Ratings and Grades

The following is quite a handy guide to understand the differences between grading systems if you’re thinking about climbing around the world. I think the original was from “The Climbing Dictionary” but the original website doesn’t seem to be around any more.

A Few Words on Ratings and Grades

The rating of a climb is a subjective indication of the technical difficulty of the route or pitch to which it applies. All rating systems (apart from the British system) use the difficulty of the crux (the most difficult move or series of moves) to determine the rating, at least in principle. Often though, the rating is upped a bit if a climb is sustained (i.e. has a very long series of very difficult moves).

Generally, the climber who makes the first ascent determines, or at least suggests, the rating. Of course, adjustments after a few ascents have been made are not uncommon.

Apart from free climbing ratings, there are a number of other systems in use to qualify climbs:

The grade of a climb says something about the seriousness of the ascent.

An aid climbing rating scale is used for climbs with etriers and daisy chains.

An ice rating is what you need when you’re wearing an ice axe and crampons.

The following table has a basic comparison chart for (some of) the different free climbing rating systems that are in use around the world.


UIAA rating system

The Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) rating scale, an ill-fated attempt at international standardazation, is used mostly in Western Germany and Austria.

YDS (Yosemite Decimal System – North America)

The Yosemite Decimal System is the North American rating system. The first number in the YDS designates the class of the climb (always “5” for free climbs), the second number defines the difficulty.

Although the YDS is the most popular rating system in North America, other systems exist (you may have that old guidebook that still lists them). Some may have the NCCS scale (see below), others may have an old YDS that stops at “5.10” no matter how hard that climb is.

This is because 5.10 was once deemed to be the most difficult climbable route. That was also the grading the climbing shoe branded “Five Ten” was named after.

The French rating system

The French rating system is slowly becoming the international standard, at least for comparing really hard climbs. It’s used in France, Spain and Italy. Note that “+” but not “-” is used for further subdivisions.

Aussie – The Australian Rating System

Only the Australians – and the South Africans who also use this rating scale – can claim they climb a “10” with one hand tied behind their backs…

The British grading system

The British rating system is a bit more difficult and a little less comprehensible than the rating systems used in the rest of the world. The Brits have two different ratings: an adjectival grading and a technical grading. The adjectival grading says something about the overall difficulty of the climb. The technical grading says something about the most difficult move of the climb. So, an easy climb with a difficult move would have a relatively low adjectival grading with a high technical rating (like E4/6c). A sustained climb with long run-outs and poor pro – a real British climb – but no real difficult technical moves then has a high adjectival rating with a low technical rating (like E7/6b). If you also know that a “difficult” climb is easy, that there are no technical ratings for climbs less than severe (eqv. UIAA 5) and that the adjective Extreme was split up into E1-E9, you’re all set.

Saxon – The Old East German Rating System

The Saxon Rating System, or the East German (GDR) rating system as it was known before the Wall came down, is used in all of the former East Germany. This includes the formidable climbing area of the Elbsandsteingebirge in the state of Saxony.

The Saxon rating system, however, is not complete without the rating scale for Jumps. For those of you not familiar with the Elbsandsteingebirge , some routes require horizontal dynos. Most often, that means standing on one sandstone tower and lunging for a hold on an adjacent tower – bridging the void between them. Those jumps are rated using arabic numerals between 1 and 4, where 1 is easy and 4 is a very difficult jump. Personally, I almost wet my pants on a “1”. I don’t ever want to find out what a “4” is like…

The Czech, Norwegian and Swedish rating systems

All similar to the UIAA rating scale, but with local differences.

The South African Rating System

Someone faxed me a list with an old and a new South African Rating Scale. The new one looked suspiciously similar to the Australian one. The old one however was quite different.

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