In rock climbing, mountaineering and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a climbing grade to a route that concisely describes the difficulty and danger of climbing the route. Different aspects of climbing each have their own grading system, and many different nationalities developed their own, distinctive grading systems. There are a number of factors that contribute to the difficulty of a climb including the technical difficulty of the moves, the strength and stamina required, the level of commitment, and the difficulty of protecting the climber. Different grading systems consider these factors in different ways, so no two grading systems have an exact one-to-one correspondence.
The Ewbank system is intended to simply grade the hardest individual move on a climb. The current practice is to make mention of all factors affecting the climber's experience (exposure, difficulty of setting protection or outright lack of protection) in the description of the climb contained in the guide.
The "6+" (locally pronounced "6sup") was considered the hardest possible grade until 1980s. So when an even harder route was established, it was proposed to use "French" style of letters for the newer "sporting" climbs. so, 1...6+ are "classical" and 7A,7B...12a are sporting grades. The first Brazilian 7A is ‘Ácido Lático’ by André Ilha, Marcelo Braga e Marcelo Ramos.
The French 7a+ grade is mostly equivalent to the Brazilian 8a. For US-BR conversion, ignore "5." and subtract 4. (5.10=6).
The adjectival grade attempts to assess the overall difficulty of the climb taking into account all factors, for a climber leading the route on sight in traditional style. In the early 20th century it ran Easy, Moderate, Difficult, but increasing standards have several times led to extra grades being added at the top. The adjectival grades are as follows:
The Extremely Severe grade is subdivided in an open-ended fashion into E1 (easiest), E2, E3 and so on. As of 2006 the hardest climb was graded E11: Rhapsody on Dumbarton Rock, climbed by Dave Macleod, featured French 8c+ climbing with the potential of a 20-metre fall onto a small wire. In 2008, James Pearson climbed The walk of life at Dyer's Lookout, North Devon; the ascent was performed without using bolts or pitons, with just mobile protections, and was graded E12/7a. However, many climbers consider such high grades provisional, as the climbs have not yet been achieved on sight.
Some guidebooks make finer distinctions by adding the prefix "Mild"; thus, Mild Severe lies between Hard Very Difficult and Severe. Additionally, in some areas the grade "XS" is used for climbs on loose or crumbling rock, irrespective of their technical difficulty.
The technical grade attempts to assess only the technical climbing difficulty of the hardest move or moves on the route, without regard to the danger of the move or the stamina required if there are several such moves in a row. Technical grades are open-ended, starting at 1 and subdivided into "a", "b" and "c", but are rarely used below 3c. The hardest recorded climbs are around 7a (or, controversially, 7b)
Usually the technical grade increases with the adjectival grade, but a hard technical move very near the ground (that is, notionally safe) may not raise the standard of the adjectival grade very much. VS 4c might be a typical grade for a route. VS 4a would usually indicate very poor protection (easy moves, but no gear), while VS 5b would usually indicate the crux move was the first move or very well protected. On multi-pitch routes it is usual to give the overall climb an adjectival grade and each pitch a separate technical grade (such as HS 4b, 4a).
A YDS rating consists of 3 parts: the Grade, the Class, and the protection rating. The Grade and protection rating are optional, and usage varies widely. When the climb also involves aid climbing, the aid climbing grade can be appended to the free climbing rating. Some examples: El Capitan – The North America Wall VI, 5.8, A5 or Medlicott Dome – Bachar/Yerian 5.11c (X,***)
Guidebooks often append some number of stars to the YDS rating, to indicate a climb's overall "quality" (how "fun" or "worthwhile" the climb is). This "star ranking" is unrelated to the YDS system, and varies from guidebook to guidebook.
The Grade is more relevant to mountaineering and big wall climbing, and often not stated when talking about short rock climbs.
In theory, Class 6 exists and is used to grade aid climbing (where progress is made by climbing directly on equipment placed in or on the rock and not the rock itself). However, the separate A (aid) rating system became popular instead. (See Aid climbing)
The original intention was that the classes would be subdivided decimally, so that a route graded 4.5 would be a scramble halfway between 4 and 5, and 5.9 would be the hardest rock climb. Increased standards and improved equipment meant that climbs graded 5.9 in the 1960s are now only of moderate difficulty. Rather than regrade all climbs each time standards improve, additional grades were added at the top – originally only 5.10, but it soon became apparent that an open-ended system was needed, and further grades of 5.11, 5.12, etc. were added.
While the top grade was 5.10, a large range of climbs in this grade were completed, and climbers realized a subdivision of the upper grades were required. Letter grades were added for climbs at 5.10 and above, by adding a letter "a" (easiest), "b", "c" or "d" (hardest). The difference between letter grades is roughly the same as the difference between number grades that are below 5.10. For example: Going from a 5.12a to a 5.12b is just as difficult as going from a 5.7 to a 5.8.
As of 2008, the hardest climbing routes in the world are grade 5.15a Ratings on the hardest climbs tend to be tentative, until other climbers have had a chance to complete the routes and a consensus can be reached on the precise grade.
The system originally considered only the technical difficulty of the hardest move on a route. For example a route of mainly 5.7 moves but with one 5.12a move would be graded 5.12a. A climb that consisted of 5.11b moves all along its route, would be 5.11b. Modern application of climbing grades, especially on climbs at the upper end of the scale, also consider how sustained or strenuous a climb is, in addition to the difficulty of the single hardest move.
The G and PG ratings are often left out, as being typical of normal, everyday climbing. R and X climbs are usually noted as a caution to the unwary leader. Application of protection ratings varies widely from area to area and from guidebook to guidebook.
Alpine mountaineering routes are usually graded based on all of their different aspects, as they can be very diverse. Thus, a mountain route may be graded 5.6 (rock difficulty), A2 (aid difficulty), WI3 (ice climbing difficulty), M5 * (mixed climbing difficulty), 70 degrees (steepness), 4000 ft (length), VI (commitment level), and many other factors.
Often a + or a − is placed after the grade to indicate if a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g. a climb slightly harder than "PD+" might be "AD−").
The routes themselves are, however, usually only marked with the overall grade (and/or sometimes the French equivallent) at the bottom. The grades go from 1 to 7, and a good parallel can be established with the French rating (1 is F in the French rating, 2 is PD and so on, 7 beeing ABO). Instead of +/-, the letters A and B are (almost always) used to show if a climb is at the lower or upper end of the grade, thus, let's say, an 4B beeing the same as a D+ in the French system.
As a rough guide.
Grade 1 – An easy scramble.
Grade 4 – Technical climbing, must be able to place rock and ice gear quickly and efficiently. Often involves a long day.
Grade 7 – Vertical ice/rock which may not have adequate protection. Rock grades in the high 20's (Ewbank). Climb may be in remote area. May require a bivvy on route.
A plus (+) may be added to indicate somewhat higher difficulty. For example, the West Buttress Route on Mount McKinley (Denali) is graded 2+ in the above-mentioned guidebook.
It is important to remember that even an Alaska Grade 1 climb may involve climbing on snow and glaciers in remote locations and cold weather.
In Britain, the Scottish winter grading system is used for both ice and mixed climbs. Routes are given two grades, essentially equivalent to the adjectival and technical grades used in British traditional climbing. Overall difficulty is signified by a Roman numeral grade, and the technical difficulty of the hardest move or section of the climb is graded with an Arabic numeral. For routes of grade I – III, the technical grade is usually omitted unless it is 4 or greater. As with other grading systems, advances in climbing have led to a need for an open-ended grading system (the grades originally finished at IX, 9), and climbs have now been graded up to XI, 11.
|Rock Climbing Rating Systems|
|Ewbank (Australia, New Zealand & South Africa)||Finnish||Norwegian||Brazilian|
|Grade level easily achievable by most people|
|Grade level achievable by committed climbers|
|Grade level achievable by passionate climbers, climbing shoes and chalk essential|
|The realm of professional climbers|
|Professional climbers showing exceptional, skill, strength, power and coordination|
|The pioneers of the sport, fewer than ~5 climbers worldwide have achieved this level|
*Note: As mentioned in this article, there is no concise and full proof method of grading climbs and delineation between grades is somewhat blurred from person to person. The color scheme is a generalization to try and simplify the grading system so that people with no climbing experience can understand the grading system.