There are a variety of different systems used around the world to grade rock climbs. On this page we will describe the five most popular which include:
The UK system is made of two sub-grades, an adjective grade and a technical grade. The adjective grade describes the overall difficulty of the climb taking into consideration how strenuous the route is, the amount of exposure and the availability of protection. The adjective grades are as follows:
Moderate (M), Very Difficult (VD), Hard Very Difficult HVD), Mild Severe (MS), Severe (S), Hard Severe (HS), Mild Very Severe (MVS), Very Severe (VS), Hard Very Severe (HVS) and Extremely Severe. The Extremely Severe grade is also broken down into 10 further sub grades
from E1 to E10.
The numerical technical grading describes the hardest(crux) move on the climb. If it is a multi pitch route then more than one technical grade will be given, one for each pitch. The technical grades are as follows:
4a, 4b, 4c, 5a, 5b, 5c, 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a, 7b, 7c ..... and onwards
These are combined to give the overall grade for the climb, the table below outlines the usual range of technical grades that you would expect to find combined with the different adjective grades:
|Adjective Grade||Technical Grade||Adjective Grade||Technical Grade|
|M||N/A||E1||5a - 5c|
|D||N/A||E2||5b - 6a|
|VD||N/A||E3||5c - 6a|
|HVD||N/A||E4||6a - 6b|
|MS||N/A||E5||6a - 6c|
|S||4a - 4b||E6||6b - 6c|
|HS||4a - 4c||E7||6c - 7a|
|MVS||4a -4c||E8||6c - 7a|
|VS||4a - 4c||E9||7a - 7b|
|HVS||4c - 5b||E10||7a - 7b|
As such, if you are trying to push your adjective grade then it is generally recommended to look for a climb with a high technical grade as the protection is generally better - generally but not always!
Finally it should also be noted that the grades given to climbs using the UK system are subjective and can vary from area to area and between different rock types. For instance a VS climb in the Lakes can feel completely different to VS in the Peak District.
The French system is an internationally recognised system for grading sport climbs and is therefore used on bolted routes within the UK. Unlike the UK system, this uses a single figure to describe the how hard the route is as a whole. This can cause problems where for example a route with a series of easy moves followed by some harder ones can be graded the same as a route full of moderate moves.
Please note that generally you will see French grades prefixed with the letter F e.g. F4
The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) System is mostly used in Germany and Austria and was a failed attempt to introduce standardisation in climbing grades. As with the French system, it uses a single number to describe how hard the route is as a whole, starting from 1 (easy) through to 10 (hard).
Over the years as the range and difficulty of routes has increased the use of a + or a - has become more common to differentiate between climbs. Routes of 11+ and 12- are now also being climbed.
The American system is used across both North and South America. The grading system runs from 1 to 5 with only 5 considered to be rock climbs. Grades 1 to 4 are used to describe walks with increasing difficulty, with 5.0 being a difficult scramble.
As with both the UIAA & French systems, the USA system only uses a single figure to describe the whole climb.
When reading guidebooks you will generally see the 5 dropped from the grade. For example a 5.10a route would be 10a.
This system is used by both Australia and New Zealand and to many people is probably the most logical of all. It uses a single number and as the routes get harder the number gets higher. Unlike the French and American systems which don’t take into consideration the availability of protection, the Australian system will increase the grade if the protection is poor.
The following table compares the 5 major rock grading systems used throughout the world and will hopefully prove useful when planning climbing trips abroad.
It should be noted that all grading systems are open to interpretation and that what may seem like a HVS route to one person could be another’s E2. Always use caution and when climbing in a new area it is recommended to start with a few of routes below your usual top grade. This will allow you to get a feel for the grading in the area without scaring yourself whitless!
|Adjective Grade||Technical Grade|
|M||N/A||I to II||1||5.1 - 5.2||4 - 5|
|D||N/A||II to III+||1 to 2+||5.2 - 5.3||5 - 7|
|VD||N/A||III to III+||2 to 3-||5.2 - 5.4||6 - 8|
|HVD||N/A||III+ to IV+||2+ to 3-||5.4 - 5.6||8 - 10|
|MS||N/A||IV to IV+||3- to 3+||5.5 - 5.6||10 - 11|
|S||4a - 4b||IV to V-||3 to 4||5.5 - 5.7||10 - 12|
|HS||4a - 4c||IV+ to V||3 to 4+||5.6 - 5.7||12 - 13|
|MVS||4a -4c||IV+ to V||3+ to 4+||5.6 - 5.7||12 - 14|
|VS||4a - 4c||V- to V+||4 to 5||5.7 - 5.8||13 - 15|
|HVS||4c - 5b||V+ to VI||4+ to 6a||5.8 - 5.9||15 - 18|
|E1||5a - 5c||VI to VI+||5+ to 6a+||5.9 - 5.10a||18 - 20|
|E2||5b - 6a||VI+ to VII||6a+ to 6b+||5.10b - 5.10c||19 - 21|
|E3||5c - 6a||VII to VII+||6b to 6c||5.10d - 5.11b||20 - 22|
|E4||6a - 6b||VII+ to VIII||6c to 7a||5.11b - 5.11d||22 - 23|
|E5||6a - 6c||VIII to IX-||7a to 7b||5.11d - 5.12b||23 - 25|
|E6||6b - 6c||IX- to IX+||7b to 7c+||5.12b - 5.13a||25 - 28|
|E7||6c - 7a||IX+ to X||7c+ to 8a+||5.13a - 5.13c||28 - 30|
|E8||6c - 7a||X to X+||8a+ to 8b+||5.13c - 5.14a||30 - 32|
|E9||7a - 7b||X+ to XI||8b+ to 8c+||5.14a - 5.14c||32 - 34|
|E10||7a - 7b||XI to XI+||8c+ to 9a+||5.14c - 5.15a||34- 36|
If you’d like more information about the different rock grading systems then I would recommend taking a look at the following sites:
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