In rock climbing
and other climbing
disciplines, climbers give a
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
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
climber. Different grading systems consider these factors in
different ways, so no two grading systems have an exact one-to-one
Climbing grades are inherently subjective
- they are the
opinion of one or a few climbers, often the first ascentionist or
the author(s) of a guidebook. While grades are usually applied
fairly consistently across a climbing area, there are often
perceived differences between grading at different climbing areas.
Because of these variables, a given climber might find a route to
be either 'too hard' or 'too easy' for the grade applied - in
short, all grades, regardless of the system used, are an
Grade systems for free climbing
For free climbing
, there are many
different grading systems varying according to country. They
Yosemite Decimal System
The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) of grading routes was initially
developed as the Sierra Club
system in the 1930s to rate hikes and climbs in the Sierra Nevada
range. The rock climbing portion was developed at Tahquitz Rock
in southern California by members of
the Rock Climbing Section of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club
in the 1950s. It quickly spread to
Canada and the rest of the Americas.
Originally a single-part classification system, Grade and
Protection Rating categories were added to the YDS in recent years.
The new classifications do not apply to every climb and usage
When a route also involves aid climbing, its unique Aid designation
can be appended to the YDS free climbing rating. For example, The
North America Wall on El Capitan would be classed "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 system consists of five classes indicating the technical
difficulty of the hardest section:
- Class 1 is walking with a low chance of injury and a fall
unlikely to be fatal.
- Classes 2 and 3 are steeper scrambling with increased exposure
and a greater chance of severe injury, but falls are not always
- Class 4 can involve short steep sections where the use of a
rope is recommended, and un-roped falls could be fatal.
- Class 5 is considered true rock climbing, predominantly on
vertical or near vertical rock, and requires skill and a rope to
proceed safely. Un-roped falls would result in severe injury or
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"
As of 2008, the hardest climbing routes in the world are grade
5.15b. 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
The YDS system involves an optional Roman numeral Grade
that indicates the length and seriousness of the route. The Grades
- Grade I: one to two hours of climbing.
- Grade II: less than half a day.
- Grade III: half a day climb.
- Grade IV: full day climb.
- Grade V: two day climb.
- Grade VI: multi-day climb.
- Grade VII: a climb lasting a week or longer
The Grade is more relevant to mountaineering and big wall climbing,
and often not stated when talking about short rock climbs.
YDS protection rating
An optional protection
indicates the spacing and quality of the protection available, for
a well-equipped and skilled leader. The letter codes chosen were,
at the time, identical to the American system for rating the content
- G – Good, solid protection ground up
- PG – Pretty good, few sections of poor or non-existent
- PG13 – OK protection, falls may be long but will probably not
cause serious injury.
- R – Runout, some protection placements may be very far apart
(possibility of broken bones, even when properly protected)
- X – No protection, extremely dangerous (possibility of death,
even when properly protected)
The G and PG ratings are often left out, as being typical of
normal, everyday climbing. PG13 ratings are occasionally included.
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.
British grading system for traditional climbs, used in Great Britain and Ireland, has (in
theory) two parts: the adjectival grade and the technical
grade. Sport climbing
Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed
with the letter "F".
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
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:
- Easy (rarely used)
- Moderate (M, or "Mod")
- Difficult (D, or "Diff")
- Hard Difficult (HD - sometimes omitted)
- Very Difficult (VD, or "V Diff")
- Hard Very Difficult (HVD – sometimes omitted)
- Severe (S)
- Hard Severe (HS)
- Very Severe (VS)
- Hard Very Severe (HVS)
- Extremely Severe (E1, E2, E3, ...)
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.
In January 2009 the route was climbed by
Dave MacLeod of Dumbarton fame, who downgraded the route to an E9
6c. Many climbers consider such high grades provisional, as the
climbs have not yet been achieved on
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
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 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).
grading system is mostly used for short rock routes in Western
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia. On
long routes it is often used in the Alps and Himalaya. Using
, it was originally
intended to run from I (easiest) to X (hardest), but as with all
other grading systems, improvements to climbing standards have led
to the system being open-ended. An optional + or − may be used to
further differentiate difficulty. As of 2004, the hardest climbs
The French grading system considers the overall difficulty of the
climb, taking into account the difficulty of the moves and the
length of climb. This differs from most grading systems where one
rates a climbing route according to the most difficult section (or
single move). Grades are numerical, starting at 1 (very easy) and
the system is open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by
adding a letter (a
2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + may be used to further
differentiate difficulty. For example, these routes are sorted by
ascending difficulty: 5c+, 6a, 6a+, 6b, 6b+. Many countries in
Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarily
The Brazilian grade system is similar to the French system, but
with a few adjustments: gradings 1 to 2sup are very easy (2sup
being a very steep, but almost walkable route), 3 to 5 are easy (3
being the grade most indoor gyms use as a starting point for
beginners) and it progresses till the maximum grade of 12, as of
2007.The suffix "sup" (possibly for "superior") is used for grades
1 to 6, and the standard French "a", "b" and "c" suffixes for
grades from 7 to 12.
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.
For US-BR conversion, ignore "5." and subtract 4. (5.10=6).
system, used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, was
developed in the mid 1960s by John
Ewbank also developed an open ended “M” system
for aid climbing. The numerical Ewbank system is open-ended,
starting from 1, which you can (at least in theory) walk up, up to
39(as of 2009) with the hardest climb in Australia currently being
a 35. South African and Australian grades differ by 1 or 2 grade
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.
Grade systems for mountaineering
There are several systems in current use to grade mountain climbs.
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. See also Summitpost Alpine Grades
International French Adjectival System (IFAS)
The French alpine grades give an overall difficulty grade to a
route, taking into consideration the length, difficulty, exposure
and commitment-level (i.e., how hard it may be to retreat). These
are, in increasing order:
- F:facile (easy)
- PD: peu difficile (not very
- AD: assez difficile (fairly
- D: difficile (difficult)
- TD: très difficile (very
- ED1/2/3/4: extrêmement difficile
- ABO: Abominablement difficile
(Abominable) (Extremely difficult as well as being
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 alpine routes in Romania are rated in the Russian grading
system (itself adapted from the Welzenbach system), and reflecting
the overall difficulty of the route (while leaving out the
technical difficulty of the hardest move). This is why most
documentation also contains the UIAA free-climbing rating of the
crux of the route, as well as the aid-climbing rating (in the
original aid-climbing grading system) and the then resulting free
The routes themselves are, however, usually only marked with the
overall grade (and/or sometimes the French equivalent) 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 being 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 being the same as a
D+ in the French system.
grading system adapted from the grades used in the Aoraki/Mt Cook
Region is widely used in New Zealand for alpine routes in the North and South islands.
Grades currently go from 1–7. The
grading system is open ended; harder climbs are possible. Factors
which determine grade are (in descending order of contributing
weight): technical difficulty, objective danger, length and
Standard grading system for alpine routes in normal
- New Zealand Grade 1: Easy scramble. Use of rope generally only
for glacier travel.
- New Zealand Grade 2: Steeper trickier sections may need a
- New Zealand Grade 3: Longer steeper sections generally. Use of
technical equipment necessary. Ice climbs may require two
- New Zealand Grade 4: Technical climbing. Knowledge of how to
place ice and rock gear quickly and efficiently a must. Involves a
- New Zealand Grade 5: Sustained technical climbing. May have
vertical sections on ice.
- New Zealand Grade 6: Multiple crux sections. Vertical ice may
not have adequate protection. Good mental attitude and solid
technique necessary. May require a bivvy on route and be a long way from
- New Zealand 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.
In the Alaskan grading system, mountaineering climbs range from
grade 1–6, and factor in difficulty, length, and commitment. The
hardest, longest routes are Alaskan grade 6. The system was first
developed by Boyd N. Everett, Jr. in 1966, and is supposed to be
particularly adapted to the special challenges of Alaskan climbing.
Here is a summary of Alaska grade descriptors, adapted (and greatly
simplified) from Alaska: A Climbing Guide
, by Michael Wood
and Colby Coombs (The Mountaineers, 2001):
- Alaska Grade 1: Climb requires one day only, no technical
- Alaska Grade 2: Either a moderate fifth-class one-day climb, or
a straightforward multiday nontechnical climb.
- Alaska Grade 3: Either a serious fifth-class one-day climb, or
a multiday climb with some technical elements.
- Alaska Grade 4: Multiday, moderately technical climb.
- Alaska Grade 5: Multiday, highly technical climb.
- Alaska Grade 6: Multiday, extremely technical climb.
A plus (+) may be added to indicate somewhat higher difficulty.
example, the West Buttress Route on Mount McKinley (Denali) is graded 2+ in the above-mentioned
It is important to remember that even an Alaska Grade 1 climb may
involve climbing on snow and glaciers in remote locations and cold
Grade systems for ice climbing
has a number of grading
systems. The WI
numeric scale measures the
difficulty of routes on water ice; the M
measures the difficulty of mixed
combining ice and rock.The WI scale currently spans
grades from 1–7. There also exists a rating scale for Alpine Ice
(compacted snow/ glacial ice) that has the same rating system as
the "WI" system, but is instead denoted by "AI." The primary
difference between the two is the density of the ice, Water Ice
being much more dense.
- low-angled (60 degree consistent ice), with
good technique can be easily climbed with one ice axe. Grades
beyond this generally require the use of two ice tools.
- generally sustained in the 60-70 degree
range with occasional near-vertical steps up to 4 metres (Cascade
Waterfall, Banff; This House of Sky, Ghost River)
- near-vertical steps of up to 10 metres,
generally sustained climbing requiring placing protection screws
from strenuous stances (Professor's Falls, Banff; Weeping Wall
Left, Icefields Parkway, Banff; Silk Tassle, Yoho; Moonlight &
- highly technical WI4. (Wicked Wanda, Ghost
- near-vertical or vertical steps of up to 20
metres, sustained climbing requiring placing multiple protection
screws from strenuous stances with few good rests (Carlsberg
Column, Field; The Sorcerer, Ghost River; Bourgeau Left Hand,
- highly technical WI5 (Oh le Tabernac,
Icefield Parkway; Hydrophobia, Ghost River; Sacre Bleu,
- vertical climbing for the entire pitch (e.g.
30-60 metres) with no rests. Requires excellent technique and/or a
high level of fitness (The Terminator, Banff; Nemesis, Kootenay
Park; Whiteman Falls, Kananaskis Country; Riptide, Banff)
- vertical or overhanging with no rests, and
highly technical WI6 (French Maid, Yoho; French Reality, Kootenay
- sustained and overhanging with no rests.
Extremely rare, near-mythical, and widely accepted testpiece
examples of this grade don't exist in the Canadian Rockies. Note
that many routes (e.g. Sea of Vapours, Banff; Riptide, Icefield
Parkway, Banff) have been assigned WI7- to WI7+ but have been
subsequently downgraded in latter years as they don't meet the
strict criteria of steepness. In fact some local ice climbers have
argued for Sea of Vapours (WI7+ originally) to be downgraded to WI5
or even WI4 simply because it's not steep enough.
Mixed climbs have recently been climbed and graded as high as
- M1-3: Easy. Low angle; usually no tools.
- M4: Slabby to vertical with some technical dry tooling.
- M5: Some sustained vertical dry tooling.
- M6: Vertical to overhanging with difficult dry tooling.
- M7: Overhanging; powerful and technical dry tooling; less than
10 m of hard climbing.
- M8: Some nearly horizontal overhangs requiring very powerful
and technical dry tooling; bouldery or longer cruxes than M7.
- M9: Either continuously vertical or slightly overhanging with
marginal or technical holds, or a juggy roof of 2 to 3 body
- M10: At least 10 meters of horizontal rock or 30 meters of
overhanging dry tooling with powerful moves and no rests.
- M11: A ropelength of overhanging gymnastic climbing, or up to
15 meters of roof.
- M12: M11 with bouldery, dynamic moves and tenuous technical
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.
Grade systems for bouldering
There are many grading systems used specifically for bouldering
problems. See the grade
Grade systems for aid climbing
are graded A0 to A5
depending on the reliability of the gear placements and the
consequences of a fall. New routes climbed today are often given a
“New Wave” grade using the original symbols but with new
definitions. Depending on the area in question, the letter “A” may
mean that the use of pitons
(or other gear
that requires the use of a hammer) is needed to ascend the route.
The letter “C” explicitly indicates that the route can be climbed
clean (clean climbing
) without the
use of a hammer. It is considered poor form to use hammered aid
where clean aid will suffice. Furthermore the clean equipment can
be employed more rapidly and efficiently than hammered gear, so
many climbers prefer it where possible.
The original grading system
- A0: A free climb with an occasional aid move that does not
require specialized aid gear ("aiders" or "etriers"). Pulling on
gear during a free ascent is often referred to as A0.
- A1: Requires specialized gear but all placements are solid and
- A2: Good placements, but sometimes tricky.
- A3: Many difficult aid moves. Some of the placements might only
hold body-weight, but the risk is still low.
- A4: Many body-weight placements in a row. The risk is
- A5: Enough body-weight placements in a row that a fall might
result in a fall of at least 20 meters.
Clean Aiding is aid climbing without the use of bolting gear,
pitons or other gear that scars the rock or becomes fixed after the
ascent. Most difficult aid climbs still require pitons or other
techniques using a hammer, and are thus rated on the 'A' scale past
a certain point.
- C0: Bolt ladder, requires no placement of traditional gear. May
indicate a pendulum or tension traverse on a free climb.
- C1: Easy aid and easy placements. Typically nuts, cams and
- C2: Moderate aid. Solid gear, but difficult to place. May
require cam or sky hooks.
- C2+: Up to 10m fall potential but with little risk injury.
- C3/A3: Hard aid. Many tenuous body-weight only placements in a
row. Fall potential up to 15-20m.
- C3+/A3+: Same C3/A3, but with longer, more dangerous fall
- C4/A4: Serious aid. Continuously tenuous gear placements in a
row with up to 30m ledge fall potential. RURP placements may be
encountered, or may have moderate sections of hooking.
- C4+/A4+: Severe aid. Longer fall potential, with high ledge
fall potential. Each pitch can take many hours to lead. Thin
nailing is to be expected, or may have long sections of
- C5/A5: Extreme aid. Nothing on the pitch will hold a fall. A
fall may result in the death of the leader or even the whole
- Note: C5 is a theoretical and controversial grade. Many argue
that a pitch is not C5 until a climber or team has died as a direct
result of gear failure. However, there are several pitches that
currently hold a C5/A5 rating, as none of the gear placed is rated
to hold a dynamic fall.
- C6 or A6 does not exist, since the aid climbing scale was
developed as discreet scale that is not open ended. Also, since C5
implies the death of both climber and belayer, a rating of C6 could
not cause an increase in severity.
Free climbing ratings comparison table
A comparison chart for some of the free climbing rating systems in
use around the world:
|Free Climbing Grading
|Ewbank (Australia, NZ & South Africa)
|5.15b Jumbo Love, Chris Sharma, Big Up
The following grades are used for the rating of boulder problems
throughout the world. Although fundamental differences in climbing
style make direct comparison between bouldering and route climbing
difficult, the colors in the above and below tables roughly
correspond to equivalent sets of grades.
|Bouldering Rating Systems
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, 6th Edition,
The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington, ISBN 0-89886-427-5. P.
- Andrada Calls New Link-Up 5.15b
- Sharma’s ‘Jumbo Love’ (5.15b)
- [Dave MacLeod, E11 - The Movie]
- International School of Mountaineering
- Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills Appendix A
- Big wall climbing: elite technique, Jared Ogden, p.
60, Clean Aid Ratings