Nigel Parry on the three star V Diff-Left Edge-above Nant Francon.Photo Dave Williams
A few weeks ago, an idea was tossed into the guidebook hat for discussion concerning the introduction of a new star system along the lines of a system apparently being used in Scottish climbing guidebook circles. That is, the introduction of a new 4 star grade at the top end which of course would see in effect all rock climbs falling into five categories. Those which fall outside of the star seal of quality and those in the 1/ 2/ 3 and 4 star grades.
Categorizing climbs according to the attribution of stars has always been controversial in guidebook circles. There is of course always debate about the merits or otherwise of those routes at the top of the pile while many un-starred climbs equally provoke comment from those who feel that many unattributed climbs are at least worthy of a lousy single star!
A few years ago The Climbers Club did away with stars altogether from one of its guides-Tremadog 2000-in the hope that it would encourage punters to halt their puerile star gathering and check out other routes which were falling into neglect. Of course that idea didn't work and CC guidebooks in common with the rest of the commercial and club publications are still using stars.
I think one advantage of extending the star range would be to bring some decent unstarred routes into range. However, it could be argued that the routes which remain outside the star system will receive an even more sniffy response from the guidebook buying public.
Furthermore, do stars dilute the sense of adventure when embarking on a climb? Certainly, on a popular crag, anyone climbing a three star route will have a good idea that the route will be clean, stripped of dirt and vegetation and no doubt sporting a well marked chalk trail to follow, Whereas the un-starred climbed may well be so infrequently ascended that it's still loose and dirty.
Of course the backdrop to all this is the undeniable fact that traditional adventure climbing on big mountain cliffs in particular is becoming less popular anyway due to significant changes in the habits and tastes of the climbing public. With sports climbing and bouldering now more popular than ever, throw in the average young climbers increasing predilection for sampling other 'extreme' sports like Snowboarding, surfing and mountain biking and you are left to wonder how much longer the traditional paper guidebook can continue in its current guise regardless of the star system ?