In the sport of bouldering
, problems are assigned technical grades
according to several established systems, which are often distinct from those used in roped climbing
. Bouldering grade systems in wide use include the Hueco
"V" grades (known as the V-scale
technical grades, route colors, Peak District
grades, and British technical grades. Historically, the three-level "B" system and even the Yosemite Decimal System
(sometimes with a "B" prepended, as in "B5.12") were also used.
The Gill "B" System
For climbing, the B rating system is an idea by John Gill
and has three categories. "B1" is defined as "... the highest level of difficulty in traditional roped climbing" , "B2" is harder than B1, or "bouldering level", and the grade "B3" designates a climb that has not been ascended by more than one person (with knowledge of other climbers). When a B3 has a second ascent, it is reclassified as a B2, or B1.
The system has never been in world wide use. Occasionally climbers visiting bouldering destinations in North America encounter boulder problems with B ratings. The difficulty of the problems are now translated into John Shermans V scale. The idea of this B System is respected, while seen as a fun, and historical; it has limitations to what people are looking for today in grades of difficulty for a boulder problem. Gill blames the decline in popularity of his B System for being "against the grain of normal competitive structures, where a simple open progression of numbers or letters indicates progress."
As climbers got stronger more and more, it was known that many B2's would become B1, and the base level for B1 would rise. The scale took on defined changes such as "B1+" and "B2-..." .
grading is the most widely used. This system ranges from 1a to 8c+ (the equivalent of V16 or B16), but problems easier than 2b are rarely found. The system was first devised to classify the sandstone climbing in the Fountainebleau forests in France, but is now widely used also in other bouldering areas around the world.
The grades in this system are similar to the French route grades, but have different meaning. An 8a route is significantly easier than an 8a boulder problem. To reduce confusion, some people write the bouldering grades in upper-case letters (e.g. "8B+" vs. "8b+"), which was designed by the internet site, 8a.nu.
itself, the route color system is used everywhere in the forest. The colors used in order of difficulty of the course are white, yellow, orange, green, blue, red, black and white . Some of the courses may also be marked with the numerical grading system.
The Hueco Scale
The "V" grades devised by John 'Vermin' Sherman
at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site
is the most widely used system in North America
. The "V" system currently covers a range from V0 to V16. At the easier end of the scale, some use the designation "VB" (sometimes said to designate "basic" or "beginner") for problems easier than a V0. Particularly at the lower end of the scale, the grades are sometimes postfixed with "+" (harder) or "-" (easier) to further distinguish the difficulty range within a single grade.
The scale is similar to many other systems in that it does not take danger or fear into account. Problems are rated based solely on the physical challenge involved. This implies that problems have the same grade on the V-scale on toprope as they would have when bouldered.
United Kingdom Technical Grades
In the UK, the system known as UK technical grades is occasionally used to rate a boulder problem. These run from 4a to 7b with steps of a, b and c before changing the initial number. This system is applied because these technical grades are used in the UK grading system for trad routes to represent the absolute difficulty of the hardest move. UK technical grades were only designed to describe the difficulty of a single move making them unsuitable for grading boulders and V or Font grades are generally used instead.
Japanese Dankyu System
Japan also has developed its own grading system widely used by the local climbers of the country, adopting the Dankyu (Dan and Kyu) system which resembles that of martial arts. It is also called the Soroban system, meaning grading system used in Japanese abacus schools. Like in martial arts, 1-Kyu is the hardest Kyu and it gets easier as the number ascends. 1-Kyu is the baseline grade represented by Captain Ahab in Ogawayama or Ninjagaeshi in Mitake, and is roughly equal to 6c+/7a in Fontainebleau grades or V5/V6 in Hueco scale. Kyu is open-ended on the easier side but practically the easiest problem could be around 10-Kyu. Dan starts from where kyu ends, Shodan (or 1-Dan) being the next grade higher than 1-Kyu, making it about 7a+/7b in Fontainebleau, V7/V8 in Hueco. Climbing a shodan problem means the climber has reached the advanced level and become a black belt holder. Dan gets harder as the number ascends, and is open-ended on the harder side. The Wheel of Life (V16/8C+) is graded at 6-Dan. A comparison between Fontainebleau and Dankyu bouldering grades suggests that 6 kyu is equivalent to 4a/4c Fontainebleau.
Comparisons of bouldering grades
Many attempts have been made to correlate the various grading systems, comparing not only bouldering grades in different systems, one with another, but bouldering grades with traditional or sport climbing grades as well. Not infrequently, there will be lack of agreement among boulderers on the relative difficulty of a particular problem using a single system, due to differences in size, reach, and other genetic factors. Thus, it is not unexpected to find an absence of consensus regarding equivalences among the various systems - as may be seen in the following examples: