The Meaningless "R"

It SNOWED in Denver yesterday (middle of May, mind you...) so I'll blame my purely-critical bloggery on the gloomy mood outside. Perusing the internet this afternoon, I came across a link to Hazel Findlay making the first female climb of Air Sweden in Indian Creek. And that's awesome. Air sweden follows a thin-hand and ringlock crack (Sweden-Ringle 5.12), then where the crack temporarily peters out (and Swedin-Ringle ends), one must use the incipent crack features and the nearby arete to continue straight up for ~3 body lengths without gear, until the crack reopens. This crack is then followed shortly to a second bolted anchor.

My problem? Air Sweden is "5.13 R"

I've always understood an "R" to mean that a fall is likely to result in injury. Hence in all but the most unusual of mountain circumstances*, I think adding an "R" is completely redundant when grading an alpine route, as very few don't feature some "fall and you're gonna get hurt" climbing.

Being above one's gear on a vertical or overhanging pitch is one thing, but climbing above one's gear with a strong likelihood of serious inury from a fall? That's something else. And it's something I generally seek to avoid. I don't want to just guess if that "R" stands for "rescue & evac." or "really clean airtime."

"I fell slapping quite high in the slot on my
second attempt, but it is a nice clean fall."

Dozens of climbers have been on Air Sweden, many of them falling repeatedly on film. (And here and here...) but not a scratch among them. It's not a dangerous route, and it shouldn't be "R" rated.

*an example of when I understand giving your alpine route an "R" rating is when falling from the route's crux, especially if it is several grades harder than anything else, would result in injury. A 5.11+ R with sketchy 5.9 and a well-protected 5.11 is different than a 5.11+ R where missing the crux onsight lands you in the hospital.


  1. Agreed that Air Swedin does not warrant an R rating. You could actually place quite a bit of small, but solid, gear in the crack on your right. If you were really strong.

    And you're right about the fall being clean. My friend Brad skipped the optional small piece that many folks place (including Eric Decaria in the film), and fell at pretty much the highest possible spot. Lifted me a good ways off the ground, but he pulled right back up and tried it again.


  2. Disagree. Sort of.

    I do agree that the R designation means "serious injury or hospitalization likely". I don't agree that Air Swedin is a safe route.

    Any time you're looking at taking a 40' plus ride on vertical terrain, injury is very possible, and that injury could be very bad. I don't think it would be a fluke (as in "by totally random bad luck he hit his head on a G-rated route and was seriously injured"). I think it is a significant possibility. 1) The fall is huge and you are going to hit the wall (you're not falling into space). 2) It's soft sandstone and the higher you go the smaller the gear is that you're falling on (either a green Alien - small cam! - WAY below you, or a 00 TCU - an aid climbing piece - slightly below you). Bigger pieces have ripped in smaller falls at IC. 3) Did I mention the fall is huge? A lot of things can happen in a flight like that - especially since when you fall off you might be trying really hard and distracted from keeping your body in a perfect falling position.

    On the other hand, as many climbers have demonstrated, the fall can certainly be a clean one too. I guess I think the R rating in this case may not fit the typical profile for R-rated climbs, but does command (necessary) respect for the risks involved in climbing this route.

    Lastly, the entire reason I'm posting is of course to blab in as many public forums as I can about how the Swedin-Ringle Anchors need to be chopped already!

  3. Rumor is that Sarah Watson recently sprained both ankles on this route...

    Also recently heard that someone else fell, popped a cam, broke a chunk of the rock and made a pod so now it's a tiny bit easier.

    So, falls on this route could be serious but don't have to be. Maybe a PG-13 rating is a bit more accurate?

    Joshua, as someone who is interested in climbing Swedin-Ringle but not Air Swedin, I have to ask that the anchors remain.