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USA Grading Systems for Rock Climbing & Bouldering

In rock climbing, mountaineering and other climbing disciplines, climbers give a grade to a climbing 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.

Free Climbing

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.

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS)

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.

The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs. It is primarily used by mountaineers in the United States and Canada. The Class 5 portion of the Class scale is primarily a rock climbing classification system. Originally the system was a single-part classification system. In recent years, Grade and Protection categories were added to the system. The new categories do not apply to every climb and usage varies widely.

Learn more about the Yosemite Decimal System on Wikipedia.

Bouldering

The Hueco scale

The "V" Scale, devised by John 'Vermin' Sherman at Hueco Tanks State Historic Site in the 1990s, is the most widely used system in North America. Although open-ended, the "V" system currently covers a range from V0 to V16. At the easier end of the scale, some use the designation "VB" (sometimes said to designate "basic" or "beginner") for problems easier than a V0. Particularly at the lower end of the scale, the grades are sometimes postfixed with "+" (harder) or "-" (easier) to further distinguish the difficulty range within a single grade. Next-wave ascents harder than the current set of top-end problems will hypothetically continue to increase numbers in the scale.

The scale is similar to many other systems in that it does not take danger or fear into account. Problems are rated based solely on the physical challenge involved. This implies that problems have the same grade on the V-scale on toprope as they would have when bouldered. Due to this limitation, guidebooks will often separately indicate when problems are dangerous for various reasons, for example, using the term 'highball' to indicate unusually tall boulders. If the terrain underneath the problem is especially problematic (rocky, unusually steep, or for any other reason), the 'landing' of the problem will frequently be noted. Some world-class climbers encourage the use of the British E scale in cases where these dangers affect the difficulty of problems.

Learn more about The Hueco Scale on Wikipedia.