Roland asked for an explaination of the climbing rating system. I’ll give it my best shot.
The United States uses a system of rating climbs known as the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). This is a different system than what is used in other parts of the world. France, England, and Poland among others have their own system of rating climbs. I will do my best to explain YDS in this blog post.
What does the number mean?
A climb is rated by two numbers. The first number indicates the class. There are actually six classes ranging from walk (1.X) to scramble (3.X) to climbing (5.X) and aid climbing (6.X). Some of my climbing friends have suggested an easy way to guage the difficulty along the class line; All you have to do is consider how many points you would need to touch the rock in order to complete the trail or climb. For a 1.X, you could essentially Hop on one leg along the whole route. a 3.X would require you to use both feet and an occasional hand. A 5.X should be climbed with all appendages and a rope. A 6.X is aid climbing… which is using non-natural features to assist your climb.
The second number (X) breaks down the difficulty further within the class. A 3.5 would be read as “Three Five” and would indicate a medium difficulty scramble up some rocks. When it comes to technical climbing however, you’ll only see numbers from Class 5. Also, it should be noted that the difficulty of the climb is rated on the HARDEST move, called the Crux. If an entire climb is a 5.7 (read “five seven”) but there’s a single move that is about a 5.9… then the entire route would be considered a 5.9.
Originally it was never intended to have technical climbs (or really any class) rate above 5.10 (read “Five Ten”). A 5.0 would be considered the easiest of climbs and a 5.10 the hardest. This however changed as equipment, exploration, and training improved. Suddenly after all these climbs were rated, people realized that they needed a way to show that some climbs are indeed harder than what was previously rated 5.10. This progression started with letters or pluses and minuses.
Pluses and minuses are more common under 5.10 ratings. You’ll see 5.8+ and 5.8- between which the 5.8- would be easier to climb. The letters proceed from ‘a’ to ‘d’ and show increased difficulty. You typically only see letters on climbs above 5.10. So a 5.10b is easier than a 5.10d. At higher difficulties, the difficulty between a 5.13b and a 5.13c is considered just as great as a gap for an advanced climber as 5.7 to 5.8 is for a beginner climber.
Rough Difficulties and Comparisons
Typically 5.4 through 5.7 would be considered beginner climbs
5.8 and 5.9 are moderate climbs
5.10-5.12 are advanced climbs
5.12-5.13 is considered highly advanced
5.13 and up is professional
some comparisons on a vertical face
5.4 would be like a rocky ladder
5.7 might require some technique, but most of the holds would probably feel like you were grabbing the handle of a mug or top of a computer speaker
5.9 technique is required, I would equate hold size with cell phones… maybe?
5.12 would likely require a specific sequence of moves and holds would feel more like bottle caps
5.14 I don’t even know. maybe chipped glass? I have a hard time comprehending climbs like this.
How are climbs rated?
First, someone makes a first ascent. This person will name the climb and then often times take a guess as to what the climb is rated basing their estimate off of previous climbs they have completed. The problem is, what is easy for one person might be extremely hard for another. A perfect example is Hand Jamming. Hand Jamming is the technique of stuffing your hands into a crack and then torquing your arm so that your hand acts as a mini locking device. You can then pull yourself higher using this jam. If someone hasn’t trained this technique they may be forced to try other less effective methods… immediately making the climb more difficult. At the local climbing gym there are some shorter individuals who have a tough time with reachy climbs. Their finish on of one of those 5.10’s is certainly more noteworthy than a tall climber’s success at that same climb.
For this reason, a concensus of many climbers is taken before a route is finally graded.
This presents a problem when you get into the area of elite climbing. The hardest route agreed upon is a 5.15a. This climb, named Realization, was climbed by Chris Sharma in July of 2001 in France. There are other climbs that individuals have claimed are 5.15b’s. But no one has yet to verify these claims because there just aren’t enough people out there that have the strength and technical skills to compete on these climbs. Especially since professional climbers will sometimes spend months working on a single route, or problem.
On outdoor traditional climbs, there’s sometimes an extra letter added onto a climb’s rating. Traditional climbing means that the climber uses small cam devices to secure their rope to the wall as they climb. In order to do this, there must be a place to put this protection. Usually this is done in a crack in the rock. An additional letter is sometimes used to indicate the presence of places to protect yourself during a climb.
G means Good protection
PG means Pretty Good
R means Rare protection, sometimes with long distances between safe protection spots
X means little to no protection.
SO! a 5.11c R would indicate a difficult technical climb that you probably shouldn’t try unless you’re confident, because the protection will be few and far between.
How hard can mike d climb?
Some people rate their climbing ability as their hardest completion. Others rate it as their hardest Traditional Climb. Others rate it as the hardest Onsight (where you climb a route first try without any previous knowledge of the route).
I’m hard pressed to say what I can and can’t do. Firstly, I’ve never done traditional climbing. I’ve only done Top Rope (where you hike to the top of the cliff face and drop a rope down to use for belaying). So some of the more hardcore climbers wouldn’t even consider what I do real climbing.
Indoors, I have cleanly climbed a 5.12a. Outside, I’ve completed a 5.11c toprope route, but only onsighted a 5.10. I feel like, if fresh, I could send (reach the top of) most 5.10’s out there. so I would consider myself a solid 5.10 climber.
So there you have it!