Sandbagged: Are You Kidding Yourself?

It's the new buzzword that's been around forever: sandbagged.

"That 10c is definitely more like 11b!"

"That CAN'T be 12a... I NEVER fall off of 12a!"

"This is WAY harder than the other two 13a's I've done, so it MUST be 13d!  At least!"

Or more precisely...


Funny, I never hear, "Damn, that 10d kicked my ass.  I guess I've got some things to learn," or, "That 13a felt pretty hard to me, I guess I should actually work on slopers for a while."

Nope.  Instead, we blame the grades.  The numbers.  The proposed suggestions of vague measurement.  

You're kidding yourself.  Worse, you're stunting your growth.  Holding yourself back.   Even worse than that, if your friends believe your bullshit, you're holding them back as well.

First off, let's look at the word "sandbagged."  Actually, don't.  Some of the definitions are a little crazy.  Best to just leave those alone.

The two definitions I find most appropriate to climbing are these:

1."The act of undermining someone else's opinion subtly, yet in a public area, to make him/her appear foolish."

2."When you're tricked into doing something because you weren't given all of the information you needed to make a good decision."

Was the route graded low to intentionally make people look stupid?  Doubtful.  I, for one, have never seen it.  Not in Vedauwoo, not in Joshua Tree, not in the VRG.  The grades seem pretty much the same to me across every area I've climbed in, and when they don't, I just assume I'm missing a key ingredient, and I go back to the drawing board.

Were you tricked into something?  Probably not.  At least not directly.  Maybe your gym's setters have an overinflated view of their abilities, and the V5/6 problems are actually much closer to V3/4.  In which case, you go outside and THINK that you should be climbing V5/6.  When you get shut down on that classic V4 that 30,938,349,087 people have done and reached a consensus on, you feel sandbagged, and you need to protect your ego by proclaiming it loudly.  I don't blame you.  I get it.  I sympathize, (not really).  But the grade isn't sandbagged.  You were sandbagged by your setters.  Blame them.  Better yet, blame yourself for falling for it and putting so much weight in their proposed suggestions of vague measurement.  Measurements that are faulty to begin with because your setters climb outside twice a year and get sandbagged on EVERY rock climb they try.  See the pattern?  

Bob Scarpelli, of Vedauwoo offwidth fame, is often considered by many to be the world's biggest sandbagger.  Frankly, I didn't find his routes to be sandbagged at all.  Did they feel ridiculously hard?  Yes.  Fuck, yes.  But when I watched Bob climb them, it became obvious that his technique was light years ahead of mine.  As I learned from Bob and got better, the routes felt more like the given grade.  Had I just blamed the grade, I might never have gotten better at offwidth climbing.

When you're hanging there on the end of the rope, or crumpled in a heap on your crashpad, incensed that you've been sandbagged by this clearly undergraded rock climb, before you look stupid for voicing your thoughts, take a breath.  This is an extremely valuable moment.  

It's an opportunity to learn something.  An opportunity to better yourself.  

See, you have the tools to change yourself.  You have gyms.  You get to watch better climbers all day long if you wish.  There are great coaches out there, (did I mention that we build machines?).  You can get better.  And best of all, you know EXACTLY what to work on.

You can also change that grade on your 8a scorecard, but you didn't get better as a result of it, did you?  

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