Climbing Grades

Christophe Toresse on Buddha's Birthday, Temple Crag

Climbing grades can be a bit of mystery for those new to the sport, or indeed those visiting an area adopting a system different to that used in their home crags. Here we aim to shed a little light on the main systems adopted around the world.

For those new to HK, we typically adopt the following systems for the indicated style of climbing:

Traditional Climbing: British Trad Grades

Sport Climbing: French Sport Grades

Bouldering: US ‘V’ Grades

Descriptions of these, and the other systems you might encounter elsewhere in the world are provided below:

ROUTE GRADING SYSTEMS

 Table courtesy of Rockfax.com

British Trad Grades: Widely misunderstood by anyone but the Brits but actually a very simple and effective system. This system contains two distinct parts, explained below:

Adjective Grade: This gives an indication of the overall feel of the route. Routes with high adjective grades and low technical grades will generally be poorly protected whilst those with low adjective grades and high technical grades will be relatively safe. Routes falling between these two scenarios will most likely have a bit of both.

Technical Grade: This records the level of difficulty of the hardest individual move on the route.

French Sport Grades: Originating in France with the birth of Sport Climbing (i.e.routes with fixed protection), this grading system is probably the most widely recognised and used system in the climbing world. The route grade reflects the overall difficulty of the climb (being as fixed protection is used no consideration of danger is necessary), although anomalies can occur with routes with short hard sections getting equal grades to sustained technically easier routes.

UIAA Grades: This system was developed in Germany and Eastern Europe around the same time as the French Sport Grades. It works in a similar anner to this and is generally applied to Sport Climbs.

USA (Yosemite Decimal System) Grades: The American System, originally developed in and around the Yosemite region (hence the name) starts with a 5. prefix – which indicates the route to be a rock climb, 1-4 prefixes being for routes/trails comprising walking through to scrambling. The grading of the value following the 5. prefix again works in a similar manner to the French Sport Grade. Additional letters are sometimes added at the tail end of the grade to give an indication of route nature, R = Runout, X = Dangerous, XX = Make sure your health insurance payments are up to date!.

Australian Grades: The simplest and most logical of all the grading systems. An open ended scale that starts at the bottom and finishes at whatever the strongest climbers in the worls are up to at that moment in time, no +’s or -‘s are used. Higher grades are used for routes which are technically easy but difficult to protect than for those of the same technical standard but with adequate gear.

BOULDERING GRADING SYSTEMS

Table courtesy of Rockfax.com

V Grades: Developed in Hueco Tanks, Texas, USA by John ‘Vermin’ Sherman this grading system appears to be the gaining favour on an international scale having already been widely adopted in the US, Australia and the majority of Europe. The grading system is open ended, starting at V0 and currently extending to approx. V16, and relatively simple to use, however, it does not cater very well for easier problems and the British Technical Grade is found more appropriate for these.

Fontainebleau (Font) Grades: As the name suggests, this system was developed in Fontainebleau, France, and consists of both technical, font, grades and colour coded problem cicuits. This system is only widely used in France, mostly around Fontainebleau itself, and suffers from vast irregularities of grades at the lower end of the spectrum.

British Tech Grades: This system applies a numerical prefix accompanied with either an a, b or c. The grade assigned gives an indication of the standard of the hardest move on a problem. This means its great for very short problems where there is no need to take account of moves already completed but effectively useless for longer, more stamina orientated, problems. Due to their less demanding nature this system is probably the best one to give an indication of grade for ‘easy’ problems.

Sport Grades: Some boulder problems, in particular traverses, contain more moves than alot of routes out there. To account for their length, these problems are occaisionally given sport climbing grades. Refer to ‘French Sport Grades’, outlined above, for further details.

A WORD OF WARNING

The grade comparisons indicated in these tables will not always be exact. Local anomalies exist within countries using the same system so attempts to correlate between different systems, which frequently originated around different styles of climbing, stand little chance of tying together. If in doubt when visiting a new area, err on the side of caution, drop a grade or two from that you’d climb at your local crag and get a feel for the new area first.

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