I think I'll never climb 11. You might be forgiven for thinking I'm talking about climbing 5.11 (YDS), but I'm actually talking about climbing Ewbank 11. This sad truth has probably been slowly worming its way into my brain, much like one of those nasty African worms that enter through people's feet and make them dreadfully ill. My first experience with 11 was at a small crag in bushland in the Sutherland Shire where I grunted my way up a hugely overhanging route on tiny slopes. After that, came the Frog Buttress affair when I whipped off a steep 11 that I was stemming and slammed into the wall with such force that Doug was nearly ripped from his feet. At Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell Range, I thrutched my way up an 8, but cruised a 16. I know that 8 is not 11, but, you are probably beginning to get a sense of things. Just a couple of days ago, I only got up an 11 at a small crag near Alice Springs on the second try. Today, I managed to lead a 14 and a 15, but clearly, neither of these is 11.
Doug, not on an 11
At first glance, the Ewbank system of grading seems like a frightfully good idea. Start at one, make the scale open ended and just keep going up. Up the grade if the protection is poor, tricky, or non-existent. Somewhere in the implementation the whole thing seems to fall apart. During our two years in Australia we have climbed 8's that are harder by a few grades than 18's. 16's that are easier than 10's, 17's that are indistinguishable from 13's and pretty much every combination in between. We've retreated from "trad" routes with zero gear for the entire climb, and, after swearing we would never climb on those retard bolts (aka carrots) climbed on them dozens of times (I'd still prefer a ring bolt). But, one thing I'll never, ever do is climb 11.