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Grade (climbing)

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Routes that are climbed are often given grades. The grades attempt to assess various aspects of the route, the most important aspect being overall difficulty.

Aid climbs[?] use the grades A1 to A5 depending on the steepness of the terrain, the reliability of the gear placements, exposure, and the general experience necessary.

For free climbing[?], there are many different grading systems mostly varying according to country:

The French grading system goes from 2 (easy) to 9 (very difficult). Usually a letter (a, b or c) augments the number. Examples: 2, 4, 4b, 6a, 7c. An optional + or - may be used to further differentiate difficulty. Many countries in Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarilly matching difficulties!

The Ewbank system, used in Australia and New Zealand, was developed in the mid 1960s by John Ewbank[?]. (Ewbank also developed an open ended M system for aid climbing.) The numerical Ewbank system is open-ended, starting from 1 (a 1 in the Yosemite Decimal System[?]) which you can (at least in theory) walk up, and currently reaching 34 (about 5.14c).

While the Ewbank system was originally intended to simply grade the hardest individual move on a climb, the current practice is to take all factors into account, and the grade in modern Australian and New Zealand guidebooks makes no attempt to distinguish between different types of difficulty - strenuousness, exposure, technical difficulty, protection - simply to grade a climb as an overall experience. Thus a poorly protected and strenuous but technically easy climb with no move harder than about 14 might be graded 17, while another climb that is well-protected and offers good rests but has a couple of very difficult moves around 19 or 20 might also be a 17. The common factor is that, to safely lead either climb, you need a certain level of competence.

In the USA and other parts of America the Yosemite Decimal System[?] is used. The Grade 5 covers climbs (less then 5 is easier terrain such as scrambling and walking). Grade 5 is split into (originally 10) divisions: 5.1 5.2 ... 5.9 5.10a 5.10b ... 5.11a ... and so on. Symbols such as R and X are used to mark other features: R means runout, some protection placements may be very far apart. X means a chop route, could be extremely dangerous.

The British grading system has two parts: the Adjectival grade and the Technical grade. Many climbs are only given an Adjectival grade, though on indoor walls the Technical grade is the one used.

The Adjectival Grade attempts to assess the overall difficultly of the climb taking into account a number of factors: strenuousness, exposure, protection, length, rock quality. It has the following scale:

  • Easy (sometimes abbreviated E but this can get confused with Extremely Severe)
  • Moderate (M)
  • Difficult (D, or 'Diff')
  • Very Difficult (VD, or 'VDiff')
  • Severe (S)
  • Hard Severe(HS)
  • Very Severe (VS)
  • Hard Very Severe (HVS)
  • Extremely Severe (E)

The Extremely Severe grade is open ended and starts at E1 and goes up E2 E3 ... currently up to about E10 (Extremely Severe was formerly abbreviated XS). Most grades at E8 and above are considered provisional because very few people will have managed the climb.

Some regions and/or guidebooks use a few more finely distinguised grades: Mild Very Severe (slightly easier than VS), Mild Severe, Hard Very Difficult (slightly harder than VD), Hard Difficult (slightly harder than D). The Technical Grade attempts to assess only the technical climbing difficulty of the hardest move or moves on the route without regard to the consequences of failing to do the move. Notionally technical grades start at 1a and go 1b 1c 2a 2b 2c ..., but you are unlikely to see any mention of them below 4a.

Usually the technical grade increases with the adjectival grade but 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), VS 5b would usually indicate the crux move was the first one or very very well protected. On multipitch routes it is usual to give the overall climb an adjectival grade and each pitch a separate technical grade (such as HS 4b, 4a).

The UIAA grading system is an ill-fated attempt at international standardization. It is used mostly in Western Germany and Austria. It used to be a scale ranging from 1 (easy) to 10 (very difficult), an optional + or - may be used to further differentiate difficulty. With harder sport routes getting climbed over the years the system steadily extends to todays topgrades of 11+/12-.

The following table has a basic comparison chart for (some of) the different free climbing rating systems that are in use around the world:

  UIAA |  USA  |French|Aussie|   UK    | Saxon |Czech | Nor | Swe |
 ------------------------------------------------------------------
   1   |  5.2  |  1   |  10  |  easy   | I     |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|------|------|---------|-------|      |     |     |
   2   |  5.3  |  2   |  11  |   m     | II    |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|------|------|---------|-------|      |     |     |
   3   |  5.4  |  3   |  12  |   d     | III   |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|------|      |---------|-------|      |     |     |
   4   |  5.5  |  4   |------|   hvd   | IV    |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|      |  13  |---------|-------|      |     |     |
   5-  |  5.6  |------|      |   ms    | V     |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|  5   |------|---------|-------|      |-----|-----|
   5   |  5.7  |      |  14  | 4a : s  | VI    |      |  5- |  5- |
 ------|       |------|------|----:    |-------|      |-----|-----|
   5+  |-------|  5+  |  15  | 4b :vs  | VIIa  |------|  5  |  5  |
 ------|  5.8  |      |------|----:    |       |   6  |-----|-----|
   6-  |       |      |  16  | 4c :hvs |-------|------|  5+ |  5+ |
       |-------|      |------|----:    | VIIb  |   7  |     |     |
 ------|  5.9  |------|  17  | 5a :    |       |      |-----|-----|
   6   |       |  6a  |------|    :    |-------|------|  6- |  6- |
 ------|-------|      |  18  |----:    | VIIc  |  7a  |     |     |
   6+  | 5.10a |      |------| 5b : e1 |       |      |-----|-----|
       |-------|      |  19  |    :    |-------|------|  6  |  6  |
 ------| 5.10b |  6a+ |------|----:    | VIIIa |  7b  |     |     |
   7-  |-------|------|  20  | 5c :    |       |      |-----|-----|
       | 5.10c |  6b  |      |    :    |       |      |     |     |
 ------|-------|      |------|    :    |-------|------|  6+ |  6+ |
   7   | 5.10d |      |  21  |    : e2 | VIIIb |  7c  |     |     |
       |-------|  6b+ |      |    :    |       |      |-----|     |
 ------| 5.11a |------|------|    :    |-------|------|  7- |     |
   7+  |       |  6c  |  22  |----:    | VIIIc |      |     |-----|
       |-------|      |------| 6a :    |       |      |     |  7- |
 ------| 5.11b |      |  23  |    : e3 |-------|      |     |     |
   8-  |-------|  6c+ |------|    :    | IXa   |      |-----|     |
       | 5.11c |------|  24  |    :    |       |      |  7  |     |
 ------|-------|  7a  |------|    :    |-------|      |     |-----|
   8   | 5.11d |      |  25  |----: e4 | IXb   |      |-----|  7  |
       |-------|      |      | 6b :    |       |      |  7+ |     |
 ------| 5.12a |      |------|    :    |-------|      |     |-----|
   8+  |-------|  7a+ |  26  |    :    | IXc   |      |-----|  7+ |

       | 5.12b |------|      |    :    |       |      |  8- |     |
 ------|-------|  7b  |      |    :    |-------|      |     |     |
   9-  | 5.12c |      |------|    : e5 | Xa    |      |-----|-----|
       |       |  7b+ |  27  |----:    |       |      |  8  |  8- |
 ------|-------|------|      | 6c :    |-------|      |     |     |
   9   | 5.12c |  7c  |------|    :    | Xb    |      |     |-----|
       |-------|      |  28  |    :    |       |      |     |  8  |
 ------| 5.13a |      |------|    : e6 |-------|      |-----|     |
   9+  |-------|  7c+ |  29  |----:    | Xc    |      |  8+ |     |
       | 5.13b |------|------| 7a :    |       |      |     |     |
 ------|       |  8a  |  30  |    :    |-------|      |-----|-----|
  10-  |-------|      |------|    :    |       |      |  9- |  8+ |
       | 5.13c |  8a+ |  31  |    :    |-------|      |     |     |
 ------|-------|------|------|    : e7 | Xc    |      |     |-----|
  10   | 5.13d |  8b  |  32  |    :    |       |      |-----|  9- |
       |-------|      |------|----:    |       |      |  9  |     |
 ------| 5.14a |      |  33  | 7b :    |       |      |     |-----|
  10+  |       |  8b+ |      |    :    |       |      |     |  9  |
       |-------|------|      |    : e8 |       |      |-----|     |
 ------| 5.14b |  8c  |      |    :    |       |      |  9+ |     |
  11-  |-------|      |      |    :    |       |      |     |-----|
       | 5.14c |      |      |    :    |       |      |-----|  9+ |
 ------|-------|  8c+ |      |    : e9 |       |      |     |     |
  11   | 5.14d |------|      |    :    |       |      |     |-----|
       |-------|  9a  |      |    :    |       |      |     |     |
       |       |      |      |    : e10|       |      |     |     |



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