Grade (climbing)

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In rock climbing, mountaineering, and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a grade to a climbing route or boulder problem, intended to describe concisely the difficulty and danger of climbing it. Different types of climbing (such as sport climbing, bouldering or ice climbing) each have their own grading systems, and many 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, stamina and level of commitment required, 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. [1] They may be the opinion of one or a few climbers, often the first ascensionist or the authors of a guidebook. A grade for an individual route also may be a consensus reached by many climbers who have climbed the route. 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 easier or more difficult than expected for the grade applied. [2]


The Welzenbach scale as depicted in 1926 Echelle des six degres de difficulte en escalade rocheuse.jpg
The Welzenbach scale as depicted in 1926

In 1894, the Austrian mountaineer Fritz Benesch introduced the first known grading system for rock climbing. The Benesch scale had seven levels of difficulty, with level VII the easiest and level I the most difficult. Soon more difficult climbs were made, which originally were graded level 0 and 00. In 1923, the German mountaineer Willo Welzenbach compressed the scale and turned the order around, so that level 00 became level IV–V. This "Welzenbach scale" was adopted in 1935 by French mountaineers like Lucien Devies, Pierre Allain and Armand Charlet for routes in the Western Alps and finally in 1947 in Chamonix by the Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme. It prevailed internationally and was renamed in 1968 as the UIAA scale. Originally a 6-grade scale, it has been officially open-ended since 1979.

Free climbing

For free climbing, there are many different grading systems varying according to country. They include:

Yosemite Decimal System

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) of grading routes was initially developed as the Sierra Club grading 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. [3] It quickly spread to Canada and the rest of the Americas.

Originally a single-part classification system, grade and protection rating categories were added later. The new classifications do not apply to every climb and usage varies widely.

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[2]", [4] or Medlicott Dome – Bachar/Yerian 5.11c (X,***) [5]

Technical difficulty

The system consists of five classes indicating the technical difficulty of the hardest section. Class 1 is the easiest and consists of walking on even terrain. Class 5 is climbing on vertical or near-vertical rock, and requires skill and a rope to proceed safely. Un-roped falls would result in severe injury or death. Originally, Class 6 was used to grade aid climbing. However, the separate A (aid) rating system became popular instead.

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, and thus the system is no longer decimal.

While the top grade was 5.10, a large range of climbs in this grade was completed, and climbers realized a subdivision of the upper grades was required. Letter grades were added for climbs at 5.10 and above by adding a letter "a" (easiest), "b", "c", or "d" (hardest).

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 5.11b move would be graded 5.11b and a climb that consisted of 5.11b moves all along its route would also be 5.11b. Modern application of climbing grades, especially on climbs at the upper end of the scale (>5.10), also consider how sustained or strenuous a climb is, in addition to the difficulty of the single hardest move.

Length of route

The YDS system involves an optional Roman numeral grade that indicates the length and seriousness of the route. The Grade is more relevant to mountaineering and big wall climbing, and usually not stated when talking about short rock climbs. The grades range from grade I to VI spanning a one-hour climb to a multi-day climb respectively. [6]

I–II: 1 or 2 pitches near the car, but may need to be avoided during avalanche season.

III: Requires most of a day perhaps including the approach, which may require winter travel skills (possible avalanche terrain, placing descent anchors). The East Buttress route on Mount Whitney is a grade III, [7] yet it requires 1,000 feet (300 m) of technical climbing and a total vertical gain of over 6,000 feet (1,800 m) from trail head to summit. Only a minority of climbers, the most fit and seasoned, could do this route car to car in a day. Other grade III climbs, such as Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne, are typically done in one day.

IV: A multipitch route at higher altitude or remote location, which may involve multi-hour approaches in serious alpine terrain. A predawn start is usually indicated, and unforeseen delays can lead to unplanned bivouacs high on the route.

V: A multi-day climbing adventure for all but an elite few. The route Dark Star, on Temple Crag, is grade V [7] and involves a seven-mile (11 km) approach and over 2,200 feet (670 m), 30 pitches [7] of technical climbing.

VI: A multi-day climbing adventure for (nearly) all. Peter Croft saves this grade for the full Palisade Traverse, a massive route which includes six 14,000-foot (4,300 m) summits and miles of technical climbing. [7] He states, "This is the only route in this book that I haven't completed in a single push, although I've done all the crux sections at various times." Although most grade VIs are alpine climbs, The Nose on El Capitan is an example of a technical grade VI route. It has 2,900 feet (880 m) of either very hard technical climbing or easier aid climbing and takes most climbers 2–7 days, although a few climbers have freed it in a day, and more have aided it in a day.

VII: Under discussion.

Protection rating

An optional protection rating 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 of movies. Grades range from solid protection, G (Good), to no protection, X. The G and PG (Pretty Good) ratings are often left out, as being typical of normal, everyday climbing. PG13 ratings are occasionally included. R (Run-out) and X (eXtreme) 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.


The British grading system for traditional climbs, also known as the UK grading system, used in Great Britain and Ireland, has (in theory) two parts: the adjectival grade and the technical grade. [8] Sport climbing in Britain and Ireland uses the French grading system, often prefixed with the letter "F".

Adjectival grade

The adjectival grade attempts to assess the overall difficulty of the climb – taking into account all factors which lend difficulty to a pitch including technical difficulty, sustainedness, protection quality, rock quality, exposure and other less tangible aspects – for a climber leading the route on sight in traditional style. [9] It thus resembles mountaineering grades such as the International French Adjectival System. The adjectival grade appears to have been introduced in the early 20th century by O. G. Jones, who classified climbs as “Easy”; “Moderate”; “Difficult” or “Exceptionally Severe”. [10] Increasing standards have several times led to extra grades being added. The adjectival grades are as follows:

  • Easy (rarely used)
  • Moderate (M, or "Mod")
  • Difficult (D, or "Diff")
  • Hard Difficult (HD, or "Hard Diff" – often omitted)
  • Very Difficult (VD, or "V Diff")
  • Hard Very Difficult (HVD, or "Hard V Diff" – sometimes omitted)
  • Mild Severe (MS – often omitted)
  • Severe (S)
  • Hard Severe (HS)
  • Mild Very Severe (MVS – often omitted)
  • Very Severe (VS)
  • Hard Very Severe (HVS)
  • Extremely Severe (E1, E2, E3, ...)

Increasing standards in the 1970s resulted in the adoption of Pete Botterill's proposal that the Extremely Severe grade be subdivided in an open-ended fashion into E1 (easiest), E2, E3 and so on. [10] The E-grade is still an estimation of overall difficulty experienced by a climber leading a route on-sight.

In 2006 the hardest grade claimed was E11 for Rhapsody on Dumbarton Rock, climbed by Dave MacLeod, featured French 8c/+ climbing with the potential of a 20-metre fall onto a small wire. [11] In August 2008, MacLeod completed a new project close to Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis called 'Echo Wall'. He left the route ungraded, saying only that it was 'harder than Rhapsody'. Many climbers consider such high grades provisional, as the climbs have not yet been achieved on-sight/ground-up.[ citation needed ]

The grade "XS" (occasionally qualified by Mild [MXS] and Hard [HXS]) is sometimes used for eXtremely Severe rock climbs when a high proportion of the challenge is due to objective dangers, typically loose or crumbling rock, rather than technical difficulty. [12]

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 might indicate very poor protection (easy moves, but no gear) or extremely sustained (every move is 4a and the climbing is steep/strenuous whilst reasonably protected), while VS 5b would usually indicate one crux move of 5b that is the first move or very well protected and the rest of the climb without much difficulty. 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).


The UIAA grading system [13] is mostly used for short rock routes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. 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 VI (hardest), but as with all other grading systems, improvements to climbing standards have led to the system being open-ended after the grade VII was accepted in 1977. An optional + or − may be used to further differentiate difficulty. As of 2016, the hardest climbs are XII.

Cracow Scale (Kurtyka's Scale)

In the '70s, in Poland, the UIAA scale was in use, when climbing limestone rocks near Cracow, where Polish sport climbing was developed. Grade-I route was considered a walk, while Grade-VI was described as "hardest". As climbing level was growing, the scale seemed more and more inadequate. Famous climber and alpinist Wojciech Kurtyka proposed an extension to the scale. Simpler routes were described as it was before - using Roman numerals. Harder ones - using Arabic numerals after Roman VI. Hence, after traditional VI+ came VI.1, VI.1+, VI.2 and so on. [14] Currently, the hardest route graded in Cracow Scale is Stal Mielec in Mamutowa cave, Jura Krakowsko-Czestochowska, graded as VI.8+. [15]


In Sweden, Norway, and Finland, they originally used the UIAA scale. But since it was thought that 6+ would be the definition of how hard humans could climb, no climber wanted to put up this grade, leaving the entire scale very sand-bagged compared to the UIAA scale. To show that it is a Scandinavian grade, Arabic numerals are used (e.g. 5, 6, 7), and for UIAA graded climbs in Scandinavia, Roman numerals are used (e.g. V, VI, VII). In some guide books, where many Germans have done the first ascent, the UIAA scale is used for those climbs, and where the first ascent is done by a Scandinavian, the Scandinavian scale is used. The only way to know how the climb is rated is to know whether the first person to ascend was German or Scandinavian. In sport climbing the French scale is pretty common (especially for the hardest grades), or both scales are used in the guide book, with the other scale in parentheses, i.e. 6+ (6b).

Saxon grades

The Saxon grading system (German : Sächsische Skala) is used in the Free State of Saxony in Germany [16] and in a derivative form in some areas in the Czech Republic under the name (Czech : Jednotná pískovcová klasifikace). It was developed in the beginning of the 20th century for the formidable Saxon Switzerland climbing region and was gradually adopted within other climbing areas in the region, such as Bohemian Switzerland, Bohemian Paradise, Lusatian Mountains, and the Zittau Mountains.

Due to the climbing particularities of the region and the territorial and political division of Germany in 1945–1990 the system developed independently from other grading systems in Germany. During this time it was also sometimes referred to as the "East German System".

The Saxon grades use Roman numerals to denote the level of difficulty and subdivisions from grade VII onwards with the aid of the letter a, b and c; XIc is currently the highest grade. In addition the system accounts for horizontal jumps with Arabic numerals between 1 and 7. [16]

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 the vast majority of European countries and in many international events outside the US.


The Brazilian grade system [17] for sport climbing is similar to the French system, but uses roman numerals with a few adjustments: grades I to II are very easy (II being a very steep, but almost walkable route), III to V are easy (III being the grade most indoor gyms use as a starting point for beginners) and it progresses till the maximum grade of XIII, as of 2020. Grades below VII are subdivided differently depending on the geographical location of the crag:

The Brazilian system has a remarkably detailed grading system for traditional climbing, which due to the geology in the country consists mostly of long, bolted/mixed routes instead of pure crack climbing. The basic structure is given in the example below.

DurationGeneral gradeHardest move (aidable?)Hardest aidDanger component
D3VIsup (A1/VIIIc)A2+E2

It is important to keep in mind that all the items in the grading system are independent. One can then have grades like "D4 4º VIIc A3 E3", or "D1 7º VIIc (A0/VIIIb) E1". The first route takes a whole day to be climbed, mostly on easy terrain, but with some serious aid and a very hard crux (when compared to the general grade) that cannot be bypassed by aiding. The second route, on the other hand, has much harder free climbing than the first one, but is safer, shorter and a crux that can be aid climbed as an A0.


The Ewbank system, used in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, 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, which one can (at least in theory) walk up, to the six climbs located in Australia given the hardest currently confirmed grade of 35. [18] South African and Australian grades differ by 1 or 2 grade points. [19]

The Ewbank system is not intended to simply grade the hardest individual move on a climb though the grading system is often described this way. Ewbank explained "Grading takes the following into consideration: Technical difficulty, exposure, length, quality of rock, protection and other smaller factors. As these are more or less all related to each other, I have rejected the idea of 3 or 4 grades, i.e. one for exposure, one for technical difficulty, one for protection etc. Instead the climb is given its one general grading, and if any of the other factors is outstanding, this is stated verbally in the short introduction to that climb" [20]

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.

Machine learning

Researchers have demonstrated that the difficulty of climbing routes can be predicted using statistical models and machine learning techniques. A Bradley-Terry model based on historical ascents generated ratings on an interval scale that were correlated with grades from the Ewbank system. [21] A different approach, using a variable-order Markov model with a description of the sequence of climbing moves, was unable to correctly predict difficulty. [22]


There are several systems in 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), 4,000 feet (1,200 m) (length), VI (commitment level), and many other factors. See also Summitpost Alpine Grades. [23]

International French adjectival system (IFAS)

In contrast to the French numerical system (described earlier), the French adjectival alpine system evaluates the overall difficulty of a route, taking into consideration the length, difficulty, exposure and commitment-level of the route (i.e., how hard it may be to retreat). The overall grade combines altitude; length and difficulty of approach and descent; number of difficult pitches and how sustained they are; exposure; and quality of rock, snow and ice. These are, in increasing order: [24]

Often a + (pronounced Sup for supérieur) or a − (pronounced Inf for inférieur) 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−").


In communist times, alpine climbs were graded in a system adapting Russian grades to local conditions, by leaving out route altitude and approach difficulties (since all Romanian alpine climbs are accessible in a day, and below 2600m). [25]

Romanian alpine grades [26]
1ALedges and easy gullies, while rope might be used to give a beginner a better sense of security, the route should be doable without a rope by a more experienced climberBrana Mare a Costilei (Bucegi), Valcelul cu Smardar (Piatra Craiului)
1BGullies and easy chimneys. Limited rock climbing sections, usually avoidable. Some areas may require rope useValea Galbenelelor (Bucegi)
2AShort chimneys and small gendarmes. Rope required in some portions.Acele Morarului (Bucegi), Hornul Caltunului (Fagarasi)
2BLonger routes (300-1,000m altitude difference) combining ledges, chimneys and ridges. Rope required in some portions.Umerii Pietrei Craiului (Piatra Craiului), Varful Picatura (Bucegi), Hornul Costilei (Bucegi)
3AWalls and ridges mixing consistent, protectable rock climbing sections with easy, grade 2 ones. Doable on single ropeCreasta Fierastraului (Fagarasi), Hornul Claii (Bucegi), Creasta Costila Galbenele (Bucegi)
3BWalls, ridges or chimneys with more than two pitches of rockclimbing. Protectable, doable on single ropeTrandafirul Negru (Piatra Craiului), Eva (Bicaz), Creasta Sansil (Cheile Turzii)
4AFrom here below, we're consistently rock climbing on double ropes. Overhangs begin to appear, aiders become useful. Routes are either short but difficult, or long and easy but with a few UIAA 6ish (if not aid climbed) cruxesFurcile (Bucegi), Creasta estica Pietrei Altarului (Bicaz, long and easy), Fisura Centrala (Bicaz, short and hard)
4B4A with more overhangs, traverses, cracksHornul Negru (Piatra Craiului)
5AMinimum four pitches of rock climbing. Overhangs and exposed traverses likelyFisura Verde (Piatra Craiului)
5BMore sustained than 5A, often with runout sectionsFisura Neagra (Bicaz), Lespezile Lirei (Piatra Craiului)
6AMinimum 300m altitude difference, requiring complex rope maneuvers. Expected terrains: multiple overhangs, faces with poor holds, poor belay stationsFisura Albastra - original version (Bucegi), Surplomba de la Gatul Iadului (Bicaz), Madona Neagra (Cheile Turzii)
6BLike 6A but even worseFisura Albastra - direct version (Bucegi), Armata (Bicaz), Calvaria (Cheile Turzii)
7APost-Communist innovation (before that, these were considered difficult 6Bs), mandatory UIAA 7 or more climbing, delicate aid sections, serious run-outsSarutul Pamantului (Bucegi), Iris (Buila)

However, the system has two large problems. The first is the obscure mix of technical difficulty and length/commitment, which leads to highly different routes, even in the same area, having the same grade; for example, in Bicaz, both Creasta Estica a Pietrei Altarului, a beginner-friendly ridge with five out of six pitches of UIAA 4 terrain (assuming the one aid move is taken as such) and one of easy UIAA 6, and Fisura Centrala, a two-pitch UIAA 7 crack climb, are 4As. The second is the integration with the Communist-era competitional system that led to grades varying quite a bit from area to area – a Bicaz 6 will be easier than a Bucegi 6, for example. Because of this, modern documentation also usually contains the UIAA/French free-climbing rating of the crux of the route, as well as the aid-climbing rating (in the original aid-climbing grading system) + the mandatory climbing rating – so, for example, the direct Fisura Albastra is a 8+ (6+ A1). [27]

New Zealand

An alpine 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 access.

Standard grading system for alpine routes in normal conditions


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):

A plus (+) may be added to indicate somewhat higher difficulty. For example, the West Buttress Route on Denali is graded 2+ in the above-mentioned guidebook.

Importantly, even an Alaska Grade 1 climb may involve climbing on snow and glaciers in remote locations and cold weather.

Russian (post-USSR countries)

In post USSR countries, there is Russian grading system, it includes range from grade 1A–6B, and factor in difficulty, altitude, length, and commitment like in Alaskan.

Ice and mixed climbing

Ice climbing and mixed climbing have a number of grading systems.

WI numeric scale

This system measures the difficulty of routes on water ice. The WI scale spans grades from 1 to 7. There also exists a rating scale for Alpine Ice (compacted snow or 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.

WI2 – 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.

WI3 – 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)

WI4 – 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 & Snowline, Kananskis)

WI4+ – highly technical WI4. (Wicked Wanda, Ghost River)

WI5 – 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, Banff)

WI5+ – highly technical WI5 (Oh le Tabernac, Icefield Parkway; Hydrophobia, Ghost River; Sacre Bleu, Banff)

WI6 – 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)

WI6+ – vertical or overhanging with no rests, and highly technical WI6 (Fosslimonster, Norway; French Maid, Yoho; French Reality, Kootenay Park)

WI7–WI9 – sustained and overhanging with no rests. Rare and widely accepted testpieces. Note that routes (e.g. Sea of Vapours, Banff; Riptide, Icefield Parkway, Banff) have been assigned WI7− to WI7+ but have been subsequently downgraded in later years as they don't meet the strict criteria of difficulty.

Modern ice-climbers have established even more severe grades for waterfall ice climbs that are largely severely overhanging, notable milestones being: [28]

WI10Spray On (first W10 climbed by Tim Emmett and Will Gadd in 2010 at Helmcken Falls). [28]

WI11Wolverine (first W11 climbed by Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl in 2011 at Helmcken Falls). [28]

WI12Interstellar Spice (first W12 climbed by Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl in 2016 at Helmcken Falls). [28] [29]

WI13Mission to Mars (first W13 climbed Tim Emmett and Klemen Premrl in 2020 at Helmcken Falls). [29]

M numeric scale

This measures the difficulty of mixed climbs combining ice and rock. Mixed climbs have recently been climbed and graded as high as M14.

Scottish winter system

In the British Isles, the Scottish winter grading system is used for both ice and mixed climbs. Originally the system had just an overall grade given in Roman numerals running up to VI, but this has been refined and extended. 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, 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 the acceptance of an open-ended grading system (the new grades previously finished at IX, 9), and climbs have now been graded up to XII, 12.


There are many grading systems used specifically for bouldering problems, including:

Aid climbing

Aid climbs 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.

Original grading system

Clean scale

The 'C' scale adopts "New Wave" definitions. 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. [36] Most difficult aid climbs still require pitons or other techniques using a hammer, and are thus rated on the "New Wave" 'A' scale past a certain point.

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.

Comparison tables

Free climbing

The following chart compares some of the free climbing grading systems in use around the world. [23] [31] [37] [38] [39] [40] [32] [41] [33] As mentioned above, grading is a subjective task and no two grading systems have an exact one-to-one correspondence. [1] Therefore, there is not a perfect agreement in the literature about grading system comparisons or conversion rules.

(United States)
South Africa


5.03–43–4I sup
5.2D77II sup
5.54aS4bIV+/V-V11–1211–1244III sup
5.8HVS5bVI-VIIa161655IV supV
5.10cE26bVIIVIIIa202166VI supVI.1



The British Adj grades (E) do not grade only the hardness of the climb but the overall feel of the route, i.e., how hard gear is to place, how good is the gear, how high up is the first piece of gear, the possibility and severity of a ground fall, and how dangerous the climb is. All these factors are regarded when giving it the grade.

Russian grade system can be compared in the following way:

RussianAlpine (French)UIAA
6BED3 and upVII


The following grades are used for rating 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 correspond to roughly equivalent sets of grades. [32] [33]

Fontainebleau Brazilian
V15IV sup
V46BVI sup
6B+VI sup

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Glossary of climbing terms</span> List of definitions of terms and concepts related to rock climbing and mountaineering

This glossary of climbing terms is a list of definitions of terms and jargon related to rock climbing and mountaineering. The specific terms used can vary considerably between different English-speaking countries; many of the phrases described here are particular to the United States and the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ice climbing</span> Activity of ascending ice formations

Ice climbing is the activity of ascending inclined ice formations. Usually, ice climbing refers to roped and protected climbing of features such as icefalls, frozen waterfalls, and cliffs and rock slabs covered with ice refrozen from flows of water.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aid climbing</span> Style of climbing

Aid climbing is a style of climbing in which standing on or pulling oneself up via devices attached to fixed or placed protection is used to make upward progress.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sport climbing</span> Form of rock climbing

Sport climbing is a form of rock climbing that relies on permanent anchors, permanently fixed into the rock for climber protection, in which a rope that is attached to the climber is clipped into the anchors to arrest a fall; it can also involve climbing short distances with a crash pad underneath as protection. This is in contrast to traditional climbing where climbers must place removable protection as they climb. Sport climbing usually involves lead climbing and toproping techniques, but free solo and deep-water solo climbing on sport routes is also sometimes possible.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pitch (ascent/descent)</span> Steep section of a climbing route requiring a rope

In rock climbing and ice climbing, a pitch is a steep section of a route that requires a rope between two belays, as part of a climbing system. Standard climbing ropes are between 50 and 80 metres long, so a pitch is always shorter, between two convenient ledges if possible; longer routes are multi-pitch, requiring the re-use of the rope each time. In free climbing, pitch refers to classification by climbers of the difficulty of ascent on certain climbing routes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rock climbing</span> Sport in which participants climb natural rock formations

Rock climbing is a sport in which participants climb up, across, or down natural rock formations. The goal is to reach the summit of a formation or the endpoint of a usually pre-defined route without falling. Rock climbing is a physically and mentally demanding sport, one that often tests a climber's strength, endurance, agility and balance along with mental control. Knowledge of proper climbing techniques and the use of specialized climbing equipment is crucial for the safe completion of routes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trango Towers</span> Granite spires in mountains in Pakistan

The Trango Towers are a family of rock towers situated in Gilgit-Baltistan, in the north of Pakistan. The Towers offer some of the largest cliffs and most challenging rock climbing in the world, and every year a number of expeditions from all corners of the globe visit Karakoram to climb the difficult granite. They are located north of Baltoro Glacier, and are part of the Baltoro Muztagh, a sub-range of the Karakoram range. The highest point in the group is the summit of Great Trango Tower at 6,286 m (20,623 ft), the east face of which features the world's greatest nearly vertical drop.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johnny Dawes</span> British rock climber

Johnny Dawes is a British rock climber and author, known for a dynamic climbing style and for establishing bold traditional climbing routes. This included the first ascent of The Indian Face, the first-ever route at the E9-grade. His influence on British climbing was at its peak in the mid to late-1980s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Huayna Potosí</span> Mountain in Bolivia

Huayna Potosí is a mountain in Bolivia, located near El Alto and about 25 km north of La Paz in the Cordillera Real.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of rock climbing</span> Key chronological milestones

In the history of rock climbing, the three main sub-disciplines: bouldering, single-pitch climbing, and big wall climbing can trace their origins to late 19th-century Europe. Bouldering started in Fontainebleau, and was advanced by Pierre Allain in the 1930s, and John Gill in the 1950s. Big wall climbing started in the Dolomites, and was spread across the Alps in the 1930s by climbers such as Emilio Comici and Riccardo Cassin, and in the 1950s by Walter Bonatti, before reaching Yosemite where it was led in the 1950s to 1970s by climbers such as Royal Robbins. Single-pitch climbing started pre-1900 in both the Lake District and in Saxony, and by the 1970s had spread widely with climbers such as Ron Fawcett (Britain), Bernd Arnold (Germany), Patrick Berhault (France), Ron Kauk and John Bachar (USA),

Wojciech Kurtyka is a Polish mountaineer and rock climber, one of the pioneers of the alpine style of climbing the biggest walls in the Greater Ranges. He lived in Wrocław up to 1974 when he moved to Kraków. He graduated as engineer in electronics. In 1985 he climbed the "Shining Wall" Gasherbrum IV, which Climbing magazine declared to be the greatest achievement of mountaineering in the twentieth century. In 2016, he received the Piolet d'Or for lifetime achievement in mountaineering.

In the sport of bouldering, problems are assigned technical grades according to several established systems, which are often distinct from those used in roped climbing. Bouldering grade systems vary widely in use and include the Hueco "V" grades, Fontainebleau technical grades, route colors, Peak District grades, and British technical grades. Historically, the three-level "B" system and even the Yosemite Decimal System were also used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mixed climbing</span> Combination of ice and rock climbing

Mixed climbing is a combination of ice climbing and rock climbing generally using ice climbing equipment such as crampons and ice tools. Mixed climbing has inspired its own specialized gear such as boots which are similar to climbing shoes but feature built-in crampons. Dry-tooling is mixed climbing's most specialized skill and has since evolved into a "sport" unto itself.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Crack climbing</span>

Crack climbing is a type of rock climbing in which the climber follows a crack in the rock and uses specialized climbing techniques. The sizes of cracks vary from those that are just barely wide enough for the fingers to fit inside, to those that are so wide that the entire body can fit inside with all limbs outstretched. Many traditional climbing routes follow crack systems, as they provide natural opportunities for placing protective equipment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Normal route</span> Ascent or descent of mountain peak

A normal route or normal way is the most frequently used route for ascending and descending a mountain peak. It is usually the simplest route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ines Papert</span> German ice climber (born 1974)

Ines Papert is a German alpine climber, and a world champion ice and mixed climber best known for her ice climbing competition awards and difficult alpine ascents. She has made a number of first ascents and has broken difficulty grade milestones for female climbers.


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