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Climbing grades explained

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.

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 this article we are going to describe the UIAA, the French and the technical grade as those are the most common in Europe. If you are from outside Europe, this is a good reason to adapt those systems wink

Technical grade

The technical grade attempts to assess only the technical climbing difficulty of the hardest move or short sequence of 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 technical grade was originally a bouldering grade introduced from Fontainebleau by French climbers.

Usually the technical grade increases with the adjectival grade, but a hard technical move that is well protected (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).

UIAA

The UIAA 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 Roman numerals, 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 are XII−. So, II would be a 5.2 in USA and XI would be a 5.14d.

French numerical grades

The French numerical system (distinct from the adjectival system, described later) rates a climb according to the overall technical difficulty and strenuousness of the route .Grades start at 1 (very easy) and the system is open-ended. Each numerical grade can be subdivided by adding a letter (a, b or c). Examples: 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+. Although some countries in Europe use a system with similar grades but not necessarily matching difficulties, the French system remains the main system used in all European countries and in many international events outside the USA.

In the next page you will see a complete mapping of all climbing grading schemes all over the world.

 

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Posted on: 20/09/2016






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