all-around climbers. And you're right (in a sense) - I do believe that all-around accomplishments should be celebrated.
That said, I don't want anyone to think that I'm putting down climbers that have the type of single-minded focus needed to reach the peak of any one sub-discipline within climbing. I have mad respect for the Chris Sharma's and Dave Graham's of the world, but I do not aspire to be like them - I like all sorts of climbing too much to focus so deeply on just one type. And fundamentally, I think there are more climbers out there like me (who aspire to climb lots of different styles and excel at many disciplines within climbing), than there are who are hyper-specialized.
I actually have even more respect for someone like Fly'n Brian McCray (RIP). Don't know who that is? Or maybe just don't know what his accomplishments were? Well, how about this list:
Solo Bigwall Aiding
Bigwall Speed Records
Trad and Sport single pitch route development/FAs
Trad and Sport multipitch route development/FAs
Ground up Bigwall FAs
And probably many additional impressive rock climbing feats that I don't know about, not to mention alpine accomplishments (to me alpine climbing is really a separate discipline from rock climbing).
Personally, a guy like Brian McCray inspires me more than all the Sharmas and Grahams out there, but McCray was, and remains, under-the-radar. I wish I could have met him before he passed away.
With Brian McCray as inspiration, I'd like to define a "Rock Climbing Decathlon". To me this makes a useful way to measure not just breadth of climbing experience, but excellence across all the major sub-disciplines of climbing. Of course this is only my proposal, and you are free to take issue with some of my choices, but mostly this is a definition that I am creating for myself, as a set of goals to accomplish during my climbing lifetime.
But first, a couple notes:
- I'm only going for rock climbing - not anything that involves frozen stuff. Alpine and ice climbing are badass, but I see them as different genres than rock climbing.
- With the exception of bouldering, I'm only going for rock climbing that involves ropes. Free soloing and daisy soloing are impressive, but not my cup of tea.
- Rock climbing to me consists of 3 different sub-groups - Free climbing, Aid climbing, and Route Development/FAs. I have accomplishments laid out in each of those areas.
Without further ado, I present the Fly'n Brian McCray Climbing Decathlon:
(Parenthesis enumerate how I propose measuring each of the levels - all of these refer to outdoor grades only):
Sport (measured by: YDS)
Trad (measured by: YDS)
Offwidth* (measured by: YDS)
Bouldering (measured by: Hueco)
Wall** Climbing (measured by: Aid Ratings)
Speed Wall Climbing (measured by: NIAD time)
Solo Wall Climbing (measured by: # of pitches)
Single Pitch FAs (measured by: # of individual routes developed/FAed)
Multipitch Free FAs (measured by: # of pitches)
Ground-up Wall FAs (measured by: # of pitches)
Additional cool accomplishments outside the McCray Decathlon:
Climb in many different countries
Route maintenance (rebolting/anchor replacement)
* Many people may argue that offwidth climbing is a subset of trad climbing. It sorta is, but once you get into the (odd, obscure) world of harder offwidth, you find sport-bolted offwidths too. Hard offwidth is really its own thing. A 5.12 fingercrack at the Creek is more similar to a Smith Rock two-finger-pocket-and-crimp sport route than either of those is to a 5.12 invert at Vedauwoo. Hence why I think offwidth should be its own discipline, although I fully recognize how obscure it is to the average climber. I also considered whether slab climbing should have its own criteria, but then I decided that I wasn't sure it really was a thing. Do 5.12 or 5.13 slab routes get those grades because of the slab moves? Or because of hard crimpy climbing past a bulge in the middle, or something like that. I guess I'm just not sure that 5.13 slab is really a thing and that anything that proposes to be 5.13 slab might just be 5.13 runout sport or trad. I'm open to being proven wrong on this however.
** The term "wall" or "bigwall" is pretty amorphous. I think a wall is any grade III or longer multipitch climb that has mandatory (or semi-mandatory - ie to avoid 5.12 or harder free climbing, or to avoid R/X danger) aid climbing mixed in. I also considered putting in bigwall free climbing as a discipline, but then I thought about it and bigwall free climbing is really just long multipitch free climbing, so I don't think it's really its own thing. Similarly, I think that "alpine climbs" without any ice/snow on them are really just multipitch free climbs that have longer approaches and chossier rock.
So, if that's the list of 10 sub-disciplines within rock climbing, then what are the levels at which each should be accomplished to be a well-rounded climbing decathlete? Again, only my proposals, but I'll lay out 3 thresholds: 5.11 equivalent, 5.12 equivalent, and 5.13 equivalent.
5.11 equivalent climbing decathlete:
- Sport: 5.11a
- Trad: 5.11a
- Offwidth: 5.11a
- Bouldering: V4
- Wall Climbing: C2+
- Speed Wall Climbing: NIAD in sub 24hrs
- Solo Wall Climbing: Any solo wall
- Single Pitch FAs: 5 quality routes
- Multipitch Free FAs: a route at least 3 pitches long
- Ground-up wall FAs: a wall FA at least 5 pitches long
Bonus: Climb in at least 5 different countries, and re-bolt at least 5 different routes
5.12 equivalent climbing decathlete:
- Sport: 5.12a
- Trad: 5.12a
- Offwidth: 5.12a
- Bouldering: V6
- Wall Climbing: A3
- Speed Wall Climbing: NIAD in sub 18hrs
- Solo Wall Climbing: Any solo wall longer than 12 pitches
- Single Pitch FAs: 9 quality routes
- Multipitch Free FAs: a route at least 6 pitches long
- Ground-up wall FAs: a wall FA at least 9 pitches long
Bonus: Climb in at least 9 different countries, and re-bolt at least 9 different routes
5.13 equivalent climbing decathlete:
- Sport: 5.13a
- Trad: 5.13a
- Offwidth: 5.13a
- Bouldering: V8
- Wall Climbing: A4
- Speed Wall Climbing: NIAD in sub 13hrs
- Solo Wall Climbing: Any solo El Cap route, or another wall 16 pitches or longer
- Single Pitch FAs: 13 quality routes
- Multipitch Free FAs: a route at least 9 pitches long
- Ground-up wall FAs: a wall FA at least 13 pitches long
Bonus: Climb in at least 13 different countries, and re-bolt at least 13 different routes
So personally, I'm not too far off from accomplishing the 5.12 level McCray Decathlon, but what I really want is that 5.13 level.
I would love to compile a list of climbers who have reached the 5.13 McCray Decathlon level, but I'm not sure there's really a good way to do this. The strongest climbing decathlete currently alive that I can think of is Pete Takeda, who is a true all-arounder in the McCray mold. Climbers that come to my mind that might be close include Cedar Wright and Dave Allfrey, although hard offwidth and bigwall FAs might throw a couple monkey-wrenches in things.