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What are rock climbing grades / ratings?
Grades are a means of estimating the difficulty of a climb. The main purpose of grades is to determine if you should even bother going to an area (or if it will too hard / easy). There is no science involved when determining the grade of a climb. Grades are simply an opinion. Grades are traditionally assigned by the climber who completed the first ascent of the climb.
Tips on utilizing grades
Do not take grades too seriously. A common misinterpretation of grades is after you can climb grade 'X' at your home crag you can climb grade 'X' anywhere. The technique involved in granite, limestone and sandstone are unique. Unique angles as well as textures of rock require individual skills. Indoor grades and outdoor grades rarely coincide (plus the art of 'route finding' is not found in the gym). Grades are a guide. Sandbagging is common.
In the rock climbing world 'Sandbagging' refers to giving a climb an easier grade then it deserves. An example is a climb that would typically be rated as 5.10+ being rated as 5.9- (YDS). Sandbagging is very common in older crags when the grading system was still being developed. Due to tradition the original grade of a climb will be listed in most guide books.
Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)
Yosemite Decimal System is a grading system commonly found in the United States. The basic concept behind the Yosemite Decimal System is simple and utilizes the following format:
Format: Class.Sub_Grade Suffix Danger_Factor
Example: 5.11b R (5 is Class, 11 is Sub_Grade, b is Suffix and R is Danger Factor).
Classes (Yosemite Decimal System)
An example would be 5.9 where '5' is the 'Class' and 9 is the 'Sub-Grade'. In YDS the class has a value from 1 to 6.
1 = Walking
2 = Hiking up steep trail
3 = Steep hiking
4 = Steep hiking / scrambling. Some parties may want a rope.
5 = Climbing. Most parties will want a rope. Exposed terrain.
6 = Aid climbing only
In free climbing most grades will be class 5. Mountaineering typically involves everything from class 1 to 6. Aid Climbing focuses mainly on difficult class 5 climbs and class 6 climbs.
Sub-Grade (Yosemite Decimal System)
The sub-grade ranges from 1 to a theoretically infinite number (today the highest number is 15). The number is increased when a 'harder' climb is developed.
5.12-5.13 Very Difficult
Suffix (Yosemite Decimal System)
A suffix is often found on grades 5.10 and higher.
Suffix have two traditional formats. Alphabetic suffix range are 'a','b','c' or 'd'. 5.10a is the easiest 5.10. 5.10d is the hardest 5.10.
The alternative is '+', '-'. 5.10+ is a difficult 5.10 and 5.10- is an easier 5.10.
Danger Factor (Yosemite Decimal System)
Danger factors describe the protection available (or that can be placed) on a climb. Most ratings do not have a danger factor rating and this indicates that the climb is well protected (but always use your own discretion).
PG Runouts may be present but falls will not be dangerous
R Long runouts are present. There is enough protection to stop you from hitting the ground but injuries may occur.
X Little or no protection. There are areas where falling is not acceptable. Death can occur from a fall on this climb.
S This is a fairly new danger factor rating scale. 'S' stands for 'serious' and is similar to an 'R' danger factor except that 'S' values are affiliated with a 'Sub-Grade' value. An example grade would be:
9 is the sub-grade value affiliated with the 'S' value. This sub-grade indicates that there is a potentially hazardous 5.9 move on the climb but the crux (the 5.11 move) is well protected. This system is good because many 5.12 climbers would be willing to runout 5.9 moves but not willing to runout 5.11 moves.
Multipitch grades indicates the amount of time a strong party will complete the route in. The standard format is shown below.
Grade [Roman-numerical value]
Grade I Quick climb.
Grade II Two - three hours.
Grade III Half a day
Grade IV All day
Grade V Two days
Grade VI Longer than two days
International Grading Systems
There are unique grading systems throughout the entire world. The following table compares them.
||3b VD, 3B HVD
||3c HVD, 3c S
||4a S, 4a HS
||4a VS, 4b HS
||6a E2, 5C E3
||6a E4, 6b E4
||6b E4, 6a E5
||6a E5, 6c E5
Aid Climbing Grades
- A0 - Aiding a one inch, granite crack would be A0. You can place protection whenever you choose. No hook moves are required. A0 is also used to describe bolted routes that are bolted so close together that a climber can reach the next bolt< from the previous bolt.
- A1 - One or two hook moves may be required between protection placements.
- A2 - Multiple hook moves in a row on good hook placements (longer fall potential than A0 - A1).
- A3 - Multiple hook moves in a row including body weight only placements, moderate - scary runouts.
- A4 - Primarily body weight only placements hook moves, including scary (often dangerous) runouts. Extremely technical gear placements.
Bouldering Rating Scale
The standard bouldering rating scale is measured in 'V' grades ranging from 0-16. 16 is the current highest value and will increase in the future.
V0 is an 'easy' boulder problem (though most V0s are still challenging for beginner climbers). V16 is the hardest. VB is becoming popular in gyms and stands for V-Beginner.