Scottish VS and other grades

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To outsiders the grading system used in climbing can appear a little odd; the easy grades are called Difficult and Very Difficult. So what comes after these? well lots actually! Severe, then Very Severe (VS), then Hard Very Severe (HVS). It seems that you just keep adding adjectives as the climbs get harder. After Hard Very Severe came Extremely Severe, but this is broken down in to easy to use E numbers. E1, E2, E3 and so on all the way up to E11, the current hardest grade. However this opened ended grading system wasn't always the case. For many years the maximum grade acknowledged in Scotland was VS. This grade cap is blamed for the curios modern grade of Scottish VS.

If a route in a modern guidebook is graded Scottish VS it may mean that the grade has not been confirmed since it was recorded at VS. Because of this climbs with the grade Scottish VS have a reputation for being either esoteric, remote, hard, or some combination thereof. Some guides use the dagger symbol for older or obscure routes where the grade is in doubt.

A Breif History of Grades

It was in the mid 1970s that 'the new grades' started to appear. 1976 saw Hard Very Severe enter the Scottish grading lexicon. The new climbs section of the 1976 SMC Journal notes that "in conformity with the S.M.T Guidebooks we have extended the grading of summer rock climbs to include Hard Very Severe'. The reasons are obvious."

Maybe it wasn't so obvious to everyone as this seems to have sparked a bit of debate; the following years journal (1977) notes:

"Aspersions have been cast northward suggesting that our reluctance to embrace the full range of fractured severity as practised south of the Border is an indication of hardening arteries, senility or even out-dated racial prejudice. Even mindful of honest criticism we have searched our hearts, and even more important, consulted active climbing opinion on the matter. Views differ between those who would like to see standardisation with England and Wales - subdivision of V.S. into all subgrades and the adoption of individual pitch grading, and those who wish to retain the simple Scottish V.S. in all it's glorious ambiguity. Between lie the majority who react favourably to the move made in the last issue to divide the highest grade into V.S. and H.V.S. catagories the latter including everything above V.S. We may well adopt an X.S. grade in the future, but this will be when there are more climbs - and climbers, in this catagory "

A bold step

It turned out that this future wasn't too distant and by 1978 the SMC had announced "We boldly go where no Scot has gone before and extend the grading system to include Extremely Severe." this move was in part sparked to future-proof the planned series of rock guides the first of which was the 1979 glencoe guide, but mainly in recognition of the rise in standards occurring in Scotland, with particular note to *Freak-Out* and *Titan's Wall*.

By 1979 the journal included a list of climbs "worthy of the [Extreme] grade", also "including E grades where reliably known". These re-grades included climbs upto E3. Among those receiving upgrades were The Bat (E2) and Caligula (E2) on the Ben and the 1958 Smith route Shibboleth (E2) in Glen Coe. The grade debate also started to spill over into the world of winter climbing and the escalation of summer grades prompted the question "Should winter gradings be similarly extended to a Grade VI?"

It took a little time for these changes to filter through into guidebooks. The first SMC guide book to contain extreme grades was the 1980 Glencoe and Glen Etive guide edited by Ken Crockett, although technical grades hadn't yet made an appearance. In comparison just over the border the FRCC 1978 Borrowdale makes use of the Extremely Severe and contains routes up to E5, and the 1980 Langdale Guide goes further in including technical grade for the pitches.

Routes Graded Scottish VS

Landward Face - Am Buachaille

Jumping Jack Flash (1997)- Dow Crag (Yes we know its not in Scotland) - [1]

Night Tripper - Ben Nevis (a norrie route)

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