How to Rate Your Rock Climbing Adventure

May 13, 2008

It’s about time we got back to rock climbing. I have been horribly aware over the past few days that I promised to do an entire cover of rock climbing but I got side-tracked by ‘air racing’ (which gave me the shivers!) and other more ‘normal’ forms of extreme sport.

So… rock climbing and the grading scales that you need to understand for the various types of climbs that you will come across on a sortie to a rockface. Please be aware that these grades vary enormously from country to country. Many guidebooks will have a conversion table for your convenience. And everywhere you go will have their own guidebooks on their own climbs.

The following guidelines are based on the American grading scales.

The grading scale

Each trail or route is rated on a scale from 1 – 6 (with 1 being a relatively easy hike and 6 being a strenuous climb). Class 5 is highly subdivided to include all possible free climbing environments; it’s what you imagine rock climbing to be.

  • Class 1 is characterized by trail hiking. Just a walk in the woods. No rocks involved. Too easy.
  • Class 2 trails may require the use of hands for support. A couple of rocks but still no climbing.
  • Class 3 trails contain some rocks. Inexperienced climbers may wish to use a rope, but it’s still fairly easy.
  • Class 4 has more difficult rocks. Many climbers choose to use a rope for safety. Usually, natural protection ie: cracks, crevices etc. are easy to find.
  • Class 5 is free climbing. A rope and protection are required. Class 5 is subdivided by the Yosemite Decimal System into fifteen groups from 5.0 to 5.14. Beyond this division, decimals from 5.10 through 5.14 may have an A, B, C or a + or – to further indicate difficulty level. A general guide for the decimal system is as follows:
  1. 5.0-5.7: This range is easy for adept climbers. Most beginners start in this range.
  2. 5.8-5.9: Most weekend climbers settle in this range. Specific climbing skills are employed.
  3. 5.10: A dedicated weekend warrior may achieve this level.
  4. 5.11-5.14: This range is for climbing experts. Extensive training and possible reworking of the route is required.
  5. Class 6 is characterized by artificial (aid) climbing. Holds may not be available without the use of equipment.


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