Climbing is fun, and there’s no denying that. But by not paying attention to the rock climbing grade, you’re essentially risking your safety and that of others.
Carelessness like these might lead you to life-threatening injuries or even death itself, and we’re not exaggerating.
Today we’re going to state the means of avoiding all these unfortunate possibilities explicitly.
By showing you the proper way to assess, understand, and convert both climbing and bouldering grades.
If you’re a fellow climber, stay with us till the end to get a better insight on the entire subject.
What Are Climbing Rating Systems and Why Do You Need Them?
Put merely, rating (or grading) systems are assessments of difficult or easy a particular climbing route is.
These grading systems provide climbers with a rough idea of what to expect before hitting the site.
Thanks to these grades, climbers don’t need to experiment at the risk of their lives to test a specific route.
Today, many grading systems are in practice all across the world. As a result, it can be quite tedious to understand which grade means what.
Lucky for you, we’ll be concisely discussing all the popular systems.
The purpose is to help you translate them, no matter which part of the world you are from.
Climbing Grade: Popular 5 Rating Systems you should know
Let’s say all the rock climbing routes went to school, and the teacher assessed them based on how difficult they were to climb.
The marks that they’d get would be their climbing grade. Any guesses on who’s the teacher?
You, I, and other fellow climbers who have attempted to climb that rock.
Here are some of the most popular grading systems that you must know as a sensible rock climber –
01. Yosemite Decimal System:
Mountaineers widely use this system in North America. As you can tell from the name, its origins are from the hills of Yosemite.
Grade 1-4 in this system stands for walks of various difficulties. 1 being the easiest and 4 hardest. The climbing starts when the scale hits 5.
Grade 5 divides into 15 sections, where 5.0 through 5.3 involves scrambling. If the decimal number rises, so does the difficulty.
You can further divide 5.1-5.15 into four subsections, such as 5.2a, 5.2b, 5.2c, and 5.2d.
Anything below 5.8 is appropriate for beginners. Whereas 5.8 – 5.13 are for advanced climbers only.
All other grades beyond the 5.13 margin on YDS are for the elite climbers in the game.
Other than that, there’s also an optional protection rating that reads from G, PG, PG13 all the way through R and X.
Here, G and PG stand for adequate protection. A fall from PG13 might cause severe injuries.
R refers to severe injuries, even if safety is present. Lastly, the worst-case scenario of falling from X is death.
02. UIAA Grade:
UIAA is one of the most famous European Climbing Grades, most popularly used by mountaineers from Germany and Italy.
The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation certifies this scale as their official grading method.
Grade 1 and 2 from the system refers to scrambling with a little steep climb, making it appropriate for beginners.
Phase 3 is for the intermediate climbers, whereas the 4 is for advanced and experienced ones.
5 and 6 require technical and well-thought climbing as the routes start to become challenging.
In grades 7 and 8, it’s just plain hard with very distant holds and minimal support. More often than not, you’ll find this grading in bolted routes.
03. British Trad Grade:
The British Trad (short for traditional) Grade comes into play to represent the overall climbing experience.
It is, in fact, a tad bit different from the other grading systems out there. This grade fragments into two distinct portions, namely –
As the name suggests, the adjectival grade is an adjective grading for all rock climbing factors.
These factors include everything, such as rock texture, height, rigidity, and hold placement distance.
The grades are as follows –
- Very difficult
- Very severe
- Hard very severe
- Extremely severe (ranging from E1 through E11)
As a climber, you must be familiar with the term ‘crux’. It is the most challenging section of the entire route.
Technical grades are grades for the crux and not the whole mountain. Climbers rate the crux commonly using a number from 1 through 6, where each number further divides into a, b, c, and d.
04. French Climbing Grades:
Like UIAA, you’ll find this grade in almost all bolted routes in France and nearby nations.
The system is relatively simple and only uses the combination of numbers and letters to represent difficulty.
In other words, the easiest difficulty is 1, and the higher the number, the more difficult it gets.
Occasionally you will notice subsections of a, b, c, and d for increasing difficulties.
Mountaineers will also use a plus (+) sign to indicate that the route is harder than the said grading. Example: 6b+, 4c etc.
05. Saxon Switzerland Grade:
This grading reigns in East Germany/Czech. The entire grading is based more or less on the UIAA Grade.
But the only difference is that it uses roman numerals to define difficulty.
However, this grading is counted as a different one because the rules of climbing for this are slightly different.
For instance, you cannot use metal hooks and pickers as they will damage the sandstones. You can’t use chalks either; instead, you may use a cotton cloth to deal with the sweat.
Here, the most manageable grade is I, and as the Roman numeral progress to II, III, and IV, the climb starts to get harder.
When the level hits VII, you can further divide them into a,b,c, and d. Currently, the most challenging route in Saxon Swiss Grading has a grading of XIc.
Bouldering Grades: Popular 2 Bouldering Difficulty Scale
Bouldering is the same as rock climbing, except now the rocks are smaller or artificial. Also, you’re not allowed to use ropes/harness.
It might sound a little intimidating at first, but many sportsmen deem bouldering as ‘more fun’ than traditional rope-climbing. Of course, this opinion may vary from climber to climber.
Now, all boulder grading out there are technical gradings. So, those are not the exclusive representation of the climb.
Instead, these grades will largely depend on how hard/comfortable the overall climbing experience was.
Here’s how the mountaineers grade bouldering routes across the world –
This grading starts from VB, where B stands for beginners. Next comes V0, which gradually goes all the way up to V17.
In most bouldering gyms, you will only notice routes going as much as up to V10. Anything after that is mostly outdoors.
The V in V scale stands for Vermin, the iconic boulderer John Sherman. That is because he and his folks were the first ones to term the grading on this scale.
There are some optional additions to the V grading as well. For example, if you see V-fun or V-weird, it means that climbers cannot rate the route by the V scale.
However, you’re bound to come across the plus (+) and minus (-) signs. Simply put, V4 is harder than V4- but more straightforward than V4+. Again V5 is harder than V4+ and so on.
Fontainebleau Boulder Grade (Font Scale):
The Font scale is has been most popular in various parts of Asia and Europe since they first came into being.
Today, this scale single-handedly dominates the bouldering grade scales alongside the V scale.
Like the V scale, the font scales are also rated by numbers such as 1,2,3 and so on. But when the Font scale hits 6, things get a little tricky.
For instance, you’ll have to add A, B, and C to further divide the numbers according to difficulty.
You may also add a plus, in the end, to further depict the extra complication of a level.
Climbing Grade Conversion and Comparison
By now, you must have realized that the plethora of options in terms of grading systems are vast. Well, that’s because different regions choose to grade their routes differently. Remember that no grade is ‘better’ than the other. Different grading will markup your terrain differently, and that’s what we may coin as normal.
But here’s the problem. If you are a climber or boulderer from the USA and just traveled to Northern Europe, you’re most likely to face some issues understanding the grading. This is where the grading conversions will come into play.
Here’s another example – Let’s say you’re used to the V scale, but now you’re here at the foot of a boulder that has Font Scale ratings. If you know the conversion, then you will quickly understand that the 6A+ written on the boulder means V3 from the V scale.
In other words, the conversion will allow you to translate scale to scale. As a result, you’ll be able to decide better whether the boulder or mountain is up to your ante or not. Here is the conversion table of the prominent climbing and bouldering scales for your reference –
Rise above Your Fear of Height
If you want to become a proficient climber, you must always start with learning the grades. Lastly, this step should always be shortly followed by practice and determination. Any climber that manages to dedicate their time to these two pointers is bound to succeed. Best of luck and happy climbing!