Making the Grade Part 3

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Mark Cobb MTG pt3 Cover

A different day, a different boulder.


Part 3 of 5


Part 1

Part 2


The grade? Did it matter? Did I need to put myself through such discomfort (that somehow remains unfelt until the next day)?

Hmmmmm, chasing the grade or chasing the joy;… the adventure!

Niall Grimes told me, ‘Basically grades are on my mind all the time. I mean some of the places are nice, and I’ve met some okay people, but I swap them all to do an 8a.’

I suppose for much of my time climbing, grades are on my mind a great deal. Initially, getting into bouldering, I was desperate to be seen as a proper climber, to be able to climb the problems my friends did. To not look rubbish. At my local wall, (Brookes Climb) which I’ve always found pretty challenging, one measures one’s progress via the grades. So, there is almost always some kind of grade chasing. Not to outdo others, but to share ideas on problems, to be part of the group, some kind of acceptance. I think there was a point in my climbing, coinciding with greater confidence, greater experience and perhaps a growing feeling of acceptance, that I was a ‘proper climber’. At this point, I definitely became less concerned, overtly, with looking for problems based on their grades and would feel equally happy climbing for a variety of different reasons, with much less accent on grades. I would, however, still want to challenge myself by trying an eliminate route, or as a sit start or through some other way of creating that challenge.

A climbing Cobb

Katherine Schirrmacher enlarged on this, by telling me ‘If I’m honest, this has changed throughout my climbing career. Initially as I progressed quickly they were a source of motivation, especially as the harder I could climb, the more routes I could do. However after a while I fell into a common trap of the grades meaning more than they should do. It’s a fine balance of the ego, where we push ourselves forward to get the best out of our body and mind versus the grade becoming part of our self-worth. At this point now grades are a guideline and I’m more able to also know, without attachment, that grades are sometimes meaningless depending on your height, hand size or reach.’

So, different people, slightly different perceptions and also changing perceptions. As I’ve got older, my view of this has developed, probably because of wanting to continue to test myself. To still be able to climb as hard as I have done in the past. Inevitably, the time will arrive, when I won’t be able to get up that nails V8 and will have to be satisfied with lower grades, or perhaps different styles of difficulty. I’d like to think, that even if I’m not as strong as I used to be, my technique and footwork will continue to develop, allowing me to still climb as hard as I want to. I have climbed in some places, where, without even thinking of the grade, a line presents itself and cries out to be climbed. If one is able to be free of the guidebooks and the ever growing beta, one could still climb hard, by knowing one’s own strengths, weaknesses and by just getting on the rock and climbing it.

Written by Mark Cobb, Climbing Ambassador for Brookes Climbing Wall. I would like to thank Simon Rawlinson, Niall Grimes and Katherine Schirrmacher for their wonderful contributions to this article. As ever, thanks to Johnny Dawes for his constant inspiration and motivation.

If you would like to have a go at climbing, why not contact our climbing wall at Oxford Brookes University Centre for Sport in Headington. For more information about climbing or email

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