Defining What You Climb: “Am I a 5.11 climber yet?”

An analysis of the difference between men and women when they say they climb ‘5.something’.

Introduction

Every once in a while I’ll meet a climber and they’ll ask me, “What grade do you climb?” Instantly my mind has flown off into calculation mode.

The Data

I scraped my data from Mountain Project, one of the most popular online guidebooks with access to more than 170,000 routes. In addition to having route information, Mountain Project also has a feature called “Partner Finder” where Mountain Project users can find climbing partners based on their area. Each user lists what grades they’re able to lead and follow for each climbing discipline. Below is a screenshot of what the Partner Finder looks like.

Notable Changes to the Data

Note 1: For this analysis I removed the rows where a user had climbed over a hundred routes that were at or above the grade they claim to climb. Those were outliers, and I’m making the assumption that those might have been mistakes where users improved their climbing abilities without updating their Partner Finder profile.

Distribution of Gender and Age

Gender

In line with the real life gender disparity in the climbing world, my dataset contains far more men than women. There are 3,206 male users, and 731 female users. This is around 4.4 times more men than women.

Age

Most of the users were in their 30s, followed by 20s, 40s, and over 50. According to Consumer Health News, the average age of an indoor climber is 26. On Mountain Project, all of the climbs are for outdoor climbing. This might represent an age difference for outdoor versus indoor climbing, or be a result of the zip codes I scraped from.

What do you lead?

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use the term “Claimed Lead Grade” to refer to the grade people claim to lead. And when I say that somebody has led something, that means that they ticked the route and indicated that they led it on Mountain Project.

  1. Another possibility is that people are consciously picking ‘a’ over ‘b’, ‘c’ or ‘d’. By clustering to the low end of the grade they climb, they’re setting themself up for success by lowering the expectations of those around them. If they fall on a ‘c’ grade, no big deal, they already said they climb an ‘a’ grade. If they send a ‘b’, they’ve surpassed the expectations they’d set for those around them.
  2. People might also consciously low-ball their Claimed Lead Grade since different areas vary in difficulty. A 5.10a in Yosemite is much harder than a 5.10a in Red Rocks. By setting their Claimed Lead Grade low, they might be accounting for some sandbags.

Does this mean that women who say they lead 5.10a are better climbers than men who say they lead 5.10a?

What about the grades that people say they can follow?

Fiona Callahan on Lambada

Summary

When someone says that they lead ‘5.something’ in sport climbing, how many climbs have they led at that grade or higher?

  • Average for Women: 9.8
  • Average for Men: 6.4
  • Average for Women: 5.2
  • Average for Men: 3.6
  • Percent of Male Leads that are Sends: 68.88%
  • Average for Women: .94
  • Average for Men: .52

Key Takeaways

When women claim to lead at a certain grade, they have climbed that grade more often than men who claim to lead the same grade (assuming Mountain Project is a realistic portrayal of how people are climbing in real life).

Further Analysis

This analysis only focused on sport routes but it’d be interesting to analyze trad, boulder, aid, and ice routes as well. I also only focused on the difference between genders in this blog, but I suspect there might also be differences between age groups. There’s so much more to explore!

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