[Update 13/10/2017: user NP pointed out an interesting issue with the below article in the comments.  We’ve done a follow up in Are Hard Climbs Better? Part 2]

Have you ever noticed how if you flip open your favourite guidebook all the hardest climbs in the area will tend to get more stars than the easier climbs? On the surface this is quite strange, it seems weird that hard climbs are somehow inherently better than easy climbs.

We were having a look through the 8a.nu top 100 female/route/boulder dataset and noticed this trend once again.

8a.nu provides a couple of mechanisms for users to record how good they thought a given climb was: they can give a star rating from 0 to 3 (similar to what you’d find in most guidebooks) or they can add the climb to their recommended ascents. If we look at the user ratings, we see a very clear trend of users rating their high grade ascents more highly than their lower grade ascents. This is true for both routes and boulders. For the ‘User Recommends’ metric we see a similar trend for routes, though interestingly we don’t see this for boulders.

Why is this? We probably need to think about what it means for a climb to be ‘of high quality’. Thinking about it from a guidebook author’s point of view, they’re trying to recommend routes to climbers so that the climber can have an enjoyable experience. One persons enjoyable experience is a 72-hours-with-no-sleep alpine epic whereas another’s enjoyable experience is a couple of hours’ low grade bouldering after work. These people have different ideas about what a quality climb is, so in catering to a wide audience the guidebook author needs to take an average of how much fun all these people will have on a given climb to try and work out a star rating.

Thinking about the question of quality from the point of view of a single climber is easier. Did you enjoy the climb or not?! This makes the interpretation of the 8a.nu data substantially easier, as we don’t need to worry about any of this ‘average experience’ guidebook related stuff. In other words, we can conclude from the data above that on average the people who use 8a.nu enjoy hard climbing more than easy climbing.

We need to be careful about generalising from the 8a.nu sample as there could be some selection bias at work here. Perhaps people who like logging all their climbs and scoring themselves against others are more competitive and thus enjoy harder climbs?

So to answer our original question…are hard climbs better? Well it depends who you ask! The population of 8a.nu probably enjoys pushing themselves on hard climbs more than average, so of course they’ll say harder climbs are better because that’s what they enjoy!