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World Climbing Grade Comparison Table

Last Updated: Wed Jun 09 14:15:00 BST 2004

This is a table that lets you compare various systems used to grade rock climbs around the world.

If you want to try and understand the initially complex, but incredibly useful (when you get used to it) UK grading system, Plas-y-Brenin's Rock Notes contain a very well written exposition. While the YMC's Yorkshire Grit Guide has a more cynical intepretation.

                1 I I F4 5.2  
2 II II F5 5.3 11
VD 3 III III 5.4 12
S 4a 4 IV IV F6 5.5
  IV+ 13
HS 4b 5 V- V 5.6
VS V VI F7 5.7 14
  HVS 4c
5+ V+ 15
VIIa F8 5.8
E1   5a 16
VI- F9 5.9 17
E2   5b 6a VI VIIc 18
6a+ VI+ F10 5.10a 19
E3 5c VII- VIIIa 20
6b F11 5.10c
E4 6b+ VII VIIIb 5.10d 21
6c VII+ VIIIc F12 5.11a 22
  E5 6a
6c+ VII+ IXa 5.11b 23
7a VIII- IXb F13 5.11c 24
7a+ VIII IXc 5.11d 25
7b F14 5.12a
7b+ VIII+ Xa 5.12b 26
IX- F15 5.12c
7c Xb 27
  6c IX 5.12d
7c+ IX+ Xc F16 5.13a 28
8a   29
  7a 8a+ X-   5.13b 30
  8b X 5.13c
8b+ 5.13d 31
7b 8c X+ 5.14a 32
8c+ XI- 5.14b
7c 9a XI 5.14c 33


Fr  =  French
YDS  =  Yosemite Decimal System
OZ  =  Australia

This table has been constructed from many sources, hardly any of which agrees with any of the others. The lower grades (UK 4a and below) tend to have hardly any agreement, while the upper grades may differ by a line or so, depending on the source you use. The upshot of this is that the only way to determine the equivalence of the different styles of grading used throughout the World is to go and climb in many different places.

Having said that I only have experience of climbing in the UK, the USA and France. The highest grades I've climbed at (leading) are UK 5c, YDS 5.10, Fr 6a (outside) - UK 6a, Fr 6b (inside).

The following reference is reproduced without permission from Plas-y-Brenin's Rock Notes

[UK] Rock Climbing Grades

Mountaineering prides itself in having no written rules: mountaineers, therefore, spend most of their time arguing about their interpretation of the unwritten rules. Nowhere is this more so than in the invariably subjective area of the grading of climbs. Rock is such an irregular medium and climbers come in such a range of shapes and sizes that any grade can only be, at best, an indicator. It's more of an Art than a Science - and some would say a Black Art at that!

It all began quite sensibly with Victorian climbers describing climbs to their contemporaries with adjectives such as Easy, Moderate or Difficult - the original adjectival grades. Unfortunately, climbers have a habit of improving. So, with the benefit of their predecessors' knowledge, new techniques and equipment advances, the guidebooks were soon full of Very Difficults, Severes, Very Severes, Hard Very Severes and finally Extremely Severes, often sub-divided into intermediate shades of difficulty, with nonsense like Mild Hard Very Severe, for example, making a mockery of the English language.

This adjectival grade took all aspects of the climb into account; the difficulty of each move, the number and quality of runners, problems of route-finding and ease of escape, together with all objective dangers (loose rock, bottle-throwing tourists, spiders, snakes, holly bushes, avalanches etc).

As standards continued to rise, Extremes were sub-divided into E1, E2, E3..., an open-ended system which has currently arrived at E9. At the same time, there was an increasing demand for the purely technical difficulties of each pitch to be described by a separate parameter. In other words, what's the hardest `move' I'll have to make? This has now evolved from a system first used to describe climbs on Cloggy, into a number/letter sequence, with each numerical grade sub-divided into a, b and c, in ascending order of difficulty. Although, theoretically, it should start at 1a, 1b, 1c, 2a..., very few guidebook writers bother to give numerical grades below 4a (which normally corresponds to about Hard Severe). Currently the highest grade thought to exist in Britain is 7c/8a. So some desparate five-pitch climb might be described as;

The Living End E4 (5c,6a,6a,5a,4b)

E4 is an overall, subjective grade taking into account all factors mentioned above, whilst the pure technical difficulty is quoted for each pitch. This helps uneven climbing pairs to decide who's going to lead which pitch, although low pitch grades on hard climbs should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Also, the 5a pitch above might have no runners, and still be consistent with the overall grade of E4. Unfortunately the application of grades is not uniform throughout the country - generally the smaller the crag, and the less mountainous the area, the greater the tendency towards an undergrading of technical difficulty.

With this two-tiered grading system now well-established in Britain, it should be possible for climbers to select climbs which match their aspirations and their style. Cool-headed weaklings with a death-wish can go for routes with relatively low pitch grades (e.g. VS 4a) since this implies that the difficulties will be other than technical (no runners, loose rock, difficult route-finding, etc): wimpy Gorillas can go for routes with a high technical grade and a relatively low overall grade (e.g. VS 5a), safe in the knowledge that it will be their muscles, rather than their minds, which will be stressed.

A More Cynical Guide To UK Climbing Grades

The following reference is reproduced without permission from Yorkshire Mountaineering Club's Yorkshire Gritstone Guide 1989

Adjectival Grades

These mean absolutely nothing and are in no way related to the standard at which you climb. They are only included to demoralise you. Therefore the grades at which you can fail are: The grades appear in the text in their abbreviated form. The Extremely Severe grade is subdivided into E1, E2, E3, E4, E5, E6, E7, E8 above which is pure bullshit.

Present day opinion uses a reciprocal adjectival system for coping with failure at a certain grade. Hence failing on a Difficult is Extremely Severe, whilst it is only Difficult to cope with failure on an Extremely Severe. Simple, eh?

Technical Grades

These are based on the climber's reach, and the system is open ended to cope with ever increasing arm length. The system is also known as the Ape Index. The minimum arm length is therefore 4a and the maximum extension at present is about 7b. Continental sizes are avialable on certain limestone routes, but detente is fortunately unlikely on gritstone until 1992. However high interest routes have produced...

P Grades

Yes this is the one you've all been waiting for. The snuff potential. The one you can really get your teeth into and argue about for hours. The one that can be linked to artistic impression in flight. Supposedly a closed system, P1, P2, P3, but inherently open ended because someone, somewhere is bound to say they could have died more - remember E-grades? The important thing to note is that P does not stand for protection but Prang Potential. What it really relates to is the consequence of a fall. The grade assumes the climber is very rich and has a full rack of modern protection devices (not bolts, you wimps). The grade like all others does not guarantee the climber's safety or lack of it.
Generally well protected routes with falls likely to only damage egos.
Those bolder routes with sparse protection which may even be deck outs if the fall is relatively short onto a reasonable landing. Good gibber potential with plenty of air time. Could be painful.
Dire consequences. Do not fall off these nasty numbers because you're going to have to be lucky to walk away from a P3 lob. Get full life insurance now.

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